Photo Tricks: Shattering the Illusion of Broomstick Flying

Several years ago the girls and I took broomstick flying lessons in the same English courtyard that Harry Potter learned to fly. They were timed to fall just after the “On Location” tour of Alnwick Castle, which doubled as portions of Hogwarts.

To this day, people still ask me about the day my girls did broomstick flying.  I just smile and think about the photos.  And there are lots of photos. Here is one I haven’t shared before:

Broomstick Flying in Alnwick Castle England

“Ready for Take-Off”
“Here we go!”
(We have lift off, their first flight is a success!)

Can you see it? They are flying.

That’s not the only magic they can do while at Hogwarts:

Raising the broomstic like Harry Potter by saying UP at Alnwick Castle in England

“Hey, it works!”

And the illusion is complete.

What is the secret to broomstick flying or raising the broomstick? 

It’s not really a secret:

  1. Body positioning of the single moment in time you wish to portray.
  2. Fast shutter speed.
  3. Narrow aperture for larger  depth of field.
  4. Props  – in our case a real “Harry Potter Broom”
  5. Backdrop – If you’re not at Alnwick, a castle backdrop would help complete the look.
  6. Creative captions complete the illusion.

First flying: You see broomstick flying, because I told you they were flying on broomsticks. After all, they are on broomsticks sailing above the ground . . . or are they?  The truth, they stood still with the broomstick between their legs, jumped while tucking up their legs.  As a photographer, my job was to freeze a moment in time. In the photo above and the two below I used a shutter speed of 1/640. Had I used a slow speed their legs would blur, and it would be obvious that they are jumping:

Flying a broomstick at Alnwick Castle where Harry Potter learned to fly

Flying a broomstick at Alnwick Castle where Harry Potter learned to fly

And in the “Up” photo you see the broom raising for two reasons. First the caption told you the broom was going up, and secondly, take a look at her hand position.  In reality Sarah is dropping the broomstick, being careful to keep her hand in the proper position to appear as if she is retrieving it.  Here I also used a fast shutter speed to freeze the action.

Give it a try, but be prepared to take lots of photos to get the effect you want.  Here are a few that just didn’t capture the illusion:

Broomstick FlyiThe broomstick flying illusion is more difficult to see in this photo ng in Alnwick Castle England

Failed attempt for the illusion of raising the broomstic like Harry Potter by saying UP at Alnwick Castle in England

(Wrong hand positioning)

broomstick flying at Alnwick Castle where Harry Potter learned to fly

broomstick flying  fail at Alnwick Castle where Harry Potter learned to fly

Biting my lip in frustration as I simply can’t get off the ground.

*Alnwick Castle is located Northumberland, England. It is one of many HP sites we visited whilst traveling through the UK. Some of the other highlights included finding platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station, the Hogwart’s Express (Scotland), the Warner Bros. Harry Potter studio tour, Oxford University and of course more of our tour at Alnwick.  One of our girls was a huge fan of the Harry Potter books back then.

Does the illusion work, can you see the girls broomstick flying or raising the broom? Have you been to Alnwick Castle? Are you going to try some creative “flying” photography?


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  1. says

    That was wonderful, and what fun. Memories forever captured, a day in time your girls and you will always treasure. I am not that deft at photography or magic. Thanks for sharing your tricks and the treats!

  2. says

    Hi Rhonda .. love the photos and the way you’ve used them as an example for your photographic skills.

    I’ve been to Alnwick years and years ago … but I’d love to see what they’ve done to the garden now, and to see the Poison garden … I love the beach at Alnmouth, which is where my father and I stayed … a trip to remember and a nostalgia time to revisit.

    Cheers Hilary

    • says

      Being that I was with my Harry Potter fans, we didn’t spend much time in the gardens, we were too focused on every corner used for Hogwarts – and of course, our broomstick flying lessons. We missed the beach 🙁

  3. says

    I love this! It’s amazing that it looks so real but is really such a simple technique. (I must say the short narrow brooms look like they’d be awfully uncomfortable if one were really riding them! lol)

    • says

      I guess the technique works really well. It interesting how strong the power of suggestion can be. Now that you know what they are really doing, you probably don’t see flying anymore.

    • says

      Oh, there are way more takes than that. For a while I really tried to have both girls legs tucked up and flying at the same time. It’s a split second in time, and it just wasn’t going to happen.

  4. says

    This is so cool! They really look like they are flying. And before, you explained it, I thought there was some sort of trick involved in the photos where your daughters are kind of holding the brooms in the air.

  5. says

    That is really cool. I still feel out of my depth with shutter speed settings and tend to rely a lot on aperture mode, but I understood exactly what you were explaining. Thanks!

  6. says

    That looks like a world of fun, and as an avid Harry Potter fan I’m just a little bit jealous (in a good way). Kudos to your photography skills, I’m sure your girls enjoyed showing their friends photos from their broomstick flying class 😉

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