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Image: Natsumi Hayashi levitating in a phone booth
Natsumi Hayashi / yowayowacamera.com
Natsumi Hayashi of Japan achieves the illusion of levitating in her self-portraits by jumping up and down — sometimes more than 300 times — in order to get the perfect shot.
By Laura T. Coffey
TODAY contributor
updated 6/8/2011 11:11:48 AM ET 2011-06-08T15:11:48

At a young age, Natsumi Hayashi had a revelation: Keeping both feet on the ground is overrated.

The Tokyo-based photographer was feeling pressure from all sides. The prevailing wisdom? Hayashi should be grounded. Sensible. Practical.

She wanted none of it.

“I got an idea from an English idiom that says ‘to have one’s feet firmly planted on the ground’ applies to a practical type of person,” Hayashi said in an interview. “In Japan, we have the exact same idiom. But I am not a practical person at all. Therefore, I try not to have my feet on the ground in my self-portrait photos to show my true self.”

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Her self-portraits are so whimsical and unforgettable that they’re sparking an Internet sensation and garnering attention all over the globe. What makes them so unusual? Well, for starters, in each photograph Hayashi appears to be levitating.

She achieves this state of mid-air wizardry by jumping up and down. A lot.

Slideshow: Up in the air: Levitating photographer defies gravity (on this page)

“Sometimes I need to jump more than 300 times to get the perfect shot,” she explained. “I set the camera with the shutter speed of 1/500 second or faster to freeze my jumping movement.”

Image: Natsumi Hayashi levitating in a restaurant
Natsumi Hayashi / yowayowacamera.com
Here, Natsumi Hayashi seems to float across a restaurant in the suburbs of Tokyo. She said the biggest challenge with this photo was keeping the bread rolls flat on the plate in her hands.

It can take Hayashi anywhere from 10 to 60 minutes to get the right shot. Sometimes she works alone and relies on a self-timer; in other instances, she asks a friend to come along and press the shutter.

She started having fun with this technique about two years ago, and at the beginning of this year she began sharing her photos on her website, yowayowa camera woman diary. (Translation: “A feeble, or weak, camera woman’s diary.” As she explains on her site, “Since I’m yowayowa, it’s really heavy to carry SLR cameras around.”) Following her debut online, her fans have been growing in number daily.

Slideshow: Quirks of art: Creators who work in madcap media (on this page)

“I believe that I am becoming [more popular abroad] than in Japan,” Hayashi said. “It is lovely that so many people started taking levitation photos all around the world from countries in South America to Scandinavia.”

Hayashi, who is in her 20s, has been working in photography for two years now as an artist’s assistant. She said she finds inspiration for her work from old photographs from the 19th century.

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“They are time machines to me, because I can see actual people and scenes captured in 19th century right in front of my eyes,” she said. “To me, my levitations are also time machines since they are just photographs of jumping moments extracted from the passage of time and are metamorphosed into levitations in the eyes of viewers. ...

“We all are surrounded by social stress as we are bound by the force of the Earth’s gravity. So I hope that people feel something like an instant release from stressful, practical days by seeing my levitation photos.”

To see more of Natsumi Hayashi’s work, check out this fun slideshow or visit her website, yowayowa camera woman diary.

Need a Coffey break? Friend TODAY.com writer Laura T. Coffey on Facebook, follow her on Twitter  or read more of her stories at LauraTCoffey.com.

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Photos: Up in the air: Levitating photographer defies gravity

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  1. Flying high

    Tokyo photographer Natsumi Hayashi's self-portraits are sparking an Internet sensation and garnering attention all over the globe. In each image she appears to be levitating -- an effect she achieves by jumping up and down as many as 300 times in an effort to get the perfect shot.

    This photograph was taken at the entrance of an abandoned clinic in Tokyo. "I can easily fall when I levitate in this pose," Hayashi said. (Natsumi Hayashi / yowayowacamera.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Mid-air crunch

    Natsumi Hayashi took this photo of herself on a street in Akihabara, Tokyo, Japan. She said the squat pose mid-air was "the toughest part." (Natsumi Hayashi / yowayowacamera.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Don't jump!

    Hayashi staged this photo on a pedestrian bridge over a railroad track in Tokyo. She said she saw the alarmed face of the railroad engineer as the train passed by. (Natsumi Hayashi / yowayowacamera.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Tickets, please

    Here, Hayashi floats amid automatic ticket checkers in the suburbs of Tokyo. In a different image captured during this photo shoot, one of the passersby tried to levitate with her. (Natsumi Hayashi / yowayowacamera.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Floating in the trees

    This photo was captured under a Japanese plum tree at night. "I held a flashlight to light up myself by myself," Hayashi explained. (Natsumi Hayashi / yowayowacamera.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Can I put you on hold for a second?

    Hayashi couldn't resist this spot for a photo shoot: An old phone booth in the suburbs of Tokyo. "It was still surprisingly clean," she noted. (Natsumi Hayashi / yowayowacamera.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. In no hurry

    Hayashi floats above the chaos during evening rush hour at a train station in the suburbs of Tokyo. (Natsumi Hayashi / yowayowacamera.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Unbearable lightness

    This image was captured In front of an old barbershop called Midori-ya (which means "green") in Tokyo. (Natsumi Hayashi / yowayowacamera.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Going up

    Another fitting spot for a change in elevation: Hayashi took this photo at the entrance to escalators in the suburbs of Tokyo. (Natsumi Hayashi / yowayowacamera.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Where is she going?!

    Here, Hayashi takes flight along a corridor in the suburbs of Tokyo. "I must confess that I could levitate higher (if I jumped down from the top of the fence)," she explained. (Natsumi Hayashi / yowayowacamera.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Mommy, look!

    Hayashi takes flight at a crosswalk near a zoo in the suburbs of Tokyo. (Natsumi Hayashi / yowayowacamera.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Here's your order, sir!

    Hayashi seems to float across a restaurant in the suburbs of Tokyo. She said the biggest challenge with this photo was keeping the bread rolls flat on the plate in her hands. (Natsumi Hayashi / yowayowacamera.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. What kind of bird is that?

    Hayashi managed to pull this photo off in the woods in the suburbs of Tokyo. "Another pose that can easily make me fall," she said. (Natsumi Hayashi / yowayowacamera.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Never mind, I think I'll fly

    It can take Hayashi anywhere from 10 to 60 minutes to get the right shot. Sometimes she works alone and relies on a self-timer; in other instances, she asks a friend to come along and press the shutter. She captured this image alongside the Yamanote Line, one of Tokyo's busiest commuter rail lines. (Natsumi Hayashi / yowayowacamera.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Weightless

    Hayashi takes flight In the hallway of an art museum located in a former elementary school in Tokyo. "I hope that people feel something like an instant release from stressful, practical days by seeing my levitation photos," she said. (Natsumi Hayashi / yowayowacamera.com) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Natsumi Hayashi / yowayowacamera.com
    Above: Slideshow (15) Up in the air: Levitating photographer defies gravity
  2. Malcolm West
    Slideshow (37) Quirks of art: Creators who work in madcap media

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