Techniques for creating double exposures have been around since the beginning of film photography. While the days of being able to expose the same frame of film multiple times are mostly gone, a great many digital cameras do offer that functionality. While the technique can be unpredictable and hard to get right, that’s part of the charm of it (in my opinion) and what makes it so fun. This article provides you with a few tips to help you create double exposures in-camera.
What about Photoshop?
Of course, you don’t need to do it in-camera. The almighty powers of Photoshop absolutely give you a great deal of control over blending images. You didn’t need to do it in-camera in the film days either as you could sandwich negatives together in the darkroom before putting them in the enlarger. So yes, by all means, use Photoshop to your heart’s content, but if you want to inject a bit of unpredictability and spontaneity to the process, do think about trying to create a few in the camera.
Understand the functionality in your camera
This first step may seem obvious, but every camera that I’ve run across handles the settings for double exposures in different ways. Taking the time to learn and understand how to set up your camera for multiple exposures ensures that when you get out to start creating the images, you know exactly what’s going on. For example, unless I turn on the right setting, my camera will take a single sequence of images and then revert back to normal settings. This can be (and has been) frustrating when I’m lining up a second exposure of a moving subject and find that I’m back to taking a single image.
This is probably just a matter of reading your manual and then putting it into practice a few times in your backyard or somewhere where the results don’t matter.
When getting started with a technique like multiple exposures, it is easy to start snapping away without putting too much thought into it. The results can be less than inspiring and may even make you second guess the technique.
Try to keep it simple in the beginning. Instead of many exposures layered together, try to keep it to a simple double exposure until you figure out how the exposures work with one another. Of course, the results are almost always going to be unpredictable, but once you start to take a lot, you will quickly learn how to judge what two frames might look like on top of one another.
Look for bold shapes and textures
One of the easiest ways to get results with double exposures is to overlay a texture onto a recognizable shape. Silhouettes of people work great for this. If you start your sequence with a silhouette, you can then take a photo of something with a lot of texture and the shadows of the silhouette will reveal that texture in the final image.
Another simple one for you to try is to layer your main image on a background of clouds. The whole concept is simple and done a lot, but it is still effective. If you start with these simple processes, you will quickly start to see how you can use the technique for more complicated images.
Think in terms of design
Because you are layering your images, it can help if they work together with a theme or if the final image helps to convey a message. Keeping the various elements in your images (whether that be the subjects, colors, lighting, etc) in line with your intended end result can help for better images. It also helps to start with your final composition in mind. How will the various elements line up? How will they react and line up with one another? Is there a particular sort of framing that would help tie the whole thing together? Asking yourself these questions before your camera is even out of the bag can help your final images be the best they possibly can.
Now, your images don’t have to be of anything at all. Don’t be afraid to go for the abstract (or non-objective if you prefer). You can layer a bunch of modern buildings (or the same building) together for some interesting effects where there is no real focal point.
You can do the same with multiple textures. Just roll with it and see what happens. You might find you have a bunch of images that don’t work, but you might also find that one that really, really does. Try looking for things with lines or shapes, without too much texture, that can overlap one another.
Block your lens
Block your lens if you want to photograph the same subject, human or inanimate, multiple times in one frame. You can use this trick for photographing fireworks to help control your exposure. When you’re lining up your first exposure, cover your lens with a piece of black card so that you are blocking the part of the frame that will contain the subject of your second exposure. In a double exposure, this will stop the background being exposed twice. Your backgrounds will be darker, but your subject will also be clearer where it appears in the frame.
If your camera has the option for a grid overlay (rule of thirds) in the viewfinder, turning it on can help you to line up various elements throughout the multiple exposures.
It’s okay to post-process
Although this article is about creating double exposures in-camera, there is nothing wrong with taking your results and fine-tuning them afterward.
Did you overlay a silhouette with a texture but you don’t want the texture elsewhere in the frame? Photoshop can help. If it helps you to create what you had in your head, by all means, go for it.
Creating double exposures in-camera is a finicky technique, but sometimes the results can be incredible. More important, it’s a technique that’s a lot of fun. I encourage you to go out and give it a try for yourself, and hopefully, some of these tips will make your results a bit more predictable.
Please share your results with us in the comments section – we’d love to see them!