A lot of people like multiples but are never satisfied with the output enough to shoot them more consistently. I want to talk about how double exposures work and what you can look for.
I could give you a load of reasons why I love multiple exposures:
- It’s not that organized.
- It’s like a gambling addiction. It’s like X-mas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa. It’s like a blind date.
- You know what your heart is asking for. You know what your eye wants to see. You know what you want those spinning fruits should look like after you pull the metal arm using your last quarter.
- You don’t know till you see it from the film lab. There is a surprise in Multiple Exposures that no other photography gives you.
I want to shoot what isn’t there. What’s in our minds. Melding images together the way our memories come to us. Not clear, sharp, individual pictures, but thoughts and emotions bleeding into each other tangentially. When you remember a party, you don’t remember a single picture of everyone dancing in the living room. You remember the soft but dirty couch you sat on, the ugly chandelier that lit the room, a tree you stared at while sharing a cigarette outside, that one really funny guy you met while waiting in line at the keg, the hallway to the bathroom you walked down too many times, a cleaver door mat and that tattoo on that girl’s back you couldn’t stop staring at all night. It all melds together into one impression.
That’s what Multiple Exposures can do that singles can’t. Capture life the way you remember it and not the way it happened.
I had a sit down with some folks in the Lomo Collective of Austin a while ago – They were interested in taking better multiple exposure shots. I hadn’t realized what I knew versus what other photographers knew about it. I’ve only shot film for two years and 80% has been multiple exposures. It’s the medium I prefer. In talking with these folks, I began to understand what I have come to know, from my trial and error, about what does and doesn’t work for multiple exposures.
Once again, I am no expert. I haven’t taken classes or had a chance to work with a mentor. I’d welcome that, but it hasn’t happened yet. I do think I have a darn good grasp on the subject. Part of it comes naturally to me and part of it is from shooting consistently to see what the outcome is. I know how to make the accidents happen.
Here are a few of the things we discussed and what advice I was able to offer.
Film needs light
What? Of course film needs light. But here is what I’m getting at. On an exposure, if the first shot has solid contrast between light and dark, like a silhouette, then you end up with spots on the negative that haven’t gotten any love. It’s empty. So what happens on the next exposure? You have a negative space to fill. The rest of the shot has already left its impression.
Here we can see inside the mouth, through the red lips and in the dark space by the cheek. We can’t see through the face, as it is white.
So shadows and darker colors are your friends when it comes to doubles. Shooting two bright objects that have a lot of white, yellow, lime green, or just blazing sunlight will end up competing for dominance and both will lose.
Darker Colors are your friend
When you double your shots you need to decide what you want to be your primary focus. You can blend two images together or use one as a texture. Either way, if you shoot bright yellows, whites, light blues, pastel colors; you will have those colors come through more. Dark blues, greens, reds, browns, and grays; will be muted and lend their textures and form more than a true solid image.
A great example and favorite subject of mine is asphalt. Streets and parking lots with a nice dark blacktop make for awesome doubles. You can capture parking stripes and a lot of rough texture from these. It depends on how much light you let in on the second exposure. In the photo above I shot with Fuji Provia 100. I shot both exposures at 200 iso. If I had wanted more texture from the parking lot, I would have snagged the sunset at 800 iso. What makes this possible is the small amount of light the asphalt is reflecting back at the lens. Of course, the parking stripes were white, so they showed up without an issue.
Yellow vs Red
In this shot above, you can clearly see the bear through the red colors of the arrow head. The parts that fall into the yellow zone are much harder to see. Yellow reflects a great deal more light than red. So while I used a yellow flash on the wall with the arrowhead painted on it, the white paint reflected the yellow and the red didn’t bounce much back. So when the bear gets put in the second shot it comes through the red color while the yellow has already blown out the section of film.
Black VS Red Dots
The photo above is great example of black sucking up light. I shot this wall during an overcast day. It was painted a matte black with red polka dots. I shot the whole roll at different angles and distances. It was 400 iso film and I shot at 800. Then, that night, I shot Erica at 400 iso using my Colorsplash flash. The red dots stay put while the black fades away and fills up with the 2nd exposure. Red is still a forgiving color, though, and let Erica come through those sections as well.
Building vs Road Stripe
This is a good example of texture but no color from asphalt. The building was well lit and the parking lot stripe is the only color that remains from the first exposure.
Maroon Padlocked Door VS Indian Statue
A silhouette can do you a lot of favors. Shooting into the light to capture a shadow or silhoette can give you a lot of negative space to work with. The door and padlock show up more in the Indian shadow than in the sky. The white sign stands out prominently, as it is reflecting more light.
Creating Spaces for Doubles
I use Negative space a lot in my studio. I have a whole corner of my room covered in black felt to stop any light from bouncing back from my flash. What I end up with is a roll of a friend or model surrounded by negative space. I can reload the roll, where I marked it and shoot all sorts of textures around them. Here are some examples of my in studio work with the black felt walls.
So you can really create an ideal environment for doubles with friends with a black sheet or a quick trip to the craft store for felt.
Exposure To Light
Folks have written about this before. You always walk the line between great multiple exposures and a blown out shot. Most of my doubles work is done on a camera with an ISO or aperture control. I generally use the LC-A+ or my Petri Color 35. When you shoot doubles, you want to shoot 1 stop down. That’s a minimum. On my LC-A+ I will shoot subjects one stop down and my textures 2 stops down. So Provia 100 would have the subject shot at the 200 iso setting and the texture at 400 iso. I shoot on slide film, for the most part and it is less forgiving of over exposure. Color negative film will love you a lot more and allow for more leeway. So if you are just starting out, use C-41 film to get used to multiple exposures. Once you have a better handle on colors and light sources, move on to the pretty colors of xpro slide film.
Shots done at the films rating:
C-41 – Mitsubishi MX-iii 400
E6 – Kodak Elite Chrome 100
Shots done one or two stops down from films rating:
C-41 – Agfacolor Portrait XPS 160 shot at 320 for the City Hall and 640 for the rocks
E6 – Fuji Sensia 200 shot at 400 for Frost building and 800 for the Landing Strip
Ignore everything I’ve said! Everything I learned came from trial and error. Some of it is right, some of it is just guess work. If it works for you too, go for it! This isn’t law. Don’t operate within the borders of what others tell you is possible. It is only through experimentation that we stretch the concepts and possibilities of analogue photography. Take what works for you and discard the rest. Now go out and shoot. While your out there, multiply the possible outcomes with multiple exposures. Good luck and go get ‘em!