The technique of creating a double exposure is not a new practice, as it was first developed in the days of film. It is most widely used as a creative tool, and is particularly popular with film photographers who don’t like to use Photoshop. Double exposures allow you to blend two images together into the same frame, using only your film camera, or editing software if you’re shooting on a DSLR.
What Is A Double Exposure?
A ‘double exposure’ is when you take a photograph, and then take another one ‘on top’ of it. The term comes from the film days, because this double image is caused by the film being exposed to light twice (hence the name.) It’s also interesting to note where the ‘double image’ will appear. When you expose film to light, it turns black, but areas that remain under-exposed stay white (remember, the film is the ‘negative’ of a printed image.) It is in these darker, or under-exposed areas that the second subject will appear.
Shooting double exposures started with film, when a photographer would shoot two frames over the same piece of film. By not winding the film on to the next frame, it got exposed twice, creating the double image. Another approach was to shoot an entire roll of film with one subject, and then re-load that same film and shoot every frame again, as a double exposure. Taking a series of studio portraits, for example, and then re-loading the film and capturing still life subjects or nature.
Shooting double exposures on film is all about the suspense. Because you are not shooting digitally, you have no idea what you are getting, and that is part of the excitement. Some photographers like to note down the subjects of each frame, so that they can remember what they shot and try to choose a second subject that they think would compliment the first. But other photographers like the surprise that comes with not knowing. Shooting double exposures on film can be very hit and miss, especially if you are choosing your subjects at random, but that is part of the fun. It’s also important to note that because the film is being exposed twice, it will be brighter that if it was only exposed once. For this reason, it’s a good idea to slightly under-expose both images.
Some newer digital cameras also give you the option to create a double exposure in-camera. This can be a lot of fun to experiment with, especially as you can see the results on your LCD screen right away. The way that you access this feature will depend on the model and make of your camera, so check your manual if you aren’t sure. With a DSLR, you have to activate the double exposure feature before taking your shots. Once active, you take your first and second exposure, and the camera will blend the images together automatically. Some cameras even overlay a preview of your first shot, so that you can line up the second exposure, or position it exactly how you want. Because you can see the results instantly, it’s easy to see what works and what doesn’t, and to get a feel for the technique.
Post-production gives photographers endless possibilities when it comes to blending multiple images, and creating a digital double exposure is easy. By using layers, Photoshop not only allows you to blend two images into one, but also allows you to control the opacity of each individual layer. Whilst this is convenient and easy, some would argue that there is something about getting it ‘in camera’ that is both magical and exciting.