A guide to multiple exposures with film
As an avid photographer who shoots far too much film, undoubtedly one of my favourite things to with the format is create double exposure images. There’s just something so fascinating and satisfying about combining 2 (or more) images together to create interesting compositions. I get frequently asked on what my technique is for my images so I’d thought I’d write a little ‘how to’ guide for anyone interested or just curious about multiple exposure photography.
Another common question I get asked frequently by photographers who want to learn the technique is whether their camera can do multiple exposures. The answer is mixture of both yes and no.
Some (but not all sadly) Single Lenx Reflex (SLR) cameras will have a dedicated button for multiple exposures which makes life easy as you simply make sure that the button is pressed before you advance the film to the next frame.
No dedicated button?
Do not fret as there are 2 ways around this. The 1st method can be used with most SLR cameras that have an advance lever and a film release button. Take a photo of your desired subject and twist back your rewind knob until you feel it tighten. Next you have to advance the lever while holding down the film release button at the same time. This should stop the film from advancing and ultimately hold the film in place allowing you to expose the frame again for a second time. Take another photo and you will have 2 photos in one frame.
Still having issues? This 2nd method will solve the problem. Alternatively, to the rewind method, you can shoot an entire roll of film and then just re-shoot the same roll again! For this to work, you need to make sure that when you finish off your roll of film, make sure that the film leader is left out. Once the film leader is left out, reload the film in the camera and your good to go! Accidentally re-winded your roll of film? I’ve done it before, it’s not a particularly ideal situation although it’s not the end of the world. The film leader can still be saved from the cassette by using another roll of film or a Film Retriever (available at here).
Since there are a multitude of films to choose from, which one works best? In general, most C-41 (Colour Negative) and Black and White (B&W) film stocks will work efficiently. E6 film can still work with multiple exposures however the exposure latitude on E6 (Colour Positive) is a lot less lenient and harder to control in comparison to C-41 and B&W film so it is recommended that you stick to those film stocks when starting out. In terms of ISO speeds, any speed over 100 will suit you well. I personally prefer film stocks that have an ISO of 400-800 as this allows you more leeway for exposure.
Metering and Exposure
Number of Exposures
Underexposure amount of each exposure
Now that we’ve got our camera ready with film, it’s time to get down to business. Getting correct exposures through metering is an important aspect of photography in general and it plays a very significant role in capturing multiple exposures.
First, we must understand that exposure is dictated by 3 different elements, your ISO, shutter speed and aperture. When adjusted correctly, you can create a very balanced image in terms of exposure. To describe the amount of exposure, we use a photographic term known as ‘stop’. A stop can be defined as halving or doubling the amount of light that enters your camera. Alternatively, when creating multiple exposures, you want to underexpose for your first exposure. The ideal amounts of stop for double exposures is -1 which means that you’re essentially halving the speed of your shutter or the size of your aperture. A good way to find this is by getting a reading for a perfect exposure and then working your way backwards by adjusting either your shutter speed so that it is faster or by closing your aperture so that is wider.
For example, with a double exposure, let’s say you get a reading of your subject at 1/125 of second and at f/4. To get 1 stop under the perfect exposure, we can double the shutter speed to 1/250 while keeping the aperture value the same or, we can instead close the aperture to f/5.6 while maintaining same the shutter speed. Once you’ve captured your first exposure, you want to get a perfectly exposed photo for your second exposure. This rule of thumb is what I use for my double exposure images and it for most part, produces stable and reliable results however it should be noted that you should use them as general guidelines as it is very dependent on the location of your scene. Still having trouble? join FilmNeverDie photography classes here.
With multiple exposure photography, the possibilities for subject matter are quite endless however above all, my favourite subject matter for multiple exposures is a portrait overlayed with a texture or shape. The best way to get this effect is by shooting your first exposure of your subject against a white background such as a white wall or even the sky. The reasoning behind this is that your second exposure will only show up on the darker areas of your first exposure while the bright aspects of your exposure such as the background will record little to no detail. Try to think of the darker areas of your subject as unexposed areas for the second exposure to fill in. Shooting your subject directly against a white background will give you a good balance between your first and second exposure as you’ll still be able to recognise your subject’s facial features. Oppositely if you shoot your subject against a backlit background such as the sun will have an opposite effect where your subject turns into a silhouette. This will eliminate any facial features in the final image as the second exposure will fill in the entire figure of your subject.
Once you’ve captured your first exposure, you can move on to capturing your over layering image for the second exposure. Try to look for things that have nice textures such as flowers or trees. It’s a good idea to avoid chaotic scenes as they might prove too conflicting for your final composition.
All the information above relates to shooting multiple exposures during the day however if you want to shoot at night, you’ll have to position your subject against something dark such as black wall or even just an empty street, just as long as it’s dark. Shooting multiple exposures at night may appear daunting as you may struggle to find adequate lighting however you’d be a surprised at how bright it can be at night. It is recommended that you use a faster film stock as you’ll need lots of light to get your exposures correct.
Another common multiple exposure subject matter I see often is overlapping landscapes. This can be done with a myriad of things such as buildings, mountains, train tracks and trees. They way to these is by taking your first exposure normally and then flipping your camera upside down to take the second exposure. These can be a little tricky as you want to make sure that that your second exposure lines up with the first for the most part. In addition, a cloudy and patchy sky should be avoided as the texture of the inconsistent clouds will muddle your image. Try to shoot on a clear or overcast day and you should get great results.
I thought that it would be great to share with you some of my favourite photographers whose work I admire and love for their use of multiple exposures. It’s good to view inspiration as it can often give you a brief idea of what you want to achieve with your photography.
Hopefully this guide gave you a bit more insight in to how to capture multiple exposures on film. If you have any questions, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or send me a direct message on Instagram at @greatscoot.
Written and photo shot by Scott William
Adapted by Gary Wong
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