A brief history of double exposure.
Nowadays, you can easily create double exposure photographs with digital editing software, but in the past it was more complicated. “In the old days, double exposures were made by shooting an image onto a piece of film,” experienced photographer and teacher Ben Long explains. “Rather than replacing that piece of film or winding the film forward, you would take another exposure so it would be superimposed in the camera. That was a special effect then and was a wild, surreal thing for people to see.”
Multiple exposure photography was one of the earliest instances of special effects in photos. It was an opportunity to create something that couldn’t be seen with the naked human eye. People today are accustomed to altered images, so that novelty has worn off. But double exposures still offer an opportunity to push your creative limits and craft unique and meaningful images. They often result in rather abstract images, making them a great tool for understanding composition.
Learning to experiment with film.
To achieve a great double exposure, it’s important to get familiar with the process of making one with film photography. There are two main ways to accomplish a double exposure photo with film: in-camera, or in the darkroom.
In the camera.
When you attempt an in-camera double exposure, you take two exposures on one piece of film. Depending on your film camera, you may need to wind the film backwards before the second shot if it automatically moves forward a frame after an exposure is taken.
“You have to assume that when you’re doing a double exposure, it’s not going to work right away and you’re going to have to fiddle with it a lot.”
When attempting in-camera double exposures, you must stack your exposures. The light from your second exposure will continue to impact and darken your first exposure, so keep that in mind when setting your aperture and shutter speed. To avoid blowing out the final image, you should underexpose both shots. This is a tricky process. “Assume that when you’re doing a double exposure, it’s not going to work right away,” Long advises. “You’ll have to fiddle with it a lot.” Planning ahead is a huge part of double exposure success. Take the time to visualize your final image and pay attention to all the details.
Take several similar double exposure images on the same roll of film, so you can find one that works. “You don’t know what you’ve got until you develop the film,” photographer Shawn Ingersoll says.