Creating Images with Multiple Exposures

Back in the old days before digital revolutionized photography a lot of people shot slide film and there were cameras available which would allow multiple exposures either to be electronically programmed or performed manually.  There was also a technique called “slide sandwiching” which was perhaps more recently revitalized by Michael Orton and Freeman Patterson.  A curious thing tended to happen when one sandwiched two or more slides together – the saturation, the hue and colors shifted – and there was no formula to predict how each color might shift or why. 


 From the second I saw Patterson’s work I was hooked and that doubled down when I stumbled upon Orton.  This was the 90’s Canon F1s; speed finders, and Velvia film. When I first started playing around with photographing the world using these exotic techniques I told self  “I’m just trying to master a technique,” and I was and in the process the technique became a way of seeing that has led to the technique transforming into an approach – a way of being.


 When you create images in-camera that are composed of more than one layer strange things happen.  You will get unexpected color, shifts in saturation and hue.  You will also start to see light – in very new ways.


 If you are using Nikon brand pro or advanced DSLR cameras chances are there is feature in the camera menu for setting up the camera’s settings.  I use a Nikon D200 and on this camera the menu for the ME settings is under the Tool menu.  When you select the ME menu it will ask if you want “auto correction” and you do.  It will then ask how many exposures you want – from 2 to 10.  I don’t think there is any right number exactly for any given subject.  That said if you are trying to do still life’s I would start with 2 and if, on the other hand you want to play with motion and blur then start out with 9 and see what happens.


 Playfulness, patience, and practice in no particular order will determine your ability to learn how to create images that work for you. Normal metering works fine I suppose, and you will have to learn how your camera tends to record the subject’s color, saturation levels and hue.  Relax.  You will initially have limited control over the results so its a perfect time to just start playing around and paying attention to the results because through studying the effect of the camera movement or control you elect to start with you will soon begin to notice aspects of the subject you have not previously observed. For my work the lens I prefer to use is the Nikon 200mm F4 Micro lens.  With the D200 the focal length becomes 300 mm that provides a large working distance range and the glass in the lens is state of the art.  If you are going to do serious macro get yourself a crisp dedicated Macro lens.  The Nikon is heavy and has a tripod collar which allows more freedom of compositional angles – a freedom you will be glad to have.  A second lens I often use is a 70-300 Nikon zoom – the cheap one – with a 45 mm extension tube lends a softer dreamier look to floral work.  Finally, I often will wonder around with a 90mm Tamron Macro lens that ends up being a 135 mm focal length lens when on the D200.


 Focus:  This aspect of creating images using multiple exposure techniques will soon become critical.  The more you practice the more aware you will become of finer and finer increments of precision focusing.  You have to train your eye to register the subtleties of precision focusing and it is well worth the effort affecting all aspects of perceptual life.  Some people have found that using their camera’s depth of field preview feature (if you have it) helps.  But others don’t so don’t worry if you don’t have that feature – the important tool is your eye – and all photographers have to spend time training their eye – for those who have or will make photography a life-long practice, it never stops. Precision focusing requires patience as much as practice and here a steady and flexible tripod really helps.  Images created using multiple exposures can be accomplished hand-holding the camera but doing so limits the creative options and introduces a secondary chance factor into the outcome – the movement of the photographer.  Precision focus requires concentration and also paradoxically so, necessitates a playful, curious attitude.  I presume of course that one has turned off the automatic focus control and is manually adjusting the focal point (s) desired.


 Exposure:  I have largely forgotten how to “properly meter” a subject or scene anymore.  In fact, quite recently I have taken to placing the mode control on P, letting the camera select for me the proper exposure, taking that setting as my guide and shooting from manual mode.  What concerns me most is that my lens be wide open so the depth-of-field is minimal.  There are exceptions to this but that’s another topic.  While I am confessing my errant ways I should mention as well that when I am doing serious work I use an old fashioned dark cloth made originally for large format work when the photographer is looking at the image on the ground glass rather that looking at the image through the lens.  I really prefer to just look at the image on the camera’s LCD screen and make exposure adjustments as I fine-tune the color contrast and hue.  Using a dark cloth really saves time and is a key towards building image consistency.  I have found that using a focusing cloth helps me in various ways.  First it is a tremendous concentration aid.  You probably will look silly (I’ve been told I do) with a black cloth over your head but it will change the way you photograph more than just about anything you can do.  It will also, if your observant, change the way (s) you expose your images and help concentration narrow down to where precision focusing becomes more visible.  A quick rule of thumb – when first starting to play with multiple exposures – overexpose up to three stops and  examine your LCD for results.  Under the dark cloth the LCD is a better friend than your histograms.

2 thoughts on “Creating Images with Multiple Exposures”

  1. Good stuff! For me also very exciting, as I did a lot of film photography (Praktica, Zenit, Smena)…before getting into digital.

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