Double exposures (where one frame contains two images overlaid) have been a feature of my photography journey for the last six years or so. Have you tried them? Here’s how I got into them and why I still enjoy them.
My first film camera was a Holga 120N, which despite its extreme simplicity, needed a certain amount of practice and knowledge to use correctly.
For example in the first three rolls of film, I estimate I took half a dozen blank shots (forgetting to remove the lens cap – after this I just threw it away!) and as many double exposures (forgetting to wind on the film).
The latter though gave me a taste of something I had no idea could be done with film – layering multiple exposures on top of each other – and opened a world of possibilities.
Indeed because of my wonder at this ability, I made sure the first 35mm camera I bought a month or two later had this capability too, a Smena 8M. Not many film cameras do!
As I explored double exposures more (intentionally now, not because I’d forgotten to wind on!), I started to think about combinations of layers that might be interesting.
This is a very early one with our daughter as one layer and a cloudy sky as the other.
After more experimenting I realised how the exposures worked, and how two layers interacted with each other. By shooting part of one layer as a silhouette, the layer on top could be a more detailed exposure that would “fill” the space where the silhouette was.
Maybe eight months on from getting the Holga and discovering multiple exposures, I was exploring shooting the same roll of film twice, either in the same camera, or in two different ones.
As I’d already dabbled with shooting redscale by flipping and respooling film, I also decided to try a technique called EBS – Expose Both Sides.
I used my then favourite camera, an Olympus XA2, shot a roll of film straight, then in a makeshift darkroom bag (basically my hoodie with my hands down the sleeves the wrong way) in the woods I respooled the roll the other way up so the second layer would be redscale.
I was delighted by the results, and my favourites from this roll remain some of my favourite photographs made with any film camera, or indeed any camera at all.
I also took part in (and instigated) a few film swaps, where I shot one layer on a roll of film then rewound it and sent it to a fellow photographer to shoot a layer before processing.
These generally worked best when we’d agreed a theme for each layer.
But even the completely random ones still turned up a few memorable images.
At the time I was scanning my own negatives – a major reason I bought a scanner was for custom size images like these from film swaps, and shooting 35mm in my medium format Holga.
Having this done at a lab was either incredibly costly (£20-25 per roll just for the scanning) or simply couldn’t be done as the mini lab machines scanned the images in regular 24x36mm frames only.
Having my own scanner gave me the opportunity to experiment with longer montages of multiple exposures.
I realised talking with Mel the other day I’ve not shot film with any consistency in approaching two years. One of the aspects I miss now and then is double exposures, so wondered if a digital equivalent is possible.
Turns out there’s a very useful tool in Snapseed for layering images, which also lets you control the “strength” of each layer.
Whilst for me it’s not as authentic as film double exposures, and lacks some of the random and unexpected elements, I have been impressed so far at the potential it offers for the future. And it feels in the same spirit at least as my original film double exposure experiments.
My recent One Frame #6 was a double exposure made with Snapseed, as was this one below.
With my current and increasingly ongoing preference for using digital compact cameras exclusively, this gives me an interesting extra tool to play with once in a while.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief history of my journey with double exposures.
How about you, have you experimented with double exposures? How did they turn out?
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