When people think of taking a picture, they often imagine it to be no harder than pressing the shutter button once and looking at the result. The act of taking a single shot already offers much room for creativity and originality with the flexibility of three-dimensional space, aperture, shutter speed, color, and composition. But what if you could theoretically cross the limits of just one single shot with your picture, stepping beyond the confines of reality to create striking works of art? Well, you can achieve this through the advanced technique of double or multiple exposure.
Some digital or film cameras have an option of multiple exposure, meaning that once the shutter flips and records the image on the film or light sensor, the camera saves that same image and layers another image on top of it. The earliest instances of multiple exposure date back to the Victorian Era in the genre of chronophotography, a style of photography that captures multiple phases of movement as a single image. Étienne-Jules Marey’s study of a horse in motion provides a famous example of Victorian chronophotography, taking multiple exposures at short intervals and then layering those into a single image.
However, not everyone owns a camera capable of multiple exposures as such cameras are expensive professional-grade equipment. This is why, with the rise of photo editing technology in recent years, a new technique has arisen: sandwiching. Programs like Adobe Photoshop can layer multiple single exposures into one, an easier process for similar results but with far more freedom for creativity and without requiring the proper execution of difficult, multiple exposure pictures. Thus, sandwiching has become a far more popular way of layering exposures and delivers striking results in the right hands.
But what if you can neither afford the hefty price of a camera for true multiple exposure pictures nor the expensive Adobe Photoshop subscription for Photoshop’s ability to sandwich exposures? I found myself in a similar situation, so I decided to fake the multiple exposure. But how do you make a single exposure look like many? The answer is long exposure. Nearly every camera available today is capable of shutter speeds as long as ten to twenty seconds, or even thirty. One of the quirks about shutter speeds this long is that they don’t record a subject instantaneously. Instead, they record the subject living in that period of time as a single image, an effect that’s already very similar to early multiple exposure. Utilizing long exposure in this way can be a bit tricky to execute, but it does produce very interesting results. Just be aware that because these shutter speeds will overexpose the image, the image will have to be compensated with smaller apertures, typically ƒ/22 or smaller, and will also require a tripod for stability.
As you can tell, the door appears transparent and almost ghost-like, although all of us know that doors don’t actually look like this. In order to take this picture, I simply set the shutter speed to eight seconds and kept the door in the frame for half that time to then quickly swing it out of the frame until the picture was fully recorded. Because the door stayed in the frame long enough for it to be recorded in the light sensor but not long enough to fully materialize in the final image, the end result is just the after-image of the door while everything else remained within the frame by the end, making the door appear transparent.
Here, I decided to experiment with different phases of movement with long exposure. Using a similar execution as the previous photograph, I stayed still long enough for the light sensor to record my original position but also moved around long enough to not fully materialize in the final image. The result is the original position being slightly see-through with motion smears from my movement into different positions.
As I’ve often learned in my journey through this medium, there’s usually more than one way of achieving a certain result in photography. Each method has its own pros and cons, but what is most important is pushing boundaries and achieving freedom of expression. Sure, I was not able to create genuine multiple exposures, and there are several limits to the only option available to me, but ultimately does it matter? Simply be creative and know that there’s never one “correct” way of expressing your creativity.
Thumbnail. Morel, Jennifer. Girl on Water and Palm Tree Branch.
Figure 1. Marey, Étienne-Jules. “Cheval Blanc Monté.” Wikipedia, 2 Jan. 1886, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chronophotography#/media/File:Étienne-Jules_Marey,_Cheval_blanc_monté,_1886,_locomotion_du_cheval,_expérience_4,_Chronophotographie_sur_plaque_fixe,_négatif.jpg
Figure 2. Krima, Elina. “Woman’s Face.” Pexels, 17 Dec. 2019, https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-s-face-3400813/
Figure 3. Marques, Hudson. “Man Wearing Beige Dress Shirt Beside Window.” Pexels, 18 Aug. 2019, https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-wearing-beige-dress-shirt-beside-window-3328069/