“People are icebergs, with just a bit you can see and loads you can’t.”
― David Mitchell, The Bone Clocks
When I read The Bone Clocks last summer I took this quote down because I thought it was profound and true, and also because I thought it the was the perfect metaphor for double exposure portraits.
I don’t think I’ll ever tire of them. I’ve seen the technique used countless times, but the possibilities remain infinite, so the result often feels fresh. Combining two – or even more – images into one can be a bit of alchemy. The combination of a distinctive profile with a texture, color, or symbol which hints at the intriguing and most important aspects of your subject – those bits which lie beneath the surface – can be incredibly powerful and revelatory in a very different way from a traditional portrait.
There are so many different methods for making multiple exposures. They can be done in camera or in post processing with phone, digital, and even toy film cameras. My preferred method is in camera on film because, for some strange and twisted reason the fact that my photographs might not work, and that I have to wait to see if they did, heightens my enthusiasm for them.
The principles are really the same, though, whether you are shooting film or digital, if you are making your multiple exposures in camera. I’ve seen captivating images made from dozens of exposures on a single frame, but I usually make doubles so that’s the example I’ll use. Set your camera for multiple exposures, and meter. Since you are making one image out of two exposures, you then underexpose 1 stop. Two under exposures of the one frame will add up to one properly exposed image.
Those silhouetted profile doubles that have been popular for the past few years are done by taking the first image against a white or light background, like an unobstructed sky. The background gets a bit blown, and in the second shot, you often use texture to fill in the profile. I’ve played with those, but I equally love images where the negative space isn’t washed out, but still remains visible, and your resulting image almost feels like stacked acetates.
One top tip for profiles, is to make note of where your subject’s nose and chin are in your first frame and try to keep those areas clear of obstructions when you line up your second shot. If you can set your viewfinder or monitor for grid view, by all means, do it. This will make it so much easier to hold that first contour in mind and avoid some bit of nature dangling from your subject’s nostril. Yes, you could certainly tidy up any rough edges in photoshop, but it delights me to get it right in the box on those occasions when I do.
That a process which is so full of play and chance can yield images rich with complexity and mystery is the magic of multiple exposures. It’s why I find them so interesting to make, and so fascinating to study.
Have you ever tried them? We would love to see! Please share your multiple exposures, whatever your method, with our community by hashtagging #viewfindersio on ig.
Keep your eyes wide open,