Guide: Double Exposures (Multiple Exposures)

The first time I experienced double exposures, it was my grandmother showing me some of her old 6×6 photos in her retro photobooks.  Following that, I found myself going through IG and would be particularly attracted to these photos.  Accordingly, I hit Google and searched for ‘How to take a double exposure’.  There are some resources out there, most of which is for PS and not film.  Having experimented with it enough now and discussing the physics of it with a friend over a beer, I have a much deeper understanding for what’s happening and that has translated to better images. So here we are… I hope I can help you take double exposures you love.

For those looking for a simple how-to: If your camera has a multiple exposure switch, engage the switch and take photos to your heart’s content (I would start with a double exposure before going for something with 3 or more). For those that don’t, no fear – you can do it just as easily.  Take your first exposure and engage the release on the bottom of the camera (the button on the bottom of the camera you press-in when you’re rewinding the film) and “advance the film” like you normally would (make sure you’re holding the button down all the way through the process).  This action will cock the shutter and set you up for your next exposure while leaving the film unmoved.  When you’re done, just continue on as you normally would.

For those looking for more detail and my thoughts on multiple exposures, please read on.

For those that have never tried it before, the rush of a double exposure turning out well is so much more exhilarating than any single exposure can give.  Keep in mind though, a lot of that rush stems from it being less reliable (aka, much more likely to not go your way).  There is something about them that attracts not just my attention but attention for a lot of people.  I feel like half the time someone sends me a message on Instagram or looks at my IG and asks me a question in person, it’s about one of my double exposures.  I am by no means a professional photographer nor a professional at shooting double exposures.  I am, on the other hand, proficient at it and love taking them.


First and foremost, light is everything.  Isn’t it always with photography?  Yes?  But with double exposures, it gets a bit more interesting.  When you take a photograph, the objective – the primary objective – is to limit the amount of light entering the camera so as to have enough to expose the subject without having so much that the frame comes out completely exposed.  So the trick here is to properly expose your shot… twice… It can be harder than it sounds.

When you take your first exposure, the value of every “cell” in the negative is exposed somewhere between 0-100% of its total value (I tend to think of photographs as a grid of cells (like Excel) with a different exposure value in each cell such that it composes a photograph).  Then, when you take your second shot, you are replacing the cell’s value if the new exposure has a brighter value than the first. In the most extreme scenario, a double exposure can be thought of as a single exposure if the first exposure was totally underexposed.  That is, every cell was exposed with a 0% value and could be completely exposed over.  In a less extreme scenario, the first exposure is a standard shot and every cell is exposed between 0-100%.  Let’s say one cell is exposed at 40% on the first exposure and 60% on the second, the cell will be written over to be 60% exposed. Conversely, if the cell is exposed at 60% on the first exposure and 40% on the second, nothing changes.  In this example, I’m referring strictly to B&W film – color film is acts a lot differently because you start blending colors together.

All in all, it’s pretty rare for a shot to unintentionally be completely exposed in one part of the frame and unexposed an another – almost always it’s in the middle of the exposure continuum.  And since there’s no difference as to which is first, there has to be some strategy for underexposing some frames and overexposing others to ensure you keep the parts you want and replace the parts you don’t.

Framing and Composure

Now that I’ve talked through the technical aspects of a double exposure, more practically you have to consider the framing as it will make or break your shot.  As far as exposure is concerned, it takes practice and a lot of forethought but with the right film, there’s a lot of forgiving. Framing, on the other hand, is just as important if not more so and there isn’t a film stock in existence that can correct for botched framing.  Almost all of my double exposures that didn’t turn out were ruined from framing that wasn’t exactly where I needed it to.

To get started with DEs, I would suggest starting with a silhouette for a first exposure and a shot of something with texture as the second.  It’s tough to go wrong with those… If you wanted to go for something more involved, it helps to use a split-image circle and/or microprism circle in the center of most focusing screens to act as a reference.  Some cameras have interchangeable focusing screens – some of which have lines on them to act as references for landscapes or architectural photos but work quite well as reference lines in multiple exposures.

Since every DE is completely different, the way you approach them is different.  Thus, it is pretty difficult to provide any additional, sound advice that can be directly applied to various specific contexts.  Instead, I would suggest that you make a goal to take a whole roll of DEs or half or some significant portion of a roll.  It’s not easy to get into it until you dive in.  Once you begin to push yourself, you’ll start to see where things are working for you and where they aren’t.  You’ll hopefully also start to get some ideas.

As a last note before I show some examples, I’ve found that the more flexible films are, the easier it is to get a double exposure turn out alright.  I’ve taken some shots with more rigid films and it’s much easier to get blown out.  On the other hand, one of the most flexible films I use (Tri-X) can be difficult to get it to behave entirely because it’s exposure latitude is so wide.


Review: Fuifilm Fujicolor Superia X-TRA 800

One of the primary reasons I started this site was for a lack of a information on the web that provided film reviews from one person – I always found forums and flickr to have to much variety.  On filckr in particular, photos ranged from terrible pictures that makes one wonder if the photographer knew how to use a meter or if the photo was taken by a professional and all of their pictures look amazing.  One site I look to a lot is Alex Burke’s (his work is amazing and I have learned a lot from reading through it) but I sometimes found it frustrating that some film stocks he reviewed were discontinued.

With all that said, let me talk about the film stock that got me back into film photography.  It was cheap, widely availble, and came in rolls of 24exp so I could shoot through them quickly and get them developed the same day.  Was great for someone transitioning back into film after owning a digital camera for years.

I won’t talk to much about it because there isn’t much else to say.  It’s discontinued.  Even when it was sold, it was cheap and didn’t have any of the personality and capabilites of any of the more popular stocks.  I found the colors to be really saturated for my taste and it wasn’t the sharpest film I’ve come to learn.  But that’s okay.  Cheap doesn’t have to mean great.  What is that saying about food? It can be fast, good, or cheap- or  a combination of two but never all three. This film was fast and it was cheap.  But I think calling it good would have been a stretch.

Review: Ilford XP2 Super

Much like Illford Delta 3200, my feelings on this film are laregely dependant on whether I’m shooting 35mm or 120.  There are only a handful of shots I like that have been in 35mm format but I’ve mostly liked all of my 120 stuff.

This film is, of course, the most peculiar to try and categorize.  It’s a B&W film that’s processed as color (C-41 processing).  I started giving this film a go when I was living in Charleston, SC and there was a film lab across the street but they could only do color.  Since I was shooting half color at the time anyhow, it seemed only natural that I shoot a B&W film that could be processed at the same place.  That said, after having a couple rolls get ruined at the shop across the street and already not being a huge fan of this stock, I moved on and haven’t used it in a while.

In sunny outdoor conditions, this film is very boring.  Almost every shot felt like a grey blob with a little detail. The only real way to describe it is to imagine a nice B&W shot- then imagine you’ve lowered the brightness so that the whites are light grey and lowered the blacks to be just a bit darker than the brightest values.

In less lighted conditions where you can control a bit more, the contrast really has a big improvement.  So much so that I wouldn’t mind shooting through another roll but it would likely be around sunset or in a studio.

As you can see in those last couple shots from Sedona, AZ, I had the wrong film loaded in the camera that day.  I regret missing out on the gorgeous red and greens.  Otherwise, in the less sunny conditions, you can see increased contrast and some pretty good detail.  These were all taken on 35mm format using a Nikon F2.

The shots below are all 120 format.  If I were put in front of some of this film again, I think I’d be passing it up.  In the best circumtances, I wasn’t all that impressed.  Although, if I happen to stumble upon an XP2 disposable camera… That I would try it if for nothing but the sense of nastalgia.

Review: Ilford Delta 3200

To see Ilford Delta 3200 exposure tested and compared with other B&W film, follow this link.

For my medium format cameras, this film has been in pretty heavy rotation for a while as there isn’t much competition for it.  The speed of it makes it pretty attractive when the fastest lenses for my 6×4.5 and 6×7 cameras are f/2.8 and f/3.8, respectively.  When you’re talking about using it in 120 format, it’s pretty sharp and not very grainy.  That’s of course thanks to a unique emulsion making it easy to push without getting crushed shadows.

That said, I’ve shot through only two rolls in the 35mm format and was really disappointed both times.  I got a couple shots I liked out of both but really felt a bit let down – it was often way too grainy to make a decent sized print with and the tonal range is a lot more limited than Kodak’s conterpart.  I’ll continue to keep some in the fridge in 120 but probably won’t try any more in 35mm unless I run across some film on the cheap.

I will say this about Delta that has blown me away – you can overexposue the daylights out of it and it still turns out fine.  The first two shots below were accidentally (yes, accidentally) shot at 400 but still developed at 3200.  For those interested, when you have a Mamiya RB67 with multiple backs and an ever revolving stock of film rotating in and out of it, you sometimes forget what’s in it.  In this case, I hadn’t used it in over a month and had only a few shots left on it when I was about to mail some other film off to the Darkroom Lab.  I thought I had some 400 speed film in it and blew through the remainder of the roll.  I thought for sure they wouldn’t turn out but there they are.

These are some examples of what I got out of some 35mm rolls.  While I really feel attached to some of them, I wish I had taken the shots with some TMax 3200.  Alas, such is the life of a film photographer and I still love it.

As you can see, the grit of the film is a lot greater than the larger negative versions and a bit more gritty than TMax.  I’ve also found that it doesn’t have near as much of an exposure latitude as the TMax.  But then again, this could be my bias towards Kodak talking.

Review: Kodak Ektachrome E100

Ektachrome was the first slide film I’ve ever tried. I bought a few rolls the day it came out and left on a trip to Arizona the next day. I shot Ektachrome in my Nikon F2 and Fujichrome Provia in my Mamiya 645 Pro TL at the same time while hiking through Lockett Meadow. Needless to say, for it being a first attempt, I went all in and bet everything would turn out alright.

For those that are not familiar with slide film, it is very temperamental. By that I’m referring to the exposure latitude (or lack thereof) and tendency to get blown out pretty quickly. As such, you have to get the exposure right on point and err on the side of underexposure. Yes- that’s the exact opposite of most color film.

Overall, my thoughts are very positive about this film. So much so that I’ve shot thru several rolls of it and I’ve continued to maintain a stock of it at home, waiting for the sunny weather and long days to come back. The colors are great – a lot warmer than Provia – to a point colors tend to lean towards yellows and reds in my opinion.

Review: Fujifilm Fujichrome Provia 100F RDP-III

If you’ve never shot a roll of slide film, you should absolutely do it now. The sensation you get from holding the diapositives (or slides if you’re shooting 35mm and you get them mounted) is exhilarating. I still get the same rush of looking at them the 20th time as I got the 1st time.

It’s hard to overstate how much I love Provia. My first foray into slide film was Ektachrome as soon as the new stock came last year. Since Ektachrome wasn’t available in 120 and I wanted the chance to shoot through a roll in my Mamiya on a trip to Arizona we were taking in October, I picked up some Provia. The vibe of it is just unreal. The tones are amazing and there’s so much clarity… I took a good scan of the first photos and printed it out into a 24in x 36in sheet and it couldn’t look any better. I honestly think it’s sharper than an equivalent shot on my digital camera (Sony a7).

That’s enough of the good; as for the bad, it suffers from the same qualities all slide film have and it can be a bit persnickety. Like all slide film, you have to nail the exposure and keep the scenes fairly low contrast or the scene or will get blown out in a hurry. That said, Provia has one the widest exposure latitudes of it’s slide stock peers. As for its quirks, it tends to be pretty cool. If you don’t have a warming filter on your lens, you will almost assuredly have to do some post processing white balance adjustments. For those that have warming filters, I typically use an 81A but if it’s particularly cloudy or closer to dusk, I’ll switch out the A for an 81B and everything tends to work out fine.

Those first shots are from my first roll on a visit to Arizona. The weather conditions were perfect – a lot of sun and crisp temperatures. The second set are from a quick stop in Hocking Hills one late afternoon. It was a lot more cloudy and all the shots came out with a bit of a blue wash that had to be corrected post.

Review: Kodak Tri-X

To see Kodak Tri-X exposure tested and compared with other B&W film, follow this link.  

It took me far too long to give Tri-X the attention it deserves. I shot through several rolls of T-Max 400 and moved into high-speed B&W film stocks like Ilford’s Delta 3200 and Kodak’s TMax P3200. Prior to a trip to NYC in late 2018, I picked up a pro pack of Tri-X 120 and shot it exclusively in my Mamiya 645.

All it took for me was that trip and I’m sold. It has just the right amount of grit and the gradient is so unique; the shadows aren’t harsh but much more pronounced than a lot of other films and the brights are unmistakably bright.

I’m still shocked at how gorgeous some of these turned out. =Having started using Tri-X, I’ve realized so much of what I looked for and wanted in B&W photography was here.  It was then that I started making my home with this film. Before long, I expect to start experimenting with it by way of pushing and pulling. From other articles I’ve read and friends I’ve talked to, I have high hopes for what I’ll get.

Since NYC, I got to play in a friend’s studio and while I would have rather been shooting some TMax 100 for the sharpness and lack of grain, I had Tri-X loaded and I made the best of it. I think the results are pretty spectacular. The only thing I would have reconsidered would be making accommodations for the exposure latitude. We set up all the lighting and camera settings using his Fuji mirrorless camera and in multiple shots, we expected complete silhouettes but I got a fair amount of shadow detail in the film.