How To Double Expose Your Film

So, you’ve been shooting film for a minute. Instead of getting 8 decent pics out of a roll of 36, you’re getting 16, maybe even 26! That sunny 16 rule is serving you well. You can see the difference between Kodak Gold 200 and Ektar 100. You’re slowly figuring out your style but you’re a film photographer in the TikTok era. Your iPhone camera can probably get “cleaner” photos and the most out of date digital camera can still shoot video and at least switch the ISO around. So, what is it? What makes you choose film? Now while double exposing can be done with digital camera, and the process is much simpler, nothing compares to what film can do.

Now double exposure isn’t this insanely difficult or complex technique to conquer, it just takes some patience, practice, and a notebook. Double exposure is a technique that brings together or combines two different exposures or images that are layered on top of each other. It is a powerful tool to aide in making your images more conceptual, surreal, and/or cinematic. With it, you can either motivate, frighten, or delight your audience. The picture overlaid is less than clear so a bit of both images come together to form this transparent-like image. Film is experimental at its core, so lean into the experimental nature of it. The imperfections will bar the image from being too sterile (which is often an issue with digital photography), yet what the shot lacks in sleekness it will make up for in character.

To achieve double exposure, there are two methods.  The first is the most common way, you take your first photo. Afterwards, the camera shutter opens to expose the film. Then you rewind the film and take your second photo. Depending on your camera, you might just need to hit the release button at the bottom of your camera. If neither of these options are available to you then you would have to shoot an entire roll first, rewind the film, and run it back. This is where the notebook would come most in handy. 

Now for some tips to help your double exposures come out as something legible and not like a big ol abstract painting (unless that is your goal:

  • A tripod will be your best friend sometimes to help with steadiness. When shooting your base photo, which is typically going to be your subject, you don’t want a whole lot of shaking or motion going on. Save all that for the background.
  • Start with a theme or concept. What type of emotional reaction do you want to acquire from your audience? What can double exposing this photo do to help with that? What will overlapping this subject with this background convey? Asking questions along these lines will help you see the big picture in the long run. To get started, try using a white or neutral background.
  • Try shooting darker subjects first, lighter images as a base photo can lead to a blown-out image if you’re not careful. Some ways around this are underexposing your subject. Keep in mind how contrast will take hold of this photo. Will it compliment or will it derive from the composition? Side note, a flash can be very helpful in filling in light when you need to underexpose both images.

Lastly, I just wanted to say that don’t treat these sentiments as the gospel when it comes to shooting double exposure or multiple exposure. Like a lot of things in life, learn the rules first so you know how to break them later. Shoot a background or cityscape as your base photo, then shoot the subject if that will better fit the aesthetic you want to achieve. Shoot a subject with crazy motion blur and then shoot the background on a tripod. Just shoot. Experiment with the tools you have and be that much closer to developing your signature style. 

Malik Moonsamy is a freelance photographer in Brooklyn. You can catch his work here!

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