How to do Double Exposure with Film Photography
Double exposure with film is one of the many ways you can get even more creative with your film photography adventures. In this blog we will run through all the best tips and tricks so you can master double exposure with film photography in no time. We also talk to some talented film photographers who work with double exposures to get some advice on the process.
I have tried a bit of double exposure with film (not always intentionally I have to confess) but I have found it a lot of fun and I enjoy the unpredictable results. The below photos were either taken on my Holga camera or a Lomography Diana. These cameras work well for multiple exposure because you don't need to wind on between frames, and with a Holga camera you can even wind on half a frame or less, which gives you this rather messy overlapping effect. But I love it! And I enjoy trying to figure out what each image is. I would love to learn how to make my double-exposed photographs more precise, so have done some research! Keep reading to see what I have learned about double exposure with film.
What is Double Exposure?
A double exposure is exactly what it sounds like, exposing the same frame of your film twice (or more if you’re brave enough). This can produce some really cool images, layering up different scenes in one frame. You could take a random and experimental approach or think carefully about your composition to get some really clever visual interactions that fit perfectly together.
Image by @flyflowfilm CR, Kodak Ultramax 400, Model: Chris
How does Double Exposure Work?
Double exposure works by exposing your film to light twice. In order to get an image on both exposures you will need to underexpose, by cutting the exposure in half. This will mean that the double exposure shots equal out to a fully exposed image. If you are exposing the film more than twice, you will need to half this measurement again so that the exposure of all the frames equals out to a fully exposed photograph. However, films with a strong exposure latitude can still perform well when they are overexposed, so you will likely still get great results if you shoot each exposure normally.
Image by @flyflowfilm Lockdown, Kodak Ultramax 400, Models: Must Be Ghosts music
What film should I use?
To achieve great results with double exposures, we recommend using colour or black and white negative film as they have good exposure latitude, which means they can over expose well. This gives us more room for error and makes metering much less of an obstacle. Out of the two, black and white is a great place to start with as the lack of colour simplifies the overlapping image, there is less detail and colour variation to get in the way and it will help you visualise how double exposure works. Black and white film also has the best exposure latitude. It is possible to capture double exposure on E-6 slide film, but it can be tricky. You will need to concentrate on the metering far more because it has less exposure latitude and won’t perform well if it is overexposed.
What is exposure latitude?
Exposure latitude is the extent to which a light-sensitive material can be overexposed or underexposed and still achieve an acceptable result.
What camera should I use?
There are cameras that will make double exposure photography a much easier process, but I am sure any film photographer will have a camera in their collection that can be persuaded into it. Some cameras have a multiple exposure button that allows you to take multiple frames before the film advances. Alternatively, cameras, like the Canon AE-1, Pentax K1000 or Nikon F2, can be tricked by pressing down the film rewind button on the bottom of the camera while simultaneously advancing the film.
If you don’t have access to this fancy tech, you can easily just shoot the same roll of film again by putting it back through your camera. You may not be able to get as precise shots this way, as you will have to remember what the original image you shot was, opposed to rewinding the frame and shooting it straight away, but it is a great place to start. Shoot the entire roll, reload it into your camera for the second pass and shoot over it again to create a double exposure.
With this technique it is important to keep in mind that you need to align your second set of frames. You could use a marker to pinpoint the film’s position in the mouth of the cartridge. This way you will know that you shouldn’t pull the film beyond this point when you reload it for the second pass. Also, keep your first set of images in mind! You may want to make a note of the images you take as it is a lot to remember.
Check out this awesome reel below by @kateh00k demonstrating exactly how to mark your frames. Her double exposures are stunning!
Older manual cameras allow you to stay on the same frame between shots which makes it very simple to double expose. But the more modern cameras have a coupled film advance system and a shutter cocking lever, which prevents you from taking more than one shot on a single frame. In order to create beautiful double exposures we can cheat the cameras into doing so by rewinding the film back a frame.
Image by @flyflowfilm Blossom, Kodak Portra 400, Model: Taku
Metering can be an intimidating subject and we can all become a bit reliant on TTL metering or even just sticking to our beloved point and shoot cameras, I am definitely guilty of this. But the best advice is to just go out and try it, once you see the results you will begin to understand how double exposure works.
Results of double exposure can be unpredictable even when you’re doing them deliberately, and double exposure in overlapping areas can result in an image being overexposed. If your goal is to create on correctly exposed image on the same frame in the same lighting conditions, you need to halve the exposure for a single correctly exposed frame.
Here are the two basic examples given in the Analogue Photography Book - Reference Manual for Shooting Film (a really great and beautifully produced book with all sorts of tips and tricks for film photography)
Correct exposure at shutter speed 1/25 would need to be set to 1/250 for a double exposure (2 exposures, each 1 stop underexposed), and 1/500 for a quadruple exposure (4 exposures, each 2 stops underexposed)
Correct exposure at aperture f8 would need to be changed to f11 for a double exposure (2 exposures, each 1 stop underexposed) and f16 for a quadruple exposure (4 exposures, each 2 stops underexposed).
The above assumes that you are shooting each with exposure in the same lighting conditions and want equal emphasis on both exposures in the resulting image.
Top Tips for Double Exposure
- Anything that is white or bright will destroy information and anything black or dark will maintain information for the next exposure
- Choose your subject matter carefully. Try to balance out the frames by pairing a busy image (with lots of detail) with a simpler one.
- If you are after a specific outline or silhouette effect, place your subject against a blank background. You could take the first shot of the sky, something with some nice texture or a neutral coloured wall.
- Keep in mind how highlights and shadow details will work together when shooting two frames on top of each other: the shadows in your first frame will be filled in by your second, the highlights of your first frame will most likely be lost in your second.
Tips from the Double Exposure Pros
My top tip when first trying double exposures is to remember that the darker parts of the first image will be where the second exposure will ultimately be more visible, and lighter parts of the second exposure will superimpose the first exposure. Black and white film is a great way to start, as it makes this a lot easier to plan and conceptualise.
Another tip would be to have fun! There's always an element of surprise to the planned shots, but sometimes the best double exposures are the spontaneous ones. This is a great way to learn about how they work, as you can compare what you thought was going to happen to what the actual result was. This is usually my method to double exposed portrait shots; I'll either get the person to change their pose or move towards or away from them, and let the rest remain a mystery until i get my roll back!
Like film photography as a whole, not every double exposure will go to plan, but it all feels worth it when you get that perfect shot!
Tips from @ycontrolphoto
- Always best to shoot the two exposures in the one session so you can have a better idea of how the final image will look. I've seen other photographers reuse the whole roll and shoot whatever, but I'm too meticulous for that
- Shooting against a plain backdrop always gives clearer results, and keep in mind the blacks are where your second image will be most visible.
- A good tip is to go down an f stop when shooting the second exposure so you're not over exposing the overall image.
- When shooting colour film, it's important to find complementing colours/textures that will flatter your subject. With b&w, look for bright highlights and deep shadows to add some drama to the image.
A selection of images by @ycontrolphoto taken on 120 film on Portra 400 and Kodak Tmax 400 on a Mamiya 645.
Q&A with Dubble Film's Adam Scott
True Dubble Film fanatics will know that Dubble Film originally started as an app that allowed users to combine their photos to give a similar look to a double exposed negative. Adam Scott, founder of Dubble Film loved the double exposure process and wanted to bring it to the digital generation. Since then his brand has grown so much more, now selling special effect films and cameras! Adam answered a few questions for us below:
1. I believe you originally started with an app that was about double exposed images. Could you tell us more about the app's concept and where the idea came from?
Dubble was an app based around film-swapping AKA doubles. Shoot a roll and send it to a friend to shot over. I loved it and wanted to bring it to the smartphone generation. It grew quite big for a 2-man team but the tech scene is crazy and when dubblefilm (the analogue branch) started taking off I closed the app. However people made some beautiful images together you can see some here.
2. What did you learn from the app and where did it lead your film journey (transition from digital back to film)?
3. What do you like about double exposure photography?
4. Do you have any tips for photographers wanting to try double exposure with film for the first time?
5. Would you recommend any of your dubble films specifically that would work well with double exposure techniques?
Some of Adam's favourite double exposure shots, taken on a Holga camera. See more of his incredible pictures on his flickr here
So there you have it, everything you need to know about double exposure with film! I hope this blog has inspired you to give double exposure photography a go yourself. Have fun, experiment and see what results you get. And to close the blog, some more brilliant examples of double exposure by Paul himself!
Taken on a Lomography Diana camera with Lomography Colour Negative 400