I’ll be the first to admit that Photoshop (or the post-processing program of your choice) is a powerful tool. There’s a lot that it can do to help a photograph reach its full potential. From color-balance to adjustments in light and shadow, Photoshop helps make a good picture great. Even slight composition errors can be fixed with Photoshop (usually through a bit of cropping to achieve the “rule of thirds”). All this being said, for a long time I was a staunch supporter of “pure” photography; that is, presenting a photograph as it was taken by the camera, with no adjustments or tweaks made after the fact. With the public outcry of Photoshopping pictures so people appear more “beautiful” than they really are, I certainly can see the benefit of pure photography representing the world as it really is.
Of course, once I started to see my pictures pop with a bit of post-processing, I quickly changed my tune. The root of my “pure” thinking was that a photograph had to be good before it was post processed. I usually attest that about 80% of a picture’s aesthetic comes from composition, with 15% attributed to the quality of the lens, and 5% on the settings from the camera. A photographer who has an “eye” for a picture can usually save some time in post-processing because the base of the photograph is already attractive.
But what about the abstract photograph? Sometimes, as a photographer, I want to have two elements in a picture that cannot be achieved with a single shot. Since I am not extremely skilled at Photoshop (only having a “trial and error” approach to the touch-up adjustments mentioned earlier), I am unable to splice two photographs together to achieve the desired effect. Sure, I could take the time to learn how to effectively use more of Photoshop, but I’d rather spend that time going out and taking pictures. Fortunately, there is a way to combine to photographs without the need of Photoshop. I’m referring of course, to “multiple exposures”.
There are many benefits to using multiple exposures as an in-camera feature. Not only does it save time Photoshopping the two pictures together, but often you can see how the composition will appear before the files even get to your computer. Of course, there are also challenges and limitations that come with using multiple exposures. Not only are you “locked in” to the composition of the multiple pictures, but if just one of the photographs is “wrong”, the whole photo is ruined. Still, here are some tips about how to overcome the challenges of multiple exposures and create some really interesting pictures:
1. Lighting: Because multiple exposures overlay a number of photographs on top of each other, the lighting of the combined photographs may be too light or too dark. Setting your exposure a few points higher (for night shots) or lower (for day shots) should help with this.
2. Zoom lens: There are a number of interesting illusions that can be achieved if you’re using a zoom lens for your multiple exposures. If you take a picture at a wide setting (lower mm) and add in something at a zoomed setting (higher mm), the perceived scale of the two pictures starts to make the zoomed item seem much larger than it really is. Because it’s all part of the same photograph, it’s hard to argue that it’s been “Photoshopped”.
3. Blank space: While the ghostly images you can produce with multiple exposures are neat, if you want both pieces of the exposures to have the same focus, you’ll need to account for blank space. If your camera has grid lines on its viewfinder, use them to place the two subjects in such a way that you’ll know they won’t overlap.
4. Be creative!: Try taking a picture of a building, then turn around and take another picture of the same building upside-down. Shoot one of the exposures in focus and one of the exposures out of focus (in a bokeh style). You don’t always have to shoot both exposures the same way!
As always, have fun!
– Benjamin M. Weilert