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How We Roll: The Making of a Magic Double Exposure, part 1

Film Photography, Radian Photography

July 30, 2019

In this post, we’re taking you behind the scenes to show you how we created the image that is a finalist in Belle Lumière’s summer awards and how to make double exposure images of your own!

When Belle Lumière announced their summer image competition, we were all in! We love the magazine and have been so inspired by the work of other film photographers. We figured we would submit a few of our favorite images, never thinking that one would be a finalist! The winners of these competitions in years past have been the film giants that we’ve looked up to in our industry! So to have had our photograph selected by some of the most respected photographers in this field AND be included amongst others amazing photographers’ works is so surreal.

double exposure of woman and leaf in black and white film

In this post, we’re going to walk you through the HOW of creating a double exposure like this. Later, we’ll talk to you about WHY we created this particular image and how we thought through what we wanted it to look like.

A double exposure is exactly what it sounds like: it’s film that has been exposed twice to create a single image. Shooting film is already an amazing experience for us because we don’t get quick feedback on our images — we don’t usually see them until weeks later, which allows us to stay present in the moment and carefully craft our images. But creating double exposures just adds to that excitement! Often, it can lead to duds (and we certainly have those — thanks to The FIND Lab for never shaming us on them!), but sometimes you get a perfect gem of an image! The thrill of waiting to find out is certainly worth it, in our opinions!

Note: You can create this type of image using a digital camera and software like Photoshop, but honestly, we don’t know how to do that, and we think that would take the fun right out of it! If you’re a Canon shooter, you can also create this type of image in camera. We shoot Nikon, but if you’re interested, you can watch this video on the technique.

So how do you create a double exposure image on a film camera? First, not all cameras are created equal, so you will have to read your camera’s manual to find out whether you can create a double exposure. For example, our Contax 645 and Pentax 645N both make it simple to create double exposures in camera, but we also have a Nikon N90s that does not. In order to create double exposures on that, we’d have to use a workaround like pre-exposing our film and rolling it back up to reshoot it, but using that process to create work hasn’t appealed to us and the way we like to create images. Maybe as a fun experiment later!

On both the Contax and Pentax, there is a switch on the left side of the camera body that you flip to create a double exposure. Use the videos we made below to help you find them!

Animated GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
  1. Flip the switch.
  2. Take your first photo!
  3. Flip the switch back.
  4. Take your second photo!

Animated GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
On the Contax, you may need to hold down a small button with one hand while you flip the lever with your other!

A couple of tips:

  • The dark parts of your first image will be retained and filled in by the dark parts of your second image.
  • Because you’re exposing the film TWICE, you should plan to UNDEREXPOSE by a stop. Film has great latitude for being overexposed, more information will be retained if you slightly underexpose each image you take.
  • If you FORGET to switch the flip back (it’s happened), don’t freak out! Just be prepared for a really trippy (read: awesome) image to come from your mistake. 🙂

Here’s what this means for the photo we took of Muriel:

  • First we took a photo of the LEAF. You can clearly see the dark parts of the leaf on the left side of the image. Ian held the leaf up against a background of trees and sky, and the right side of the image is lighter as a result, but you can still see some detail there.
  • We took the photo of Muriel second! Her profile can be seen clearly in the places filled in by the dark parts of the leaf.

Reversing the order, and taking a photo of Muriel first and then the leaf would have resulted in a very similar and very different image! The best way to experiment with this technique is to do just that…go out and experiment! In our next post, we will explain our thinking behind WHY we created this particular double exposure in this way, so stay tuned for that. In the meantime, we would love if you would vote for our image!

how to create double exposure images on film

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