How to Create Surreal In-Camera Double Exposures
By Ryan Watkins
2 Oct 2010
Over the last few months I've started to experiment with a feature that is included on most cameras but many photographers don't even know exists: the double or multiple exposure. A double exposure is an in-camera composite of two images taken in succession. Lighter areas of both images will show through while dark areas fade away reveling the underlying image.
To start creating your surreal double exposures choose the multiple exposure setting, look in your camera's instructions to find out where this feature can be found on your camera, before you take the two shots you wish to merge together. You can choose to merge two or more exposures; I usually just shoot with two exposures. Next you choose whether to keep the Auto Gain on or off. Auto Gain tries to make sure that both exposures are similar in brightness. I usually keep it on but it doesn't have a large effect on you final image. I'll under exposure the background exposure by one stop while overexposing the foreground texture or subject I want to fade though the background by one stop. If you accidentally over exposure the background or underexposure the foreground then the subjects won't fade though and will be less evident. By underexposing the background and overexposing the foreground it makes the subject or foreground more evident in the final image.
Just taking two random images won't result in a good surreal shot. You need to look for shots where a texture or object will fade though into the other image; for example moody skies with distinct tree lines, usually a rather boring subject, can work as a great background for textures and objects to fade into. I've created images ranging from leaves and giant bugs climbing though trees to shots which at first glance appear to be fog to captures which almost look like abstract paintings or oil pastels.
I used a Nikon D200, with either a Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 prime lens with Kenko close-up filters or a Nikkor AF-S VR 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 Lens, for all of my current double exposures. I prefer to my 50mm with close-up filters so I can combine unique texture macros and close-ups of bugs with skies and tree lines which can create some truly unique avant-garde shots. Using off camera flash can also work great for creating double exposure portraits or for lighting macro textures.
Minimal work is done in post to these images. I'll usually do basic editing in Adobe Camera Raw and will add a curves layer, to adjust contrast, along with sharpening in Photoshop.
Try experimenting with the double exposure setting on your camera!