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All about Double Exposure

June 18, 2015

Learn the fascinating history of double exposure, then learn how to create your own in Enlight.

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No one knows for sure who took the first photographic double exposure.

What is almost certain is that this atmospheric, ghostly effect was just such an inspired accident. When shooting with a wet plate or film camera, a photographer should always remove the lens cap or open the shutter only once to ensure a sharp image. But at some point, one forgetful soul made an error, revealing his or her light-sensitive medium to two separate compositions. To most people, the result would have appeared to be a mixed-up mess. But for the more creative early photographers, the artistic potential was clear to see.

The Ghost of Bernadette Soubirous, c.1890

The Ghost of Bernadette Soubirous, c.1890

As early as 1890, the double exposure was being used as a finely tuned technique. As with other early double exposures, the origin of the work entitled “The Ghost of Bernadette Soubirous” is unclear. But this image, which depicts the saint, dressed all in white, seemingly vanishing through a wall, was a very deliberate use of multiple exposures. To this day, the composition captures the imagination of observers around the world.

By the early 20th century, avant-garde photographers were experimenting with the technique. Georges Méliès, considered the father of special effects in filmmaking, started making ghostly figures a key part of his silent horror movies. American photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn used double exposures to blend two slightly different exposures of the same subject for a surreal, hallucinogenic effect.

Scene from The One-Man Band by Georges Méliès.

Scene from The One-Man Band by Georges Méliès.

After Leica introduced the 35mm film format in 1925, the pioneers of the era started to recreate the double exposure style in the confines of the darkroom. The process, known as sandwich printing, involved placing two negatives together in the enlarger which was used for creating the finished print. The ability to place negatives above one another gave skilled darkroom artists the ability to overlay images with greater accuracy than ever before. Playful Italian photographer Wanda Wulz used this very technique to create a self-portrait in which she appeared to have some of the facial features of her cat.

Now, as mobile photography becomes more and more popular, it is enjoying something of a renaissance, but in a different form. The laborious process of sandwiching negatives has been replaced by touchscreen manipulation, allowing for even greater accuracy. Furthermore, you can add textures and color to a digitally assembled double exposure in a way that has never before been possible. Some photographers have even built a name on the back of this technique — Norwegian visual artist Andreas Lie found internet fame overnight when his animal-landscape blends were posted on Colossal. Check out a few of Andreas’ gorgeous photos below.andreas

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To help you create some of your own overlaid masterpieces, we have put together a tutorial detailing how to use Enlight’s very own tools. Try it now!

Step#1---Photos

1. Choose two photos.  The first should be a landscape photo. This effect works best on nature photos with many small details. The second should be a face portrait on a light or white background (tip: to transform a busy background to a white background, tap Image > Adjust > Tools tab > Basic > Offset to 100. Tap Mask tab > Clear > Apply to whiten only the area of the background).Step#2-blending-mode

2. Choose the first (landscape) photo. Tap Tools > Mixer > select the second (portrait) photo. Tools tab > Blending > Lighten. Go back to the Tools tab and Erase any undesired areas to get rid of details that suggest one photo was “placed” on another. Deselect Erase to reselect your top photo, then pinch to enlarge or minimize the photo. Set in place.

Here’s an advanced tip: you can add the landscape photo and portrait photo over your image again, using Mixer, to add more details or for a better composition. This time, use a normal Blending mode, and adjust the opacity by swiping left or right. Use Erase and Add within Tools tab to keep or remove the details.

Step#3-adjust

3. Improve the general look of your photo by tapping Image > Adjust > Tools tab > Basic > experiment with Brightness, Contrast and Offset. Use the tools in the Mask tab to apply the effect only to specific areas.

If you want your image to be on an all-white background (like in the example above) go to Image > Adjust > Tools tab > Basic > Offset to 100. Tap Mask tab > Clear > Apply to whiten only the area of the background.

Step#4-b&w

4. Apply a BW filter. Filters > BW.

Step#4-DUO

5. Apply a linear Duo filter. Filters > Duo > Tools tab > Linear. Move the widget to place the gradient in the most appropriate area. Tap Color 1 and Color 2 to select new colors. Tap Mask tab if you need to Wipe away the color filter, leaving color only on your subject.

6. Your turn! Gain some inspiration from the stars of the #enlightXXcontest, below.

Mark Myerson
Mark Myerson

Mark is a freelance journalist and professional photographer based in the UK. He specializes in writing about the subject of iPhoneography, and is an avid mobile photographer in his spare time. When he isn't typing, he can usually be found exploring the countryside, camera in hand.

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