Beauty and the Beast - A Lesson in Double Exposure

Recently, I have been using the technique of in camera multiple exposures to create images that draw attention to current social and environmental issues.  “Beauty and the Beast” below double exposes the iconic sails of the Opera House at Circular Quay with the repetitive geometric, weather stained concrete structure of the Sirius Building on Cumberland Street.   A landmark example of brutalist architecture, the Sirius building was built in 1979 for public housing tenants that had been displaced during redevelopment of the Rocks.   Despite being a cultural marker in the landscape of Sydney, controversial plans could see the 79 units of the Sirius building replaced by 250 luxury units.  Clearing the way for demolition and sale, the building failed to make the “heritage listing” on the State heritage register, despite a unanimous recommendation by the Heritage Council.   The government argues that divesting the site will fund hundreds more new social housing dwellings.  The debate continues.

"Beauty and the Beast" Limited Edition Print by Pamela Pauline

So, how do you create an image like this?  Firstly, not all DSLRs or mirrorless cameras have a multiple exposure mode.  I use a Canon 5D Mark iii, which has a setting for multiple exposures. While it is easy to set the camera to the appropriate settings and then take two or more images that are combined, the difficulty is in choosing the images, framing and positioning these shots so that they blend well into one image.  

The first exposure is considered the base layer on which your second image will blend into.  In the shot above, I really wanted the Opera House to fit entirely in the bulk of the Sirius Building.  With that in mind, I tried to position the buildings when pressing the shutter in a way that would create this effect.   I kept the exposure the same for each of the images and was rewarded with the above multiple exposure.

Like with most photography, the best way to understand double or multiple exposure is to experiment.  While there are no steadfast rules, it is useful to remember that darker subjects blend more easily than light ones.  You don't want to end up with a bunch of blown out highlights.  Sometimes it is easier to shoot the darker scene first, then try a lighter scene on top.   Of course, there are exceptions.  If you are trying to create a silhouette of a person with its head or body filled with details from another exposure, shooting a dark silhouette first that has lightness around it, will allow the elements of your second exposure to fill in the void of the silhouette.  

There are many interesting kinds of multiple exposures.  I love clouds and ocean and am always trying to get the perfect double exposure in camera.  Sometimes I use a slow shutter speed to capture the ocean in motion, and then a faster one to capture the clouds.  I almost always use a tripod, and for my image below, entitled "Impending", I moved the camera ever so slightly downwards with the second image so that the end result looks like the clouds are just hovering above the water.  

"Impending" Limited Edition Print by Pamela Pauline