Field Techniques: Multiple Exposures

Is that photoshopped?

The answer is yes. All my images are edited and a good photographer should edit their images. This is my mantra when people ask me if I edit my images, but there is a difference between editing and what some in the field called digital manipulation or digital artistry.

Yes, in the sense that the negative is like the composer’s score. Then, using that musical analogy, the print is the performance- Ansel Adams

It's odd to quote Ansel Adams as there are so many exceptional photographers who are alive today who will agree with this statement but use their own words. Unfortunately few photographers in the past 100 years hold Ansel's weight. This understanding runs true through the vain of the photography community and I can promise you every image has edits done to them. Even those who say they don't are probably lying, and if they are not lying their images will probably represent the poorer quality of images you may encounter on your roaming.

At the end of the day, the best photographers in the world edit their images. How and to what extreme is an altogether different topic but let's just say what I am doing sits comfortably within photo editing.

Multiple Exposure Photography

Not all photographers use exposure blending, but I am one that uses it nearly every time I photograph just in case I need the files to create the image. But what is it?

Multiple Exposure Photography- the act of composing an image and then taking a series of photographs to collect adequate information accounting for the range of light represented within the field of view. The gallery below shows exactly what I am talking about.

And the final blend

Why do Photographers Use This Technique?

For the most simple reason, it is the only way to overcome the limitations of the technology we are working with. Cameras are not eyes and they cannot deal with extreme changes in bright and dark areas within the field of view. The more extreme it is, the worse the photo becomes. Since this limitation has been around since the beginning of photography, there have been inventions to overcome this.

The most basic invention was the creation of Graduated Neutral Density (GND) filters that darken one side of the image and not the other. In the early days of photography, these were the only way to overcome bright areas in the sky and still get a good exposure of the ground. These too have their limitations as you can see in the example below.

First and foremost if the darker area of the GND passed over the ground, or worse, your subject, that piece of your image will be significantly darker than the rest of your image (Extreme example above). The other problem with using GND's is their effects are baked into the final image and if you want to remove them... you are out of luck because they are built into the final product and whatever mistakes they make within your file, they are there forever.

The technique of multiple exposures and then blending them in post-processing does not have the above limitations, in many ways it is a far superior technique. Its downfall though comes on the backend of the image processing. Images don't create themselves so in order to get a perfectly exposed image, the artist must bring all the different images taken into something like Photoshop and blend them together.

Much easier said than done.

Many of these attempts are straightforward, but there are plenty of tricky exposure blends that simply do not want to come together. The bigger the difference between bright areas within the images and the darker areas the harder it gets to blend the image. The more direct sunlight hitting the lens, the harder it gets. The further past sunset the harder it gets. The more complicated the horizon is the harder it gets. If you throw trees into the image that cross over the horizon line the challenge of blending that together becomes 10 fold harder.

So when a photographer says their images are photoshopped, it may mean they spent collecthours on the back end trying to put together an image to make it the way they wanted.

How to do exposure blending?

Unfortunately, that will be for another day, but I will write about some ways to pull these off in the future. I'll post the link when I get that up and written.