Camera Motion – Multiple Exposures

Multiple Exposures is slightly “off topic” for this month’s lesson on shutter speed & motion. However, it’s included because it provides an alternate technique for providing the illusion of motion. The technique, as shown here, was pioneered by Freeman Patterson. Some photographers, like William Neill (author of Impressions of Light – the reference in our previous camera motion post), prefer pure camera motion and refer to the discrete step appearance of some multiple exposures as “edgy”. Different strokes for different folks. Learn many techniques and use them all.
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The basic technique for shooting a “motion illusion multiple exposure” is simple-

  • Take several shots of the subject while moving your camera between shots. Small moves are best – else big gaps appear.
  • The number of shots varies – experiment – but ten is a typical value when simulating motion.
  • The camera movement depends on the illusion you’re trying to convey. A vertical pan for trees & flowers is typical, but many others are possible and will be illustrated with examples at the end of this post.
  • Here’s a “technique video” by Tony Sweet (he hand holds most of the time; again, try starting with a tripod as it will give more consistent movement control; ignore the lens baby he uses as it has no bearing on the technique).

The technique for combining the multiple images can be more difficult than actually capturing the shots.

  • If you have a film camera or certain Nikon D-SLR’s, multiple exposures can be done in-camera. Most digital cameras do not have this capability and combining the exposures must be done in software. Here is one approach (I’m not a Photoshop expert)-
    • Paste the second, third, etc. images in as separate layers and try various blending modes with various opacities for all of the layers. When all else fails – Google.
    • I used this¬† approach before getting my in-camera capable Nikon D300. For 10 exposures, overlay blending at 15-20% opacity provides a good start.
  • Doing the combining in software is not hard – just time consuming. I’d much rather use the time shooting than processing.
  • If you are a PS user, Tony Sweet highly recommends this free script that does the combining process. Scroll down to the bottom of the page where you’ll find DOP_LayerStackOpacityBlending. If you want to see Tony using this script & comparing it with his Nikon in-camera results go here (almost 10 minutes long and not that interesting unless you’re planning to try the script).
  • Here is a comparison between ten exposures done in camera and a quick and dirty pass through PS Elements (could be better).


L to R – 10 exposures in camera; 10 in PS Elements; single exposure with long shutter speed camera motion. The comparisons are not exact because it’s impossible to shoot exact duplicates when moving the camera. The PSE version used the Overlay Blending mode and roughly 20% opacity for each layer.
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Comparison of multiple exposure vs. camera motion. L to R – fixed, multiple (5 or 6 – count them), motion.

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Motion types include panning (in any direction), rotation, zoom, combinations.
1. Vertical Pan, L to R – single exposure, multiple exposure, multiple exposure with a horizontal element (dark branch on ground toward lower right causing a out of place dark blur; moral – be careful if there are elements perpendicular to the pan direction). Note that the horizontal pan with the tulips, in the previous example, gives a different “feel” than what I consider to be the most “natural” direction for flora. A vertical pan matches the direction in which plants grow (which is also why I most often shoot plants with the camera vertical). The tulip below is a single exposure camera motion image.

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2. Rotation and zoom can provide interesting results – either separately or in combination. When using these two motions note that sticking your subject in the center of the images is usually a bad idea (just as it is compositionally for a normal photograph.)
L to R – all multiple exposures; subject in all cases is a flower in the lower left; L – rotate, C – Zoom, R – rotate & zoom

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Give this a try. It’s not hard – once again it’s all about perfecting the technique through practice. Much, much easier if you use a tripod (with a ball head). This is the really fun stuff – don’t give up.
[Update – an example.]

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