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Nikon Digital Camera Series
Nikon D2x - Creating Multiple Exposures
© Darrell Young
D2x Discussion Forums
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Back in the early 1980's I bought my first Nikon. I'd read about doing multiple exposures and wanted to take a few myself. I purchased a Nikon FM, with a cool multiple-exposure switch next to the rewind lever. I later sold that camera and bought a Nikon FE instead. Look at the picture in figure 1, of my Nikon FE, which also has the same multi-exposure mechanism as the FM. It was a simple system, fully manual, but worked well. I took advantage of it and made a lot of really enjoyable images.

I have many fond memories and excellent photographs created with that little multiple-exposure lever. Do you remember using it yourself? Sure you do!

   

In figure 2 is one of my favorites. Two of me in the same frame? Yes, that's me in the top and bottom of this 1982 picture. I'm about to drop a flower pot on my other self. But, notice that the shadow of the tree has no shadow of me mixed with it. How did I do this?

This is a simple masked double-exposure. We'll talk more about the technique to shoot images like this later in the article.

Obviously, this was the beginning of my photographic journey, since I hadn't yet learned to watch out for the background. But, it does show a way to have some fun with your camera. After a little practice, you can turn out some excellent in-camera creations.

If you don't particularly like digital post-processing, this is a good way to do some special effect images. No Photoshop knowledge is required, since everything is done in-camera.

If you learn how to use the multiple exposure features of your D2, you'll be able to take special effect pictures when people least expect it. I'm sure you can think up some clever ways to use multiple exposure techniques!

 

In my early multiple exposure experiences, I would often shoot masked pictures of unsuspecting victims… er… people, and put them in the strangest places. Here's another of my favorites. My wife, Digital Brenda, had laid down the law that I would wash dishes regularly if she was going to change diapers.

Well, you know how husbands feel about doing dishes, right? To get even, I took a double exposure of my dear wife, and put her face in a pot in the sink. Yes, I still had to wash the dishes, and as added punishment I slept on the couch for a few days. Now, 25 years later, it's one of her favorite pictures! (See Figure 3)

 

I learned early about the power a woman has! Since then SHE has always gotten the FIRST new Nikon when it's time to upgrade cameras, and things have gone much better. I've not had to sleep on the couch in years… well… weeks!

I won't show the picture of my brother staring up out of the toilet, since I think you have an idea of what sneaky, troublemaking, and fun things YOU can do with multiple exposure capability. If you have a D2x…you have that capability!

How did I create the images above? I'll explain more about this later in the article. For now, let me say that these pictures were done by normally exposing only sections of the frame, while other parts were masked off with a Cokin filter mask. Then the masks were moved and another exposure taken.

The D2 cameras have a much more advanced Multiple Exposure system, and more automation. But, as I found out in researching this article, they are even more fun than the old way.

Why not get your D2x and the user manual, and let's explore the multiple exposure functions. Soon you'll be making images that cause people to exclaim, “How did you do that?”

WHAT IS A “MULTIPLE EXPOSURE?”

Multiple exposure is the process whereby you take more than one exposure on a single “frame,” or picture. Most of us will only do “double exposures,” which is two exposures on one frame. It requires one to figure the exposure values carefully for each exposure, so that in the end picture, all the combined exposures equal one normal exposure. In other words, if you are going to do a non-masked double exposure, your background will need two exposures at ½ the normal exposure value to equal one normal exposure.

PREPARING YOUR CAMERA FOR MULTIPLE EXPOSURES

Here are the three steps to prepare your D2x camera for a multiple exposure session: (see details below)

  1. Set the white balance to a preset that matches your light source during the session. Or, get a white balance reading in advance. (manual page 54)
  2. Set the motor drive to CH-H, CH-L, or S. (manual page 43)
  3. Set the Meter Shut-off time to “No Limit.” (manual page 193)

(1) White Balance Settings: Read over the D2x manual on pages 119-121 for details about multiple exposure. There are a few decisions you must make BEFORE you start making multiple exposures. You need to think about what you want to accomplish, and set the camera up accordingly.

An important thing to know is that it's NOT good to use Auto White Balance when doing double exposures. Nikon has designed the D2x so that it defaults to “Direct Sunlight” if you leave the camera on Auto White Balance during multiple exposures. So, unless you're shooting the session in direct sunlight, you should be concerned with your white balance settings. If you are unsure about White Balance settings, you may want to read the article “Nikon D2x – Using the White Balance Controls” before you start doing multiple exposures. (See page 54 of manual for WB info)

You'll need to notice in what type of light you're taking the multiple exposures, and adjust the white balance accordingly. If you take one picture outside under the sun, and another inside under tungsten lighting, then obviously you will have mismatched lighting and the resulting color differences in your image. So, you'll need to measure the white balance values in advance or be prepared to use the preset white balance settings to make your adjustments. You can't take white balance readings once you have engaged the multiple exposure controls.

If you're shooting the multiple exposures under the same light source, then simply set the white balance to the preset closely matching that light source, or make a white balance reading before you take the images.

(2) Motor Drive Settings: Since the multiple exposure controls require you to decide in advance how many exposures you'll make on the one frame, you'll need to be concerned about the motor drive settings.

If your camera is set to Continuous High or Low motor drive, the multiple exposures will all be taken in one rapid burst. Often, that is not how you want to take the pictures, since you'll be moving things around between exposures. Most of the time it's best to shoot in Single-Frame motor drive mode. (See page 43 of your manual for details on motor drive settings)

Read page 121 of the manual carefully before you do your first multiple exposures. You cannot do certain things during a multiple exposure session. Some of the things disabled, or changed by the D2x during multiple exposures are the following:

  • No exchanging of memory cards between exposures.
  • Only first exposure Photo EXIF information is stored.
  • Only the first voice memo is kept.
  • You only have 30+ seconds to complete the multiple exposure sequence unless you set exposure meter shut-off time to “No Limit” (Page 193 of the manual, the default is 6 seconds). If you are taking multiple exposures that will take more than 30 seconds to complete, then set the meter shut-off to “No Limit.” We'll see how shortly in the Meter Shutoff Settings section below.
  • Auto White Balance defaults to Direct Sunlight.
  • Multiple Exposure mode overrides Interval Timer mode (see manual page 122).
  • Exposure Bracketing is canceled.

(3) Meter Shut-off Settings: Since many multiple exposures will require a period of time longer than a few seconds to complete, it is important to set your meter shut-off time to “No Limit.” If the meter shuts off during a multiple exposure session, the D2x cancels the multiple exposure session. You don't want the meter to shut off during multiple exposures!

When you select multiple exposure the D2x automatically adds 30 seconds to your current meter shut-off time. The factory default is 6 seconds for normal meter shutoff, so you would have only 36 seconds to complete all the shots. As we have mentioned, that is not enough time for many multiple exposure sessions.

Let's look at the sequence of D2x menu screens used to set the meter shut-off time to No Limit. See figure 4, and set your D2x accordingly.

If you decide to leave your camera meter shut-off time set to No Limit, just keep in mind that the meter will stay on while the camera is turned on. This is not particularly bad for the camera, just more draining on the battery. I plan to set my meter-off time to No Limit when I'm taking multiple exposures, then set it back to 8 seconds when I'm done. If I forget to do so, I'll notice it later, I'm sure.

HOW TO SET UP A MULTIPLE EXPOSURE SESSION

  1. Select the Number of Exposures you want to take from the Shooting menus.
  2. Turn Auto Gain on or off according to how you want to control exposure.
  3. Take the picture. (FINALLY!)
Page 119 in your D2x manual shows that setting the D2x up for Multiple Exposures is easy and fast. In fact, if this article only had to deal with how to set the session up, it would only be about one page long. It is the preparation for doing the multiple exposures, as you read above, that takes some time. But, in fact, all of it takes a lot more time to read about it than actually do it.

Let's start the multiple exposure session by looking at the basic sequence of D2x menus we'll use. Look at Figure 5 to see the sequence of six screens to set the actual number of exposures, and Auto Gain, in your multi-exposure session. I've numbered each screen so that we can discuss it individually.

First we'll scroll to the Shooting Menu –Screen 1, then scroll right to the Multiple Exposure Menu - Screen 2, and select Number of shots, then right again to Screen 3 to select the actual number of shots in the series.

If you only need to do two shots (the default value) then you can select “Done” in Screen 2, instead of scrolling right to Screen 3. Screens 4 and 5 have to do with setting up the “Auto Gain” functionality, which you may or may not want to use. Screen 6 lets you finish the selections, and you are ready to take multiple exposures!

Once you've selected a shot count, the D2x remembers the value and comes back to it for the next session. Then all you have to do is select screen 1 – Multiple exposure, scroll right to screen 2, and select Done. You can do that over and over. It's actually quite fast and easy!

Understanding Auto Gain: Please note that Auto Gain defaults to ON, so you need to understand it well. Let's discuss it in detail.

On Screen 2, or 4, is where Auto Gain is selected (same screen, different sequence). Auto Gain only applies if you want to make a number of exposures with the exact same exposure value for each. If you want to make two exposures, the camera will meter for a normal exposure, and then divide the exposure in half for the two shots. For three shots, it will divide the exposure by 1/3 each, four shots by ¼ each, eight shots by 1/8 each…and so forth.

In other words, it will take the normal exposure for a single shot and divide it by the number of shots, so that when you are done, you have the equivalent of a single good exposure. Does this make sense?

Another way of looking at it is this; if I want a two shot multiple exposure, I normally want the background to get ½ of the normal exposure in each shot, so that it will appear normal in the final image. Auto Gain does that automatically. If I need four shots, I only want the background to get ¼ of a normal exposure for each shot, so that I'll have a normally exposed background when the four shots are taken.

The reason I mentioned this in such a repetitive fashion, is that it took me a little while to wrap my brain around the confusing presentation of this fact in the D2x manual. Whoever heard of “gain” meaning dividing something into parts? What I think the manual writers were trying to say is that each shot “gains” a portion of the normal exposure, so that in the end the exposure is complete and correct. I hope this makes sense to you!

Auto Gain is like an automatic normal exposure “divider-upper” for multiple exposures. It divides up the exposure into appropriate sections, so you won't have to fool with it.

When should one use Auto Gain? Only when you have no need for controlling exposure in any way but an exact division of similar exposures.

Auto Gain works fine if you're not using masks. When you use a mask, you want a full normal exposure for each of the uncovered (non-masked) sections of the image, so Auto Gain will not work for this. You should use MANUAL exposure, with Auto Gain turned off.

STYLES OF MULTIPLE EXPOSURE IMAGES

The beginning images of Digital Darrell in a tree about to drop a flower pot on the other Digital Darrell, and the wife in a cooking pot, were double exposures with a section of each picture masked off. A normal exposure of half the frame was made, then the mask and subject moved to the other side of the frame, and another normal exposure made. It's like two pictures pasted together, but on one frame of “film.” (Of course, since the pictures were made in 1982, Digital Darrell was merely... uh... Darrell; as evidenced by there being film in his camera at the time.)

Using multiple exposures, along with masks, allows you to do some weird things. You can buy masks with all sorts of shapes, which allows pictures like my wife in the pot shot. (LOL)

One form of multiple exposure where auto gain works fine is an effect called “ghosting.” (See image to right)

In the multiple exposure, your subject is standing in front of a background that will get a full exposure by the end of the shots. But, your subject will only stay in the image for a portion of the shots. This allows the background to show through the subject since it gets less exposure than the background. The subject looks like a somewhat transparent object or person. Thus the name “ghosting.”

   

It's especially entertaining to have two people stand beside each other, with the arm of one person around the shoulders of another, then have one of the subjects leave the session before all the shots are made. It then looks like someone is hugging a transparent person. An example of this is in Figure 6, where one of my kids looks like the invisible man.

Be sure and use a tripod for exact registration of your multiple exposures, unless you are masking in a way that doesn't require it!

Use the multiple exposure powers of your D2x to make special images that will be interesting now, and 60-years from now.

Then you'll be known as that somewhat strange grandmother or grandfather who had that weird camera that could see through people.

Isn't being a digital Nikonian fun?

Keep on capturing time…

 
   
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