Multiple exposure shooting

Your in-depth guide to shooting multiple-exposure images with your Canon EOS camera, from the two shooting modes to the exposure control options available.

In the days when film cameras dominated the market, double exposure images were often created by not winding on the film between exposures. This was, of course, not always intentional, but many entertaining and intriguing images resulted, and multiple exposure photography was also used deliberately for creative effect. With digital cameras this effect is harder to achieve because once the image is captured, it is removed from the sensor, so overlaying two or more frames is difficult. However, many Canon EOS cameras now feature multiple exposure stacking of between two and nine frames.

Canon cameras including the EOS 90D, EOS 7D Mark II, EOS 6D Mark II, EOS 5D Mark IV and EOS RP have a dedicated multiple exposure function in their Shooting menu. Professional cameras such as the Canon EOS R5, EOS R6 and EOS-1D X Mark III offer additional settings. This feature is available whether you're shooting RAW or JPEG images. Within the multiple exposure shooting options, there are two methods of shooting: Function Control and Continuous Shooting. There are also several exposure settings (although not all cameras have all these options) that can be adjusted to tailor the final output to suit your needs: Additive, Average, (Comparative) Bright and (Comparative) Dark.

Bear in mind that even if your camera doesn't feature multiple exposure shooting, you can still combine images with the Compositing tool in Canon's Digital Photo Professional (DPP) software. DPP gives you even more creative options, such as adjusting the visibility and position of each image within the composite image, and selecting from a number of blending modes.

A multiple-exposure image of a stunt bike rider performing a backflip in the air.

A classic multiple-exposure image, which you can create in-camera using the Continuous Shooting option on EOS cameras.

An abstract image of red roses within the silhouetted head of a girl, created using multiple exposures.

This image was also created using multiple exposures – in this case the Function Control shooting option, which makes it possible to shoot each exposure separately, recompose between shots, or even combine images you shot previously.

Multiple exposure method

Of the two multiple exposure shooting options, Function Control is the most commonly used. It enables you to shoot each exposure separately and check it before taking the next shot. It also gives you greater control over exposure and means that you can recompose between shots. Indeed, you can access the camera menus and settings used between shots, and you don't even need to take your shots on the same day – older images can be combined to create multiple exposures.

Continuous Shooting mode is used for shooting a rapid sequence of between two and nine images, which are combined into one composite. In this mode, camera settings cannot be altered between shots. To use this mode, it's also necessary to set the camera's Drive mode to Continuous.

If you shoot in Function Control mode, you have the option to save all the source images as well as the composite, but in Continuous Shooting mode it's only possible to save the combined image.

It's helpful to shoot in Live View mode with a DSLR in Function Control mode because, as with a mirrorless EOS camera, you can see the composite image build up and can compose each successive shot accordingly.

A multiple exposure image of a man in shorts and a t-shirt with a football in the evening, in front of the lights of buildings in the background.

Another example of a classic multiple-exposure image created using Continuous Shooting, which is ideal for capturing ongoing action – but with this option the exposure might not be predictable and the result could have the ghostly quality characteristic of traditional film double exposures.

A multiple exposure image created from a photo of an older man combined with a shot of bare tree branches against the sky.

A multiple exposure created using Function Control with the Additive exposure setting, which enables you to manually adjust the exposure for each of the component images. In the Multiple Exposure mode menu screen you can make adjustments to the number of exposures and how the images are merged.

A multiple exposure image created by combining a dark silhouette of a woman's head with a photo of mainly purple flowers.

The (Comparative) Bright setting under Multiple Exposure Control preserves the brighter parts of each component image – so if you shoot a silhouette against a light background, as here, only the dark silhouette will be filled in with elements from the overlaid exposures. This setting is not available on all EOS cameras that offer multiple exposure, though, and the results are not always predictable – you can sometimes end up with odd colours bleeding through where you don't expect them – so it may be worth experimenting with Additive first.

Exposure control

The Additive exposure control works in a similar way to shooting multiple exposures with film cameras. Instead of taking each shot with the correct exposure, the total exposure is added up from each individual image. To achieve the correct result, you should underexpose each image so that the resulting image is correctly exposed once they are all combined together.

The Average setting provides an automatic exposure control whereby each image is automatically underexposed so that the final image is then correctly exposed. Unlike with the Additive setting, all of the images in the multiple exposure will be averaged and taken at the same exposure level setting.

The (Comparative) Bright setting, if available on your camera, is suitable for photographing uniformly dark scenes with bright objects superimposed on top. A classic example of such a scene would be a moon superimposed on a dark night sky, or a dancer in white against a black background – this can only be done by overlaying the bright objects within the scene.

Conversely, (Comparative) Dark, if available on your camera, is used to eliminate the bright areas of images and so overlay only the dark areas of each image. This setting is useful for shooting a subject moving across the sky during daylight hours, for example, or eliminating reflections and bright patches in an image – like the reflections you may see when photographing a portrait of someone wearing glasses.

Angela Nicholson

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