The Photography of Tony Sweet
Multiple Exposure Techniques Exposed

Swirl Technique
I first learned of multiple exposures in nature while taking a workshop from master photographer, Freeman Patterson, in New Brunswick, Canada. I was absolutely blown away by the myriad of fresh image possibilities. This technique can create a truly impressionist look and, while appearing to be the luck of the draw, so to speak, is quite predictable with practice. One learns from practice and experimentation to see a situation and immediately pre-visualize how a certain technique will appear on film.

Many of the techniques that I learned or found on my own are described herein. All images are eight exposures. It is a good idea to keep the depth of field at f22 or f16. The reason being that with all of the movement going on in the frame, it's still possible to discern sharpness in each exposure, which is easier to view than if the entire image is soft. But, you will see later that even an entirely soft image can still be effective.


I determine the exposure (aperture priority, f16/f22) then manually close down three stops using the shutter speed dial. For example, let's say the exposure is1/30 sec at f22. One exposure at 1/30 equals 2 exposures at 1/60; equals 4 exposures at 1/125; equals 8 exposures at 1/250. Check to see if your camera has multiple exposure capability. There is a lever on the Nikon F4 that, when held open, keeps the film from advancing. I fire off eight exposures (holding the button down while moving the camera), then cover the lens and advance the film on the next (9th) exposure.

Another way is to meter on aperture priority and matrix metering, then set the exposure compensation dial to –3 and set the "multiple exposures" to 9. I prefer to set the exposure manually, because it is possible to forget the –3 exposure compensation and continue photographing "normally" at 3 stops under!

Pan (up) Technique

Random Technique

Multiple Zoom Technique

Zoom Swirl Combination
Multiples tend to yield faster shutter speeds, even at f22 or f16, so hand holding the camera is not a problem. It also gives the photographer more control over camera movement as opposed to being locked onto a tripod.


Swirl effect: This is achieved by moving the camera in a semi circle from left to right, or from right to left, while keeping an area in the finder as the point of axis or point of focus.

Panning: Moving the camera up/down or left/right depending on the orientation. For example, panning trees or reeds would use the up/down movement and moving water or other horizontally oriented subject would be panned left/right. If you pan against the orientation, it could still look fine, but the image will be a complete departure from the subject.

Random: This is basically a panning maneuver, but with short, quick horizontal/vertical movements and pressing the shutter at different points of the movement, randomly. Think of it as shaking the camera at the subject and pressing the shutter at different points.

Multiple Zoom: This can be made using a tripod. After each exposure just rack the zoom inwards a bit. If there is a point of focus or primary subject, make sure that you re-focus on the subject after each zoom exposure.

Multiple zoom/pan: While panning in either format, take the first exposure then on each subsequent exposure zoom a very slight bit before pressing the shutter. This can be achieved hand held or on a tripod. On the tripod, just pan the tripod head slightly, turn the camera slightly, then zoom slightly then press the shutter.


Here are some basic guidelines:

  • It is a good idea, in general, to have an architectural grid screen for image placement and to square up horizon lines.
  • It is a good idea to pan your multiples in the orientation of the subject.
  • Moving in small increments for all multiples is most effective.
  • Be aware of color contrasts. For example, a red poppy will stand out even if blurred.
  • Photograph in low contrast situation (i.e. dawn, dusk, bright overcast).

The most important thing to consider is that multiple exposures and other ‘tricks’ should be to re-interpret an already nice image. If you shoot a multiple of a mediocre image, it will be interesting, but you’ll probably have a mediocre multiple exposure image. Bear in mind that the rules of good design and composition apply to all images, regardless of technique.

Tony Sweet ( is a professional nature/outdoor photographer, lecturer, and workshop instructor living in Baltimore, Maryland.

Updated 20-aug-11   Contents copyright © 2001 - 2011 PhotoCentric.Net, All Rights Reserved