Architecture is an art form that reflects human creativity and engineering ingenuity and is not simply about buildings and structures, and one of the most fascinating ways, for me anyway, to capture the beauty of architecture is through multiple-exposure photography. Photographing architecture using multiple exposures allows you to create unique and visually stunning compositions that showcase the architectural details in a whole new light, capturing the intricate details, patterns, and textures of the buildings and structures in a creative and artistic way.
What Is Multiple Exposure Photography?
Multiple exposure photography is a technique where two or more images are combined into a single photograph, which I'm sure you already knew. In traditional film photography, this was achieved by exposing the same frame multiple times, resulting in the blending of different images on a single negative. In digital photography, multiple exposures can be achieved through in-camera settings or post-processing techniques. Depending on your camera you may be able to capture 2 or more frames as multiple exposure shots. For the examples shown in this article, I used a Fuji XT-5 which captures up to 9 frames.
Perhaps the main difference between multiple exposure and ICM is that you have greater compositional control and details within the final image. With ICM you create your composition relative to your subject matter and then your shutter speed and movement dictate the final outcome. Both do have their plus and minus points and both can be combined to create your image. You could for example use your in-camera multiple exposure setting and shoot any of the sequential shots as an ICM, in manual settings, and then shoot the remaining shot(s) as a focussed composition. Resulting in a mix of both ICM and multiple exposures.
My own personal preference for this type of imagery is now to shoot solely in jpg format so that I have the final image captured in one frame without the ability to edit the positioning of the captured frames in post-production as would happen if you shot in raw. Even if you do shoot raw your camera's firmware will create a final blended image of your sequence, however, for me, I did find that with the other single raw images, I would be tempted to realign some of them to get my final image. Whereas shooting solely in jpg meant I had to reflect upon the image and improve my technique to achieve what I was seeking.
If your camera is equipped with a multiple exposure mode, you should have a few blend modes that are available for you to choose from, try them all as each will produce a different result based on your subject matter and available light. My preference is an average blend due to the results it provides. On another note to quickly access the multiple features, I have it stored in the My Menu feature of the XT-5.
There are no hard and fast camera settings to follow for this type of photography as it's all down to a matter of taste. I personally use between f/8 and f/14 as I enjoy the visual effect of the architectural details that are overlayed in the images as each time I look at the image I see more and more within it. They can also be photographed with wide apertures, on very sunny days an ND filter of about 3 stops is advisable. Manual camera settings or aperture priority again both work depending on what final effect you are after. Personally, I now lean more towards aperture priority when capturing these as I can spend more time focusing on the effect of the overlayed details within the composition rather than exposure and shutter speed.
Lenses, again this is entirely up to you as different focal lengths yield different results. Using longer focal lengths will require less movement in the camera position/angle to create the desired results. However, with the examples shown here in this article a majority of them were photographed at 16mm, so as you can see it's down to personal preference.
There are so many different ways to capture these types of images and it comes down to your own personal preference for the final image and how you tackle it. Two or three exposures might be all you need to get your image, or perhaps in my case anywhere between six and nine images.
Each composition for myself is usually tackled in the same way as I like the visual results it returns. It also depends on how much architectural detail there is to have within the image; more detail, tighter movements, less detail, larger movements.
The image above is indicative of the tighter movement scenario. The red lines indicate the first composition with the main subject being the central building framed by the other two. The purple lines indicate the tighter directional movements of this multiple exposures, and with each one, I try to keep the main subject within the frame. This of course is not always the case as each composition will dictate whether your main subject should stay in frame for all of the shots.
You don't always have to stay focused on your subject matter, as in the image above, where a series of shots were taken of the architecture and then during the series, I shifted my focus to the river and captured a shot, and then returned for the remaining shots of the buildings. Doing this allowed me to add a slight texture of the water ripples over the entire image.
To get the final results you are seeking you may want to do quite a bit of post-processing or simply just tweak the colors this is where it is entirely up to you as you are creating a piece of unique photographic artwork. For the image below a simple overlay of the bottom image with a lighten blend mode in Photoshop was all that was required to achieve the painterly effect I was seeking.
As this is your photographic art so to speak, there are no boundaries in how you edit to achieve the final effect. Sure, compositional guidelines are still required to control the viewer's eye, but the coloring, tonality, and all other elements of editing are derived from your choice. Even touching on the abstract nature of a shot and edit can result in some unique images; which of course are subjective.
The following images are a result of various different basic editing techniques including masking to blend various parts of the same image, flipping an image to create a mirrored effect, and blending two images together.
Give it a Go
Ok, so I'm aware that it might not be for everyone, but at the same time, it might be worth giving it a go if you are in a creative rut. Don't be afraid to experiment and be creative with your images and compositions. Try different combinations of images, exposures, and blend modes to achieve the results you are after. Push the boundaries and think outside the box as your images could create compelling architectural multiple exposure imagery.
Include people in your images if you are in a busy city as it adds to the visual elements within and helps breathe nuances of life into the surrounding architecture. I don't do it that often myself but each time I do I find it intriguing as the visual details within the scene obviously increase, and I see more and more interest within the image even if the composition is not that great.
Think about the elements you want to include in your images, considering the placement of lines, shapes, patterns, and reflections as they can add depth and interest to your final composition. Above all though, have fun experimenting.