As photojournalists, the creativity we exude 99% of the time comes from an on-location, in-the-moment, situation. We never have control of a situation or subject, unless we are doing a portrait or photo illustration – and even then we can be limited. The opportunity to flex out creative muscles in a studio situation comes even less.
Since I have worked in northwest Arkansas, the sports department has gathered local athletes and coaches at our Springdale Morning News office quarterly for a studio-style portrait session. This allows the photo department to execute a quick and unified way of collecting art for accompanying stories, honoring said athletes and coaches. The last shoot we did with wresting, swimming and basketball was a ton of fun because of the playful props that were brought in by Chip Souza, sports editor. This time around, however, I wanted to do something different and dramatic because I would be shooting track and field athletes.
Due to the restriction of the location I had (the studio), I was quite worried about how to make each of these photos different. After photographing these kids in action during meets throughout the year, I became more and more intrigued about how their bodies moved – especially the jumpers. Thus, in their portraits, I not only wanted to take a nice photograph of them, I wanted to show what they do so well. Inspired by a shoot by Brandon Iwamoto, a friend and former colleague/classmate from college, I decided to shoot double-exposures of the athletes – one simple, and one in action.
Many people have asked me how this effect is made, so I decided to explain it as best I can.
The technique is known as a double exposure and is done completely “in-camera.” This means I did not Photoshop two photos together. Rather, each exposure is done in one frame. “How can this be?” you ask? – by using a long exposure and multiple lights.
By using a six-second exposure and two lights fired at separate times, I can create an effect that the same person is in two different locations or positions in a single frame.
Graphic of studio set up
Graphic of how the double exposure works on a timeline
The difficult part was figuring out – where the subject must stand to be in the frame completely, which light to fire first, and how much power I needed from each light. I was able to practice by myself because of the long exposure. I could trigger the camera, walk into the frame, fire one light with my PocketWizard (wireless transmitter) on one channel, walk to the second location and fire the second light on a different channel, and then the shutter would close, completing the image.
The circled item is the PocketWizard used to trigger the lights. Obviously, I had a good exposure, but not the proper location to stand in for each shot.
Thankfully though, the sports department is always very helpful at being stand-in models. Matt Stephens helped me figure out where to stand and which order to shoot the lights in.
Accidental shot. Light #2 shot twice.
Eventually we got most of the kinks worked out. Unfortunately, we couldn’t always hammer down exact locations for each individual because their height and movement changed with each person. Thankfully though, all the athletes were very patient with me. Some were able to nail a shot on the first try, while others had to do it a few more times at the bequest of me, the perfectionist. With the images being a mix between silhouettes and ghosted portraits, positioning was key so you could see what they were doing without overlapping the first image too much or looking like just a dark blob in the background. Everyone did a fantastic job though and I like how they all turned out!
I only had one problem with this style of portraits that I didn’t realize until after we started working. The shots worked great for individuals, but for one image, I had to include two girls from Lincoln in the same image. This meant four figures in the frame. Both the girls were amazing in the shoot, but in the end, I didn’t like how cluttered the image ended up looking and so I ran (pun intended) with another shot I took.