Multiple Exposures in Wildlife Photography

Gerry van der Walt All Authors, Gerry 2 Comments

Quite often, when we are out in the field not much happens.

No, cancel that.  There is always something happening but sometimes we stop shoot because we think nothing is happening anymore.  Photographically speaking of course.

It is true that you can only shoot what we see but sometimes you need to, instead of just waiting for the stock standard images to happen, dig into your photographic toolbox in order to create an image rather than just take it.  Big difference.

Here is an image I created in the Mara a few weeks ago from a scene which some might have classified as normal or average.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife Photography

This is not the result of fancy Photoshop techniques  but a straight up single RAW file shot in the field and then processed in Lightroom.

Here is the original RAW file.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife Photography

The technique I used to create this image is called multiple exposures and it’s something you can do directly in camera.

The theory behind this is pretty simple.

You set up your camera to take anything between 2 and 10 images and it then combines this, in camera, into one RAW file.

To create the above image I set up my camera to shoot two multiple exposure images.  The first one was a straight up, and quite boring, image of a group of zebra on the banks of the river wanting to have a drink.  Since I don’t have the RAW file of the two different images and only the final, combined RAW file, the first frame would have looked something like this.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife Photography

Nothing special really.

For the very next frame I dropped my shutter speed to around 1/20 and, while taking the shot, swept my camera diagonally – at the same angle as the river bank – across the scene.  This is almost like panning but since the subjects are standing still you end up with streaks of colours and tones.  This frame would have looked something like this.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife Photography

Pretty trippy and, if you’re into that kind of thing, a pretty cool way to create unique images of zebra but the real magic then happens in camera when the two images are combined to create an image which I feel is bigger than the sum of the parts.

On this particular afternoon we played around with this technique for quite some time and here are a few of the other multiple exposure images I got of the herd of zebbies but didn’t quite make the cut.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife Photography

After shooting a clean, crisp image I then did a horizontal sweep across the scene to get this one.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife Photography

For the above result, after getting my crisp image, I rotated my lens to get a circular blur in the frame.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife Photography

Slightly more abstract, the above images consist of three frames in one.  The first two were crisp images, the second one slightly offset from the previous, and then a slight rotation.

The possibilities with these kind of multiple exposure images are endless and playing around with it, apart from keeping you creatively busy in the field,  can result in some amazing visuals.  Sure, if you believe that every wildlife image needs to be perfectly clear with nothing in the background with the subject placed exactly on the rule of thirds you might look at this and think it is quite horrible but I think, apart from that you are blocking your own creativity and photographic potential, it is a fantastic tool to have and to use to add depth to your portfolio of images and to, literally, create something out of nothing.

To me the important thing with these kind of images, which if we are honest with each other can very easily come across as quite kitch and overcooked, is to shoot with a vision, or a specific idea of what you want to show in your final image.

For the image right at the top of this post – my favourite of the lot – I wanted to show the continuous stop start movement the zebra were doing as they approached the water slowly, stopped and then rushed away from it again.  By shooting one image crisp and in focus – zebra pausing – and then one with a slower shutter speed in which I can convey a sense of movement – zebra rushing away from water – I feel that my final image shows the story I was watching out in the field.

This is not a technique I would use all the time but it is most definitely something to keep in mind when you next head out into the field.

Here’s one more example of a multiple exposure image I created in Madikwe during our Wildlife Photography Workshop a few weeks ago.

We were sitting in the underground hide watching a small flock of Guinea Fowl drinking on the edged of the water.  The light was gone and even at very high ISO’s it was quite challenging to create decent images.   If you’ve ever seen Guinea’s drinking you will know ow they pop their heads up and down to check for any danger around the water and this is what caught my eye and what I wanted to focus on.

A 10 frame multiple exposure images left me with this result, one I quite liked.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife Photography

Until next time.

Gerry van der Walt 

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Comments 2

  1. Simon Beevers

    Interesting results. i am however, not understanding how you actually did it in camera. How do you set up a camera for multiple exposures? (I assume this is different to HDR?) Are most cameras capable of doing this?

    1. Post
      Author
      Gerry

      Hi Simon. Yip, different o HDR as the two images are just overlayed – similar as if you were to do it in Photoshop. Most of today’s DSLR cameras have the option to shoot multiple exposures in the menu system. Working on a follow up post with more screenshots and how to! 🙂

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