Creating a double-exposure photo is a lot easier now than in the days of film. In those old days, there were two main avenues to take — in-camera and in the darkroom, each in turn with two techniques of their own.
Stockton Port’s pitcher Pedro Figueroa’s form is displayed in a multiple exposure shot as he throws against the Bakersfield Blaze during a California LEague Game at the Banner Island Ballpark in downtown Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/4. ISO: 1600.)
The first in-camera method required a lot of manual dexterity. It was the photographic equivalent of rubbing your tummy and patting your head while hopping on one foot.
Step one was to snug up the film rewind knob to take up any slack in the film, then after taking the first exposure, push up on the rewind release button located at the bottom of camera with the thumb of the left hand, while holding down the knob with a finger or two of the same hand to keep the film from advancing. With the right hand, turn the advance lever and then press the shutter button for the second exposure. When used in conjunction with a motor drive, multiple exposures can be done. Without a motor, well then it’s so involved that two exposures was tough enough.
The second technique is a bit easier. When loading the film into the camera, draw a line on the film’s leader where it comes out of the edge of the film cassette, then close the back of the camera and shoot like normal. When you’re done shooting, rewind the film without winding all the way back into the cassette. Then reload the film into the camera, careful to make sure the line that you’ve drawn lines up in the original place. Close the back again and shoot the the second exposures.
In both of those methods, you were basically doubling the exposure, so you’d have recalculate for twice the amount of light and adjust your camera’s settings accordingly.
The easiest darkroom method was to simply put two negatives together, sandwich-style, in the enlarger before exposing the photographic paper (indeed, the technique is called sandwich negatives). The downside was it also doubled the amount of dust you had to make sure to clean off of the negs.
The second technique was to use multiple enlargers. You would use two or more with different negatives in each, moving the photo paper from enlarger to enlarger before developing it. The photographer Jerry Uelsmann was a master at this technique creating enigmatic, surrealistic images that rivaled any photo-shopped picture of today. The obvious drawback is that enlargers were expensive pieces of equipment and having more than one could be costly.
I shot a Stockton Ports’ California League baseball game against the Bakersfield Blaze at the Banner Island Ballpark in Stockton a few weeks ago. The game was moving really slowly with not much action happening and I was coming up on deadline. I decided to spice up a ordinary photo of just the pitcher by doing a multiple exposure shot. I simply went into the camera’s menu, chose the multiple exposure mode, chose how may frames I wanted in one shot and I was ready to shoot. The camera even figured out the exposure compensation for me. If it was this easy back in the old days, I might have done more of them.