How Making Film Double Exposures Reignited My Passion for Photography
Stuck in a creative rut, Santa Cruz photographer Caitlin Fullam found inspiration in experimental film photography
Caitlin Fullam is a travel and fine art photographer living in Santa Cruz, California. She tells stories of awe through self-portraiture and whimsical dreamscapes.
I often describe my creative journey as a series of lightbulb moments. Intoxicating inspiration pulses through me and compels me to create. It’s an intense, wonderful feeling that changes the direction of my work and carries me farther along my path. If you’ve experienced moments like these, then maybe you have also felt the opposite; frustrating stretches of drought when inspiration is nowhere to be seen.
It was during one of these bleak periods of creative burnout that I decided to put my digital camera away completely. The winter blues combined with 2020 pandemic grief had me questioning my career path as a photographer. So I decided to dust off my film camera and focus solely on shooting double exposures for two months as a last ditch effort at reigniting my creativity. And so my obsession with double exposures began.
Going into this project, I had little experience shooting film and no experience shooting multiple exposures. I did some online research and discovered that my camera, the Canon Rebel 2000, has a handy built-in multiple exposure function, which allowed me to set the number of exposures I wanted per frame and then shoot them consecutively.
My film experiments started with a roll of Kodak Portra 400 and a roll of Portra 160. I shot each one slowly and methodically, planning out double exposure ideas in advance by sketching them in a notebook. Sometimes I would shoot the first frame of a double exposure and then wait two days to shoot the second half. Other times I would shoot the first exposure with a wide angle lens and switch to a telephoto lens for the second. I found this technique especially useful when trying to bring the moon in closer or change its location in the sky.
"By combining two ordinary neighborhood scenes, I could transport myself to an imaginary realm of my own invention, an alternate, more playful and whimsical universe."
My camera's viewfinder grid helped me line up subjects from one exposure with the next. I took care to remember where the shadows and highlights were in order to anticipate what would be exposed in the final image. A lot of frames didn’t turn out at all, but the ones that did tempted me to try again.
"Even with careful planning, unexpected things will happen."
By combining two ordinary neighborhood scenes, I could transport myself to an imaginary realm of my own invention, an alternate, more playful and whimsical universe. This screenless analog device allowed me to dream again and see my surroundings in terms of the hidden magic they contained in a world of double exposure. I crafted surreal landscapes with multiple moons, sunsets that bled into mountains, and fantastical sunrises with floating windows over mountain peaks. I’d wonder, how would those street lamps look paired with tomorrow morning’s sunrise clouds?
I’ve been shooting double exposures for a little over a year now and they are still the most thrilling part of receiving scans back from the lab. You never know what you’re going to get; even with careful planning, unexpected things will happen. I think that’s the best part—while film can often feel like a welcome refuge from digital photography with its wonderful limitations of light and number of frames, shooting double exposures opened up new possibilities for me in terms of composition and subject matter.
Double exposure is one of the most undervalued and joyful tools of film (and digital) photography. I’ve only scratched the surface of all of the possibilities it allows for, but when inspiration is running low, I’m grateful for this trick in my back pocket. Blending multiple scenes in a single frame turns the ordinary into something serendipitous and splendid.