Multiple-exposure photography with the EOS 5D Mark III
December 16, 2014
We interview fashion photographer, Kevin Tachman, on his techniques for multiple-exposure photography with the EOS 5D Mark III.
Canon Digital Learning Center (CDLC): Tell us a bit about the types of fashion work you do and how you got started in photography in general.
Kevin Tachman (KT): The majority of my fashion work is reportage-style, covering Fashion Weeks around the world for Vogue, The New York Times, NY Magazine and other publications.
I got started in photography late in my professional life. Before I picked up a camera, I worked in the music industry — working in music videos, marketing departments and so I was always tuned into pop culture and the importance of visuals.
I got my first pocket digital camera (a whole 4.1 megapixels!) for a birthday trip to Iceland. I soon graduated to my first SLR, the Digital EOS Rebel, and I used that to shoot bands when I had the opportunity when I was working at MTV.
To make the long story short, I ended up doing behind the scenes work for the band Scissor Sisters and that lead to me leaving MTV for my first real photography job, as their photographer/documentarian. That eventually led me, in a roundabout way, to the world of fashion.
CDLC: Runway fashion seems to be a large part of what you photograph. In such a crowded environment, what are some of the challenges for a creative, working pro? Was this a catalyst toward working with the in-camera multi-exposure feature?
KT: Every show is a different challenge, but the more you do it, you know what approach works and doesn’t work for you. In a room with a 100 other photographers, I strive to get a unique angle or take on the show if possible, and that definitely was the inspiration to explore the multiple exposure feature.
I soon discovered I could show more than just one part of what was going on in these huge productions — and give a different feel of what was happening and tell the story in a different way.
CDLC: Once you got started with the use of multiple-exposures in-camera, how did you evolve to making them a larger part of your professional work?
KT: Vogue.com gave me a great showcase for the images with my “Overexposed” series, so that was great exposure (no pun intended) for the technique. The feedback was great and the more and more people saw it, the more it was embraced and clients know it’s something I do and can incorporate into the way I capture a show.
CDLC: What’s your approach to satisfying the expected and typical demands of editors and clients while working in creative multiple-exposure imagery? If you had to take a general guess, what’s the percentage of multiple-exposure work you shoot during a major fashion event?
KT: In general, there are certain shows and venues that work better than others to get the results that work best. I don’t use the multiple-exposure technique where it doesn't make sense or add to the storytelling.
Editors and clients have been on board with me making the call on deciding what works in those situations.
With certain fashion shows, some of the work is a 50/50 split and others its more like 70/30 (in favor of normal, single-image shooting). As for shooting traditionally, I usually figure out what works in the short 7–13 minute duration of a show and how it can work for Multiples.
For me, it has to improve or add a unique view of the show, rather than just using the multiples as some sort of device — like a filter across the board. So knowing when to use it is as important as using it well.
CDLC: What’s been the overall response of your professional editorial and commercial clients to this work? Is this something frequently seen among the pro fashion shooters you tend to work alongside?
KT: It’s been overwhelmingly positive — from editors and colleagues alike.
Editors and clients think it’s a fresh way to see something that has been seen a million times before. Also, it has been a great tool in distinguishing myself as someone with an eye on the shows. Colleagues often have a different editorial mandate (and have also seen the shows a million times), so they can appreciate the show when captured differently.
CDLC: What equipment, in general, do you work with (primary camera bodies and lenses)?
KT: I work with a full Canon arsenal (and if you ever see a picture of me backstage, you can see how much gear I have on me — I look like I’m going into battle). I use the EOS-1D X and 5D Mark III with a variety of L-series lenses.
CDLC: The in-camera multiple-exposure settings in the EOS 5D Mark III (same as in the EOS-1D X and the new EOS 7D Mark II) offer some rather elaborate possibilities… where did you start when you began experimenting with the multi-exposure feature?
KT: At first, a typical camera nerd’s first instinct was “turn it up to 11” and use as many frames as possible — I soon discovered it’s usually hard to compose a coherent shot with more than four exposures (for me at least).
CDLC: Have you gravitated to any particular settings in the multiple-exposure menu, especially with regard to the way images are assembled in-camera?
KT: When I first starting working with in-camera multi-exposures, I didn't even realize you could assemble/preview and was using the Continuous Shooting method, which is great because it buffers faster. But I like to have the single images after the fact (which takes a bit longer to buffer), as well, so that factors into where and when it makes sense for me to use the “Function/Control” setting in the Multi-exposure menu.
CDLC: What sorts of environment settings and lighting conditions tend to make you think a multiple-exposure will work well? Are there any types of scenes, backgrounds, and so on that have become strong multiple-exposure potential for you?
KT: During fashion shows, what often doesn’t work is including lots of extra information in the shot, which doesn't make sense for a final image, so that it’s so muddled that it’s overkill. So backgrounds or angles that allow simplicity or pure black or white/solid backgrounds often produce the best results. But sometimes the chaos of a complicated scene makes it sensible to build upon that (think Kenzo, Miu Miu, Cavali runway shots). I’m also very inspired by textures and sometimes use that as a starting point. For backstage (non-runway), I prefer a solid background and flash if it’s not bright enough (see Adam Selman photo).
CDLC: How do you go about pre-visualizing how two or more images will combine in a finished multiple-exposure? Is this something you think about and plan carefully, or do you tend to work more spontaneously once you’ve identified a scene, lighting and/or subjects that you think would work well in a multiple-exposure?
KT: I definitely work in a more spontaneous way, as I’ve learned that what I often try to pre-visualize doesn't always work according to plan.
It’s hard to always know what elements will be in place until the show starts. But I’ve learned what works for me.
CDLC: What’s your “comfort zone” for the number of individual exposures in one final multiple- exposure photo?
KT: Any more than four is too much for me, the majority of the time.
CDLC: Do you usually keep all your individual source files as well as finished multiple-exposure images? Or when you shoot multiple-exposure, are you only looking for the finished composited image?
KT: I keep both because sometimes the solo images work better than the final composited image, or it may work for another purpose.
CDLC: Any particular situations/scenes where you tend to reach for any one of the four compositing options (Additive, Average, Bright or Dark)?
KT: Until this past season, I usually would use Bright or Dark, depending on the show, but I’ve used the Additive method to good effect this last season. (Additive, of course, is very similar to traditional multi-exposure shooting on a film camera.) My favorite was the Dries Van Noten show. The models were walking down runway and, for the finale, they all laid down dramatically on the runway.
With Additive, I was able to capture model Ondria Hardin walking and then laying down — with that image I was able to capture show and the gorgeous dream-like quality of the finale in one shot. Any other setting wouldn’t have worked.
CDLC: Do you have any general insights for what users should expect when doing multiple-exposure shooting with each (or any) of these four settings?
KT: I think for capturing events as they happen, as opposed to studio work, you need to expect to experiment in all the settings to see what works. I know Dark doesn’t often work for me in more complicated sets because it makes the subject harder to highlight and capture in the way I like.
CDLC: Do you make use of the LCD monitor in “assembling” multiple images as you shoot and compose them, or do you strictly work through the viewfinder?
KT: I usually use the LCD as a guide when first seeing as results work in a scenario and then doing it all in the viewfinder once I get a feel for the results.
CDLC: On the same note, are there times where you’ll start with one, single in-camera image you’ve already taken, use that as an original source image, and begin shooting further multiple-exposure images from there?
KT: I do that in a rare instance when there’s no opportunity to shoot the establishing image.
One good example is the image from Dubai Fashion Week shot from the viewing deck of the Burj Khalifa. I had just shot the last show day and headed straight there and thought this would be great opportunity to use the function.
CDLC: Can you speak about using the “On: Continuous Shooting” method for creating multiple- exposures?
KT: It’s great for the speed it allows, but I like the flexibility in changing exposures and settings that Function/Control allows.
CDLC: Are there any techniques you use for exposure control in your images — and any adjustments or changes you apply when you’re shooting intentional, in-camera multiple- exposures?
KT: I don’t often use Additive because of having to compensate for exposure because usually there are so many other things going on, it’s hard to be precise to get it to the perfect exposure. The other settings, such as Bright/Dark, work side by side with my single shots, so if I am shooting in single mode and then want to switch to multiples, there’s nothing that slows me down.
CDLC: What, if any, post-production work do you perform on final multiple-exposure images from the camera, before submitting them to a client or magazine editor?
KT: Just some simple color correction/cropping, if necessary, in Adobe Lightroom.
CDLC: Many creative types would ask why someone interested in multiple-exposures wouldn’t take the approach of putting them together in Adobe Photoshop, after the fact. Any reasons you tend to prefer the in-camera approach? Even for users who know Photoshop and similar software well, do you see any possible advantages to the on-site, in-camera approach?
KT: I prefer in-camera for several reasons:
For me, composing after the fact takes away the “reality” of the world that they are shot in. If you start composing the images after the fact, it takes away from being there in the first place.
The in-camera approach is the closest I’ll come to developing a roll of film as far as not knowing how exactly something is going to look when I’m shooting it. I love the feeling/surprise when something works better than I expected (see Prada opening ceremony).
There are many happy accidents that wouldn't be able to be done because of the unique Canon settings within the in-camera multi-exposure function. I, personally, wouldn't even know where to begin in an editing program like Photoshop and options, even if I sat with an expert. The options would make me dizzy and I’ve learned don’t always make for a better photo. I also tend to need to get my edits in within several hours of a show, so extensive post-production isn’t a real option.
CDLC: Any lenses you find especially useful for combining multiple-exposures in these fashion environments with your creative vision? Do you ever start a multiple-exposure with one lens and then change to another for subsequent shots? What about zooming as you shoot subsequent exposures in a multiple-exposure sequence?
KT: I try to stick to one lens, as simpler is better most of the time. I’ve tried changing lenses and often, there’s not enough time to switch back and forth between lenses during shows in a confined cramped position. But for one of my favorite shots from Lanvin, I used different lenses. Sometimes it’s great if you want to exaggerate the scale of one thing over another.
Zooming allows me to choose visual elements and use them in other parts or as layers in a frame. It allows me to sometimes create something abstract and visually cool, while still honoring the elements of the show and the designs.
Discovering and exploring the multiple exposure function in recent high-end Canon EOS cameras has enhanced my shooting experience. It’s been a source of constant excitement and enthusiasm in situations where it could feel like Groundhog’s day.
It makes me use visual muscles I don’t always get to use and to seek the visual potential for something dynamic in every day photos, as well.