Photographing Flowers Using Multiple Exposures With the Nikon D300

Some DSLR cameras now offer multiple exposure modes. These include the Nikon D3, D300, D2H, D2x, D200, and D80, the Pentax K10D, and *istD, Pentax Optio 550, and the Fujifilm Fine Pix S5, S3, S2, and S1. This may not be a complete list so check your camera manual to see if your camera has this option.

While you can combine multiple captures using layers in Photoshop and other imaging software, there a several advantages to being able to combine exposures in camera as you are able to do with film. The Nikon D300 uses raw data from the camera’s sensor and can combine the information/data from up to 10 exposures into one file. This eliminates the need to work with the layer opacity and blending mode of multiple files and provides smoother image integration with less effort. By using the auto gain function there is no need to adjust individual exposures after setting the initial aperture and shutter speed.

While it is possible to use a fixed focal length macro lens when capturing multiple images, a zoom “macro” lens provides the advantage of not having to adjust the camera or flower position with each successive exposure. For these photographs I used a Tamron 28-300mm AF Aspherical XR Di LD (IF) 1:3.5-6.3 Macro lens. While not a true macro lens it does provides a 1:3 reproduction ratio.

One of the key ingredients of successful multiple exposure photography is choosing a subject that lends itself to this process. Flowers provide a variety of shapes, tones, and contrasts that blend well in the final image. These attributes contribute to the unique photographs produced when employing multiple exposures. By employing the techniques discussed in this article you can achieve a luminosity and transparency that surpasses single exposure flower photography.

Setting a custom white balance (WB) is preferable to allowing the camera’s auto WB to determine the color temperature. By shooting in RAW format you can also adjust the WB after exposure to complement each image. If you experiment with WB settings you may achieve hue variations that will enhance the photograph.

A dark background provides a nice contrast to lighter colored flowers and also blends well with successive exposures. I use black seamless paper for most of the white, yellow, and pink flowers. It is a good idea to check the initial and final proposed zoom settings to see the proportion of flower and background in the frame. A technique that I like to use is to begin at the shortest focal length where a large amount of background is in the frame and then gradually adjust focal length with each exposure. Each successive zoom setting changes the focal length until reaching the maximum extension. If we use the 28-300mm zoom as an example the total change from shortest to longest focal length is 272mm. Let’s assume that we will record 10 exposures. Our first exposure will be at 28mm and our last at 300mm so that leaves 8 exposures in which to divide our range. Using a little approximation for ease of focal length positioning, this calculates to settings of 28, 60, 90, 120, 150, 180, 210, 240, and 300mm for the 10 exposures. Sometimes rather than adhere to strict divisions I just look through the lens and adjust the zoom according to what appears to look good to me as I record each exposure.

You can also begin at the closest zoom setting with the flower filling the frame and then gradually zoom out. It is important when using this technique to begin with camera quite close to the flower. In the case of the Tamron 28-300mm lens, the shortest distance that lens can focus to is approximately 19 inches. The zoom is then adjusted in successive increments such that at the final exposure the flower nearly fills the frame with just a little of the background showing.

The final image produced using multiple exposures is often difficult to visualize. One of the advantages of digital is the capability to review the photograph immediately after capture and make any adjustments to camera and flower positioning.

Lighting is just as important in multiple exposure photography as it is in single exposure photography. I am fortunate to have a skylight that provides a diffused light source to the flowers. If it is necessary to use strobes I would recommend using umbrellas or a soft box to preserve the textural details of the flowers.

Because of the length of time needed to take multiple exposures in the manner described above, it is necessary to control positioning of the flower, camera, lighting, and background.

Because when I start I don’t know exactly how long I will be photographing an individual flower, I like to use fresh water prepared with some plant food which most flower stores will give you for free when you purchase the flowers. If the photo session stretches into several days as you come up with new ideas you will be thankful you provided the flower with some nourishment!

I begin by leveling the surface upon which the flower will be placed. It is a good idea to start with a fairly long stem on the flower and to place the flower in a vase which provides a stable support. By leaving a long stem you can photograph the flower from below which provides a unique perspective that I have seldom seen in flower photography as most people concentrate on the petals, pistil, and stamen from either the top or side. With the flower supported and on a level surface you can rotate the vase to achieve any angle that you wish. As the flower is rotated the illumination on the petals changes as well as the position relative to the camera lens. Many different shapes and contrasts can be obtained by employing this technique and often a very abstract pattern can result that can be quite appealing. By rotating the flower about a singe point a spiral effect can be achieved.

The use of a tripod is highly recommended to stabilize the camera. I would also recommend using mirror lockup/exposure delay and a remote shutter release or self timer. Position the tripod at the height for the first photograph and level the camera. It is also a good idea to position the angle of the camera lens parallel to the plane of the flower, and if maximum depth of field is desired to adjust the aperture to f/16 or f/22. Generally I photograph in aperture priority mode.

I hope that these suggestions and guidelines provide a good starting point for your exploration of multiple exposure photography.