Alicja Zak

This week, as part of the POSITIVES 'N NEGATIVES series, NYC-based photographer Alicja Zak (@alasfilmlog) shared two photos with me: the one of which she is most proud, and the one that caused her the biggest disappointment.


Camera: Canon ae-1 program  //  Lens: 50mm f/1.8  //  Film Stock: Kodak Ektar 100

Can you describe this image? What were the conditions under which it was taken?

“This is an image taken summer of 2020 at Rockaway Beach in New York City. My lovely friend Kathe is always willing to model for me, so I was experimenting with double exposures on this sunny afternoon at the beach. The idea was to get a distant photo of her in the ocean, overlaid with a close-up of the water ripples. The next photo on the roll was supposed to be the water ripples overlaid with the large beach rocks. Somehow, I wound the film unevenly and I got this wonderful photo out of it.”

What are you most proud of when you look at this photograph?

“I love the way double (or triple) exposures look when they come out right, and I usually have an idea of the look I’m going for. Sometimes it turns out to be a disappointment, and sometimes it exceeds my expectations. This one came out so much better than I wanted it to be, so that makes me proud. It also makes it so much more unique since it would be difficult for someone to try to reproduce this photo, and I probably couldn’t succeed in capturing this again.  It’s so rare that photos come out like this, which is why I particularly love this shot.”

What do you look for when shooting double exposures? What do you think makes a good subject for a frame you're planning to expose twice?

“Sometimes I think of the idea for a double exposure ahead of time and then proceed to go do it. Sometimes, it’s a spontaneous thing, where I’m in the middle of taking a photo and realize it would look cool overlaid with something around me. I get a lot of my inspiration from following other people on Instagram, and often borrow or reproduce ideas with my own twist. 

In terms of what makes a good subject for a frame,  I think something far away and close up are two good images to overlay. For example, a distant photo of a skyline, and a photo of a person (this is a common one I’ve seen many digital photographers do as well). Sometimes, it can be overlapping textures, like the rough rocks at the beach and the ripples of the water. I also think flowers (if shot correctly) can be overlaid on anything and it will look good. That’s why a lot of my double exposures feature a selfie of myself and a bouquet of flowers.”

As for the technical side, do you remember how you metered this? Do you have any advice for metering a doubly exposed photo?

“I meter it according to what ‘feels’ natural to me at the moment and after doing it for many years you can kind of feel out the light conditions. I usually have a mental estimation of the numbers (aperture and shutter speed) based on the light conditions and weather, but I also often use the light meter in my camera to not waste multiple shots.”



Camera: Canon ae-1 program  //  Lens: 50mm f/1.8  //  Film Stock: Kodak Ektar 100
(they were both taken on the same roll, actually!)

What are we looking at in this photo?

“This photo was taken from a rooftop in the Financial District and just like in the previous photo, here I was trying to go for a cool double exposure. I wanted to overlay a view looking up (at the top of the skyscrapers and sky/sunset) with the view looking down (the rooftop pool on a nearby building).”

… But what went wrong?

“The light was off, the picture is uneven (very light on the left, dark on the right), it’s not ‘interesting’ (to me) and doesn’t really evoke any emotions. Of course, this is subjective, but I personally don’t like it.”

 What did you learn? Do you have any advice for others?

“As I said, double exposures are quite ‘risky’ and even if you have a vision of what you want to accomplish, sometimes the film doesn’t wind properly, or you get a triple exposure instead of a double, etc. The idea behind the photo can be excellent, but the final result is tricky, which is why it’s so rewarding to get a good shot. Next time I would take multiple shots of the same idea to get a few versions and hopefully have at least one come out the way I’d like (or even better than expected!). My advice for others is just to go try it if you’re interested - experiment with double exposures and light leaks and see what happens!”

What is one thing you still like about this image?

“It’s not a complete “fail”, which to me means that it would be completely dark (underexposed) or completely white/burnt (overexposed). It might be possible to crop it and still make it look kind of interesting.”

How long did it take you to master the double exposure technique? What is the most important piece of advice you'd give to someone experimenting with double exposure for the first time?

“I wouldn’t say I have ‘mastered’ the double exposure technique at all! I think the images posted to my account and website are the very successful ones and it’s easy to feel like other people are masters at it. That’s why I like this series, because it shows you the many ‘fails’ that are never seen by the public. On a roll of film, if more than half of them look amazing, it feels like winning the lottery. Sometimes there are many ‘fails’ on a roll and it feels like you wasted film, but sometimes they come out looking even better than expected, so you never know! 

For someone experimenting for the first time I recommend watching YouTube videos on how to wind the film properly to get the images to perfectly overlap. I know how to wind it properly and sometimes it still comes out differently (as seen in the positive photo) due to the situation, the camera, distractions, etc. But that’s why we like film- because you never know what you’re going to get!”


To see more of Alicja’s work, check her out on instagram @alasfilmlog

Author: Dana Gingras

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