This week, as part of the POSITIVES 'N NEGATIVES series, I spoke with San Francisco-based photographer Paulina Zepeda (@bigblackbobaballs). She chose the following two photographs to share with us: one that she loves, and one that turned out worse than she’d hoped.
Can you describe this photograph?
“I took this photo on a sunny Spring day at the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers. The front of the building was blooming with orange and yellow flowers and there were people picnicking on the grass enjoying the sunlight. There was a lot going on and I knew I wanted to take a double exposure, but of what? For sure the beautiful building, but should I take a picture of the flowers, and which flowers? Should I take a photo of the people, dogs, or bikes? Should I do the clouds or a tree? I decided on the orange and yellow flowers because I've only seen them bloom in abundance like this here and only at this time of year. I like to capture unusual sights.”
What are you most proud of in this piece?
“I love how the flowers stand out in the photo and you can still see the Conservatory and the sculpture well. I think the lightness of the building helped in the flowers not overtaking its presence in the photo. The final result was not what I had in mind. I never know exactly what to expect when taking double exposures, each one is a surprise and I was happy with how the exposures worked with each other.”
From following your working on Instagram I know you’ve really been into double exposures lately-- and they’re really beautiful. What do you enjoy so much about double exposures?
“Thank you Dana! I love that [with double exposure] you can focus on two subjects you like and put them into one photo. Double exposures are an experiment every time. I will have an idea in my head, but the final result is never exactly what I visualized. The challenge is finding a pair that work well together. The best part of shooting double exposures is the fun surprise when you first view the final piece.”
What is your process for shooting double exposures? Do you shoot the two frames back-to-back or do you shoot the whole roll two times? And how do you meter your shots?
“I shoot them back to back. My point and shoot camera meters my shots. I'm able to focus on the composition and how the colors and lighting in each frame will work with each other. I did my first film swap recently with @pitterpatterpoetry and it was so fun! They gave me an idea of what they had shot for each frame, they rolled it up again, and gave it to me to expose the roll a second time. If anyone reading here wants to swap, slide into my DMs!”
What makes a good photo subject for double exposures? What do you look for when pairing shots together?
“My double exposure recipe is usually mixing a single main subject with something that creates a pattern. First, I pick a building, car, or person as the main subject and then pick flowers as the second layering exposure.”
Do you have any advice for those who want to experiment with double exposure?
“Go for it! The only way to learn is to take the double exposure. Like I mentioned before, it's an experiment every time and you're going to learn as you take more. Personally, I don't like mixing horizontal and vertical shots and I avoid large white areas.”
What were you trying to go for in this photo?
“I was trying to be like all the cool car instagrammers :-/”
What went wrong?
“I took the photo just to take a photo of a car without thinking what I was going for. There wasn't good lighting and I didn't think about composition.”
What would you do differently next time? And do you have any advice for others?
“I would do more research on ways other photographers have captured the subject I'm interested in shooting. The car was cool, but paying attention to the angle, composition, and lighting could have improved this photo. I would think about the interesting parts about the car and focus on that so that I will be happy with what I captured. ”
What is one thing you still like about this image?
“I'm glad I tried to take a photo of a car so I could learn from it. I like that you can see all the weird knobs and switches. It's different from usual cars. You will notice there is a black frame in this photo and that's because I was using a thrift shop camera for the first time. I think the shutter doesn't work properly, but it added a special touch to the entire roll.”
There is something that I find so alluring about the special touch the potentially broken camera gives… Do you plan on shooting with it more while it's in this state?
“I haven't taken any photos with it after the first roll! I worry that it will cut out something I really want in the shot, but at the same time the framing is pretty cool, so I've kept it in my camera drawer for possible future use.”
To see more of Paulina’s work, check her out on instagram @bigblackbobaballs
Author: Dana Gingras