How to create a multiplicity image.
Whenever I’m travelling and have time to kill in my hotel room I like to try and take a conceptual photograph because … well, that’s what everyone does, right? Finding private locations to shoot conceptual photos in is one of the biggest difficulties of this type of photography so it’s always a bonus to have a new location all to yourself.
The challenge though, is trying to come up with a concept in limited time when you’re unlikely to have fancy costumes on hand and the most inspiring prop within reach is some free body products and, if you’re somewhere REALLY ritzy, a pair of terry towelling slippers.
For me, the obvious choice in this situation is to take a ‘multiplicity’ photo where you lock down your camera, take photos of yourself posing all over the room and then combine them later in Photoshop. Taking cloned photos of yourself is about the most fun you can have with a camera, even if seeing yourself duplicated many times over is ultimately horrifying.
Since you’ve mastered masking after last week’s lesson, the post production for multiplicity images is pretty easy. It’s just a matter of laying all your photos on top of each other and using masks to reveal yourself in each photo, and because the camera hasn’t moved this is usually a breeze.
How to photograph a multiplicity image
As we learned last week, the most important aspect of taking photos that utilise masking is to a) set your exposure and then lock down your settings so they cannot change and b) take a blank shot of your scene without your subject – this isn’t entirely necessary for multiplicity but it’s a good habit to get into. I like to take this blank shot at the end in case something in the scene has moved during the course of the session, but it doesn’t hurt to take one at the beginning too.
- To get started you’re either going to need a tripod or something to rest your camera on. It IS possible to take a multiplicity shot hand-held (using someone else to model) and get Photoshop to align the layers later, provided you keep mostly still.
- Set your exposure in manual mode. The mistake I ALWAYS make with multiplicity images is not setting a narrow enough aperture so my background people are always out of focus, so aim for f/11 or higher. If you need a low shutter speed to compensate try to keep still when you’re posing. Do not touch your settings again.
- If you’re outdoors, choosing a white balance other than auto is advisable because the light is always subtley changing and you’ll save yourself work in post.
- Think about your poses. If clones are intersecting it will take more work in Photoshop to cut around them. You also don’t want one clone entirely covering another so try and spread yourself (or your subject) evenly around your space and keep the rules of composition in mind. Be mindful of where the light and shadows are because if one clone is well lit and then you put another clone between them and the light, you’ll have work on darkening that first clone in Photoshop for believability.
- Focus on the area where you’ll be striking your best pose and then lock your focus (switch to manual or back button).
- If you’re taking self-portraits you’re going to need a remote or to use the 10 second timer.
I shot my multiplicity image at a koala conservation park ten minutes from my house (they grow trees here to feed koalas, but there’s no koalas just hanging out, sadly). I can’t find any information about it on the Internet so it’s a bit mysterious. I live in a state whose slogan is “beautiful one day, perfect the next” (even though there’s a severe storm baring down on us as I write this) so getting the overcast light I like is damn near impossible. This was shot on a semi-cloudy day in a bit of a rush with my assistant (mum) pressing the shutter because I was too far away for my remote to register. I chose the idea of the clones playing hide and seek because I liked the idea of having them interact in some way without actually touching.
How to edit a multiplicity image
If you’ve imported your images with Lightroom, select the images you’ve chosen to work with and go to Photo -> Edit In -> Open as layers in Photoshop. (Remember that if you’ve edited one of your photos in Lightroom, to sync those same changes to all the images you’ll be using; the same goes for Adobe Camera Raw). I don’t use Bridge but I guess it’s much the same. Otherwise you can open Photoshop and choose File -> Scripts -> Load files into stack and choose the images you want to work with. If you were shooting handheld, select all your layers and choose Edit -> Auto-Align Layers, or you can try lining them up yourself by lowering the opacity of each layer and nudging them into place (move tool + arrow keys).
Make sure your main image is at the bottom of the layers panel and hold down Alt (PC) or Option (Mac) and click the eyeball of this layer so it turns off all your other layers. Multiplicity edits can get confusing so label your layers and work on a layer at a time. Turn the eyeball back on for the layer above and click the ‘Add layer mask’ button. This should add a white mask to the layer so it’s still fully visible. Then, as we learned last week press B to choose the brush tool then D to make it the default colours, and X to bring black to the front. Paint over the areas you want to hide in your image. If you make a mistake, hit X again to bring white to the front and paint over the problem area to bring it back. This can take a bit of to-ing and fro-ing to get right. As you work through your layers it might become easier to invert your mask (make it black) so nothing of that layer is visible (Ctrl+i / Cmd+i) and just paint back in the portion you need.
Because your background is static and only your subjects have moved your masks don’t have to be perfect because your surroundings should align perfectly. But for trickier overlapping clones you may need to work on fine detail with your selection tools. I won’t go into detail about this here because selection tools can fill a whole book but there’s plenty of great articles and videos out there to get you up to speed. Otherwise, zoom into your image and using a brush with a hardness that matches the edges in the photos, do some very precise painting around your clones. If you’re also finding colour changes between your layers I would add either a levels or curves adjustment layer and clip it to your problem layer (Alt or Option click between the adjustment layer and the layer you want to affect to clip them together so the change will only affect that layer and not all underlying layers) then change the colours and brightness to match the background layer. Levels and curves default to RGB colour but if you go into the drop down menu you can change this to be colour specific ie. blue/yellow, green/magenta, red/cyan.
While multiplicity images are fun to photograph, I’m not a great fan of the results because I find it distracting to have so many subjects in my images. However, multiplicity is a really useful technique for duplicating objects which I’ll cover in a future tutorial.
Now I must go and prepare for this impending storm. If only I had real clones to do my bidding (no playing hide and seek on my watch!)