Behind the Wizard’s Curtain
Trick Photography

As a general rule, I don’t like to shoot (or produce) trick photography. I’m old school; I honed my craft on film, not digital, so it is deeply ingrained in me to get things right in situ and in camera rather than rely on post-production or other trickery.

Combined photo trick photography


But on the rare occasion I make exceptions, like in the above photo where my son is up-side down next to my dad and I. But what if I told you that in this photo I got the best of both worlds; I used an old school film trick (the shot was mostly done in camera) AND I did very little digital manipulation?

Here’s how old and new school tricks got me there…

Old school film tricks

Back in the days when shooting on positive (slide/chrome) or negative film, there was only so much a photographer could do to manipulate a photo “post-production” (i.e. in the dark room when developing the film, or creating prints from negatives). It was a very laborious and pain staking process that involved chemicals – so if you were going to do it, it better be good, because spending too long in a dark room with chemicals wasn’t always beneficial for your love life.


Very few people today will remember that this is how we used to make photos…

For example, if you shot a night sky on slide film but wanted more bright stars, simple trick: use a small pin to prick holes in the slide itself so the projector created the milky way when you projected the image.

Or if you wanted more contrast when making prints from negatives, you could use techniques such as colour filters, dodging and burning in the dark room to heighten or darken areas for dramatic effect.

One in-camera trick I used on occasion when shooting on film was the double (or multiple) exposure.

To wit; one night I was watching a rare full moon rise over the 12 Apostles landmark in Australia. This was a one shot deal – I would probably never have this opportunity again. The scene was dramatic, and I wanted to capture that on film, but the moon wasn’t rising near the famous stones – it was off-horizon. Hence the photo would have looked dull; a small, distant moon rising some distance from the big monolithic shapes coming out of the sea. No impact.

So I double exposed my frame; in other words took two pictures on the same frame. The first shot was a zoomed in perspective of the bright moon, placed in the top quarter of the frame, and then I re-exposed the same frame once I re-composed my shot to take in the 12 Apostles.

When I picked up my film from the developer, the result was amazing: it looked like a massive moon was right next to the Apostles. I got what I wanted; a dramatic photo of a classic landmark under a (rare) full moon, and I only used a slight in-camera trick to get there.

Moral: don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Old school tricks in the new (digital) dark room

Adobe Lightroom

Now I use software to create my photos. No more dark room. Ironically, it’s called “Lightroom”. Go figure.

Right, back to the photo above. Firstly, my wife would never let me stand our ten-month old on his head. Not to mention, he can’t actually stand on his head anyway. But I really wanted to get a shot of three generations doing headstands.

So I did a double exposure, with a twist.

I set my digital SLR up on a tripod to lock the frame. Then I attached a remote trigger, so I could fire the shutter from a distance.

My dad and I went first and stood on our heads, and I snapped that frame. Then I grabbed my son, held him briefly up-side-down at about the right place, and fired off a second frame. I now had two frames that were exactly the same in terms of framing, composition, exposure and lighting.

I opened both frames in Photoshop and laid them over each other as layers – kind of a digital double exposure. Then I simply erased the version of myself holding my son upside down.

The last touch was to clone stamp the area of my son’s blue pants where my hands were gripping his legs, and drop the waistline on his pants a little.

All told, it took 10 minutes of editing – so I did most of the trickery in camera, with some light touch post-production. Kaching!

Here are the two shots on their own:

Photo 1 - trick photography

Photo 2 - trick photography

And together:

Combined photo trick photography

Why simple is always best

Every day I work in an industry that relies heavily on post-production and image manipulation to sell products. That’s advertising; teams of digital manipulators take reality and make it hyper-real. And with HD mobile cameras, one-tap editing filters and Instagram, nowadays everyone fancies themselves a creative by instantly pumping out heavily manipulated images onto their social networks. The old-school dark room is truly dead. Digital manipulation is here and growing exponentially.

That’s why I like simple photography; photography that captures a story that doesn’t need any assistance or special effects. Just raw, natural, real.

A little bit of manipulation is ok, in my opinion, as long as it’s tasteful and helps tell a story.

In this case, the story of three generations.

Update July 2014

I did it again, this time when Milo was nearly two years old. As before, here are the two shots on their own, then blended together.




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