Cre­ative ef­fects | Es­ther Bun­ning

Es­ther Bun­ning, one of the coun­try’s top cre­ative pho­tog­ra­phers, shares her tips for ex­per­i­men­tal pho­tog­ra­phy tech­niques that won’t break the bank

New Zealand D-Photo - - CONTENTS -

Get­ting cre­ative doesn’t al­ways re­quire a host of ex­pen­sive equip­ment, and some­times it’s pos­si­ble to get beau­ti­ful and as­ton­ish­ing re­sults from an eclec­tic range of tools; things that are easy enough to carry in your cam­era bag, tuck into a pocket or back­pack, and take out on lo­ca­tion.

I’m a big fan of ex­per­i­ment­ing and do this for a com­po­nent of al­most every shoot — whether paid or per­sonal work. I par­tic­u­larly love us­ing sun­light to re­flect and re­fract light. There are so many tools you can use with the sun.


Be­ing open to ran­dom things oc­cur­ring is a pre­req­ui­site with this style of shoot­ing. Go­ing with the flow and not nec­es­sar­ily hav­ing a set idea of what you hope to achieve is what I rec­om­mend. The happy ac­ci­dents can of­ten prove to be the most in­ter­est­ing.


Hav­ing a cam­era that you can use on man­ual is the key. I’m a fully man­ual shooter — mostly be­cause of the lenses I tend to use but also the tech­niques. For ex­am­ple, shoot­ing ‘through’ ob­jects would play havoc with auto fo­cus, but if you switch to man­ual, you’ll have far more con­trol with the fo­cus and lay­er­ing.


Watch­ing the light is ideal, as it can change very quickly if you’re work­ing with sun­light. Light at ei­ther end of the day is the eas­i­est to work with, as it’s less di­rect and bright. Some form of back­light­ing, while not the eas­i­est light to work with, of­ten gives the most dra­matic re­sults, and you’ll need to con­sider the light source fall­ing on your cre­ative tools, as well as the light on your sub­ject mat­ter.

If in a stu­dio, I’ll of­ten have a light an­gled to fall on the ob­ject that I’m shoot­ing through and a sep­a­rate light on my sub­ject.


We’re fa­mil­iar with the term, and the re­sults can be beau­ti­ful … or slightly pre­dictable these days. So, how do you know just what to try? Slightly un­der­ex­pos­ing of­ten gives the best re­sults, but it can de­pend on whether you’re af­ter de­tail and in­for­ma­tion in the shad­ows or if you would pre­fer the high­lights to carry the main lay­er­ing in­for­ma­tion. This tech­nique can be ex­tended to shoot three, four, or more frames for one com­pos­ite image. And it’s a good idea to con­sider a story when com­pil­ing your tech­niques for a par­tic­u­lar sub­ject. For ex­am­ple, you might com­bine a por­trait of a per­son with a sec­ond ex­po­sure of a plant, and a third ex­po­sure of a per­sonal item fill­ing the frame.


When shoot­ing a dou­ble ex­po­sure, shoot one frame sharp and pur­posely throw the sec­ond shot out of fo­cus.

Es­tab­lish your main con­tent. Say it’s a por­trait, shoot your sub­ject first and shoot through fab­ric for your sec­ond frame. Shoot the first frame us­ing one lens, and shoot the sec­ond frame us­ing a dif­fer­ent lens with dif­fer­ent depth of field.

Shoot a frame of your main sub­ject, then, for the sec­ond frame, shoot through a re­flec­tion or glass.

Try a com­bi­na­tion of the above. Con­sider your com­po­si­tion in cam­era when you’re com­pil­ing the im­ages. Start with a sim­ple strong graphic as your base image, with the other im­ages be­ing sup­port­ing lay­ers. When us­ing a Lens­baby cre­ative lens with dou­ble ex­po­sure, I’ll of­ten shoot one frame with the Lens­baby and the sec­ond with, say, a 60mm or 105mm. My pre­ferred shut­ter speed tends to be 1/125s, 1/250s, or more. The lens is adding the blur/move­ment ef­fect rather than a slow shut­ter speed. This, in con­junc­tion with tech­niques such as us­ing wob­bly glass, can give very painterly ef­fects.


Not all cam­eras are ca­pa­ble of dou­ble/mul­ti­ple ex­po­sures, but there are other tech­niques that can also pro­duce these ef­fects.

I carry around pieces of wob­bly glass in my cam­era bag, and, every few years, I kindly ask for some of­f­cuts from a glass sup­plier. Not all tex­tured glass gives ideal re­sults, so it’s worth con­sid­er­ing and ex­per­i­ment­ing with what ef­fects you like per­son­ally. Of­ten, it’s the less-dis­torted pieces that give the best re­sults.

I once mar­velled about a huge piece of shat­tered re­in­forced glass in a glass fac­tory that was ly­ing on the bench top and the glazier said, “Like this?” and pro­ceeded to drop a tiny new piece on the con­crete floor. I was in rap­tures and this piece now forms part of my kit (be sure to use duct tape around the edges to avoid lac­er­a­tions, and han­dle with care).

The light re­fracts beau­ti­fully through the cracks when back­lit. I tend to man­u­ally ‘drag’ these in front of my lens when I’m shoot­ing, and when I look through the lens, it gives me an in­di­ca­tion of what the dis­tor­tion will be.


One of my favourite pieces of equip­ment is a square of Perspex. Bring­ing it par­tially across the front of the lens can give a dou­ble-ex­po­sure feel, de­pend­ing on how you an­gle it, and you can re­flect what­ever is above the cam­era and lens, too (the sky and clouds can throw colours into the mix, or light­ing in a room can be ran­dom and in­ter­est­ing, for in­stance). The re­sult can be sim­i­lar to a dou­ble ex­po­sure but achieved in a sin­gle-cap­ture frame. Through the lens, it does re­quire you to keep one eye on your pri­mary sub­ject mat­ter and, to a lesser ex­tent, one on the tech­nique. Move in grad­ual in­cre­ments, and an­gle sim­i­larly, as this can give quite vary­ing re­sults. Some peo­ple will be fa­mil­iar with the wa­ter droplet in my im­ages; this ef­fect is achieved by car­ry­ing a small wa­ter squirter and spray­ing it on the Perspex (or even glass win­dows) prior to tak­ing the sec­ond frame in a dou­ble ex­po­sure and can be very ef­fec­tive.


There are lots of dif­fer­ent shiny sur­faces you can ex­per­i­ment with: soft plas­tics, hard plas­tics, scratched plas­tic, frosted plas­tic. Clear cel­lo­phane, slightly scrunched to give creases and seg­ments of re­flected light, can be beau­ti­ful.

Look through craft shops (in Welling­ton and Porirua there are the won­der­ful

Pete’s Em­po­rium shops) and you’ll find so many things to try. Your cre­ative feast might in­clude gold cir­clets, small dia­mante sheets, loose-weave sparkly wo­ven rib­bons, and sheer fab­ric with me­tal­lic pat­terns. Twist and turn these in front of the lens and you’ll see what you can achieve in your im­ages. And less is of­ten more; a sub­tle ef­fect can add a more pleas­ing re­sult than an busy ef­fect en­com­pass­ing the whole frame.

Do note, if you pull out tech­niques like these when you’re pho­tograph­ing peo­ple, they will look at you quizzi­cally for the first few frames, but they will get used to it. I tend to warn peo­ple these days on what to ex­pect, but the fi­nal re­sults should re­lieve them of any con­cerns.

To see more of Es­ther’s award-win­ning cre­ative por­trai­ture, visit es­ther­bun­







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