people vs walls, pt 3

Looking over the scores of photos I've taken since receiving my Holga in late 2008, double-exposure portraits involving the colour flash and patterned walls stand out as being among the most successful. It's a formula I return to often precisely because the results are almost always exciting. There are a few rules I stick to in order to maximise my success rate:

1 - Use a dark colour flash for the walls (red or blue is my standard). This way you reduce the risk of losing your human subjects in the bright wall patterns.
2 - Choose a pattern that has at least some dark elements. If your wall is mostly light-coloured, those parts will be highly exposed and your faces won't show through them.
3 - Get close to your portraitees and use a white or a yellow flash. This will ensure that
a) there is enough light to capture them (being too far away with any flash is a disaster, as I have previously demonstrated), and
b) the thematic focus of the image is the portrait, while the darker-coloured wall patterns provide the figurative background.

The above photo demostrates all of these rules in action. And what a lovely photo it is! - no doubt enhanced by the gleeful smiles on my subjects' drunken faces.

While I stand by the relative reliability of the above rules, it would be short-sighted and boring of me never to challenge them. One of my most common departures from these guidelines is the employment of surfaces other than actual walls. This one was from the embroidered velvet head of a motel bed (deliciously sleazy!):

Also an excellent demonstration of the downside/upside of the white elements in patterns.

Other times, I don't alternate the colours at all. Here's an interesting one, not only due to the muted colour but also because it's not just an abstract pattern - it's very obviously a toilet floor:

But it still works. So, you see, breaking rules can be beneficial!!

Coming up: (more) people vs toilet floors. Plus! people vs their jumpers.


  1. such good tips! you're a wealth of holginformation. i never really thought about people showing through the black elements, but that last shot of imogen (...?) is a great example!
    i've also always wanted to ask you if you always shoot the "backgrounds" first, then the portraits? does it matter what order you do them in?

  2. I've thought about the possible science behind that, and I can't logically conclude that it would make any difference. In any case, I generally shoot an interesting surface first then trawl wherever I am for some people to go with it!