It's fair to say that ghostly images of little ones are traditionally kind of creepy. I'm mainly thinking of horror films - you know, The Shining, The Others, The Orphanage. But I've taken a few 'ghost' (i.e. double exposure) shots of kids and I've never had that result. I don't specifically aim for eerie shots, but I'm surprised they never come out that way. Kids are supposed to be pure and good and innocent and protected, which is presumably why the image of a ghost (read: dead) child is usually a particularly sinister or tragic one.
Alas, the ghost kids I've got are quite beautiful, and not in a scary way. Take the above - it's bright and colourful, it's at the beach, she's wearing a sun hat, everyone's having a great time! (Not even the over-exposed white gives her an otherworldly presence!) Am I wrong? Is there some kind of Sixth Sense vibe that I'm missing?
Even in the old-fashioned black and white the ghost child fails to elicit chills. She's just so happy! (Incidentally, this double exposure was unintentional, and I would have loved to see the other image on its own - the one of her with her head resting on her shoulder. It probably would have been a lot more mysterious, too!) It's not that I don't like these photos, it's just that they're more Casper than Ringu, which is at odds with conventional images of ectoplasmic infants in the creative media.
Well that's it from me today - all this talk of ectoplasm has reminded me of the sheer awesomeness of The Frighteners and I'm off to YouTube that shit.
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.