November 15, 2023 | Last updated Nov 9, 2023

Happy Accidents and Photographic Tricks: Double Exposure Images

If you have ever had to load film into a camera, then you may be familiar with double exposures. Double exposures sometimes happen if the film jams inside of the camera or if you forget to advance the film before taking another shot. Either way, you may be in for a surprise once the film is developed to reveal a single photograph with two images layered on top of each other.

We have historic examples of multiple exposure images in our collections at History Nebraska. Many of these images were clearly combined by accident. But some Nebraska photographers used double exposure techniques to deliberately create photographic illusions. All of the images featured below are preserved in the photograph collections of History Nebraska.

 

Happy Accidents: Accidental Double Exposure Images

Emanuel Wolfe (1858-1933) was a businessman and photographer who documented life in Neligh, Nebraska, mainly from 1900 to 1930. He used a large format camera which captured images on glass plate negatives.

In this image, Wolfe accidentally layered two shots of crowds watching athletes compete in different track and field events. (RG2836.PH000000-001670)

In this image, Wolfe accidentally layered two shots of crowds watching athletes compete in different track and field events. (RG2836.PH000000-001670)

Emanuel Wolfe also produced this double exposure image which combines two views of crowds watching a horse race. (RG2836.PH000000-002211)

Emanuel Wolfe also produced this double exposure image which combines two views of crowds watching a horse race. (RG2836.PH000000-002211)

Click here to view more images in the Emauel Wolfe collection.

 

Nathaniel Dewell was a prolific photographer based in Omaha, Nebraska. He was especially active from the 1920s to the 1940s. He documented a wide variety of local buildings, as well as scenes at public and private events. He is best known for his photographs of early aviation in Nebraska.

In this image from 1939, Dewell mistakenly captured two shots on the same negative. One shot shows a man holding the reins of a horse, while the other image features a woman serving food to a customer. The combination results in a humorous image in which it appears that a horse is visiting for a bite to eat. (RG3882.PH000002-000748)

In this image from 1939, Dewell mistakenly captured two shots on the same negative. One shot shows a man holding the reins of a horse, while the other image features a woman serving food to a customer. The combination results in a humorous image in which it appears that a horse is visiting for a bite to eat. (RG3882.PH000002-000748)

Click here to search the entire Nathaniel Dewell photograph collection.

 

Photographic Tricks: Images Created with Deliberate Double Exposure Techniques

Early photographers discovered that they could take advantage of double exposures to create photographic illusions. Some illusions were created in-camera, meaning that the same negative was repeatedly exposed to light in order to capture multiple image layers within one frame. Other photographers manipulated negatives in the darkroom to layer the images visible in the final print. As cameras and darkroom technology improved, these photographic illusions became more sophisticated and less obvious to the viewer.

“Spirit photographs” were said to capture the images of departed loved ones. While some actually claimed to have captured ghosts in their images, most photographers simply inserted the portrait of a deceased person into a new image with a family member.

This 1879 photograph was donated by a Nebraska collector interested in spirit photography. (RG3507.PH000011-000009)

This 1879 photograph was donated by a Nebraska collector interested in spirit photography. (RG3507.PH000011-000009)

 

David P. Abbott (1863-1934) lived and worked in Omaha, Nebraska, but he became nationally famous as an amateur magician and author.  His book “Behind the Scenes with the Mediums” exposed deceptive techniques used by fraudulent spirit mediums.  He also wrote about his own magic feats and illusions.  He is still remembered by fellow magicians as the inventor of several influential magical tricks.

This portrait of “Abbott the Magician” used photographic tricks to create the illusion of Abbot cutting off the head of his assistant. (RG0813.PH000000-000683)

This portrait of “Abbott the Magician” used photographic tricks to create the illusion of Abbot cutting off the head of his assistant. (RG0813.PH000000-000683)

 

Exaggeration postcards were humorous images created with darkroom photographic tricks.  Such postcards often bragged about the bountiful crops and livestock grown in different states.  Nebraska photographers created and sold a variety of these exaggeration postcards.

Exaggeration postcard copyrighted by W. H. Martin. (RG2053.PH000000-000028)

Exaggeration postcard copyrighted by W. H. Martin. (RG2053.PH000000-000028)

Postcard created by Olson Photograph Company of Plattsmouth, Nebraska. (RG2053.PH000000-000021)

Postcard created by Olson Photograph Company of Plattsmouth, Nebraska. (RG2053.PH000000-000021)

You can view more examples of exaggeration postcards in our photograph collections here.

 

Edward R. Dack was a photographer in the town of Monroe in Platte County, Nebraska.  He captured life in the town, as well as many portraits of his family members.  History Nebraska has a collection of 87 glass plate negatives taken by Edward Dack, including two images using double exposure techniques.

Dack created a second double exposure image of a woman playing cards against herself. (RG5762.PH00000-000083)

Dack created a second double exposure image of a woman playing cards against herself. (RG5762.PH00000-000083)

 

Edward Dack used multiple exposures to create the illusion of a woman playing a game of cards against herself. (RG5762.PH000000-000084)

Edward Dack used multiple exposures to create the illusion of a woman playing a game of cards against herself. (RG5762.PH000000-000084)

 

You can explore more historic images preserved by History Nebraska by visiting our Digital Collections Portal.

Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

You May Also Enjoy

Emigrants along the Trails at Chimney Rock

Emigrants along the Trails at Chimney Rock

Marker Monday: Easter Blizzard of 1873

Marker Monday: Easter Blizzard of 1873

She Didn’t Know She Was a Statue

She Didn’t Know She Was a Statue

About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

History Nebraska Education

Learn more about the educational programs provided at our museums, sites, and online.

History Nebraska Programs

Learn more about the programs associated with History Nebraska.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Listen to our Podcast

Listen to the articles and authors published in the Nebraska History Magazine with our new Nebraska History Podcast!

Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.