Who Is Pep Ventosa and What Is the Pep Ventosa Technique?
Pep Ventosa is a Catalan artist who uses "photographs as raw material to create new visual experiences." One of his techniques involves taking many—sometimes hundreds—of images and then putting them together to create effects like mosaic, painting, and movement.
Pep’s multiple exposure style has become a popular one for photographers trying to stretch their creativity and find new ways of expressing what they see. Here, we’ll take a look at how you can make a Pep Ventosa inspired image.
How to Make a Multiple-Exposure Image (Pep Ventosa Technique)
Choosing a Subject
One of Ventosa’s most famous subjects is a simple tree, captured ‘in the round’. This involves keeping the tree in the centre of your frame and then moving around it at the same distance, taking photographs as you go, until you have 360-degree coverage of the tree. The images are then stacked and blended, taking on the appearance of a painting.
When you come to choose your subject, it doesn’t have to be a tree, but if you’re just starting out with the multiple exposure technique then a tree or something like it will be easier to work with because you have the trunk as a definable object to keep in the middle of the frame, and that will make it easier to line up your images in post-production. Basically, you’re looking for consistent elements within your subject as a sort of grounding point.
You don’t have to start ‘in the round’ either—you can try a still life, where the camera stays stationary and instead of moving yourself, you turn your object around gradually while photographing it. You can also try a 180-degree image from side to side. It’s less intensive as there’ll be fewer images, and it’s also easier to line them up in post.
I decided to pick a grave marker in a cemetery to demonstrate. It’s a relatively symmetrical shape, easy to keep in the middle of the frame, and there was plenty of space to move from one side to the other without obscuring it with another object.
If you usually shoot in RAW, it might be a good idea to flip that to either just JPEG or RAW + JPEG to give yourself options. You’ll be stacking a large number of images, and that can be heavy going for your computer if they’re all very large image sizes with a lot of information in them. Also, you don’t need quite as much in the way of flexibility as you would with a typical photo—this technique is a little surreal and abstract, and you’ll be stylising it quite a lot.
Lens and Technique
A wider lens is the most useful because you can fit your subject in easily and still be pretty close to it—just be aware of any potential barrelling.
Give yourself room to crop, so don’t fit the subject full into the frame; leave a little space around it. It’s usual also to perform a test shot or two, to check lighting and appropriate settings. Ideally, you should try to keep the exposure looking the same, but don’t worry too much if that’s not possible.
Here’s the preview of my images; you can see nine, but there were ten in total. You can see that I started with the stone in the centre of the shot and then moved around in one direction and then the other until I had about a 180-degree view of the marker.
There are some nice trees behind that will help give me an interesting background without getting in the way of the headstone.
Layering, Aligning, and Blending
Once you’ve got your images ready, load them into your editing software. I’m using an old version of Photoshop, so for me that’s File > Scripts and then Load Files into Stack.
You can then browse to find your files or add them if they’re already open. You can tick Automatically Align Source Images and it might give you a start, but it’s probably easier to do that yourself.
Lining Up Your Photos
Once they’re open in a stack, put them into a logical order, if they weren’t already. Start with your main image, the one that has your subject captured front on, and hide all the others. Then, one by one, make each photograph visible and lower the opacity so you can see it against your main image and position it as best you can.
If you look closely at the image above, you’ll see where the edges overlap on the two images shown and that everything looks a bit soft and strange - that’s normal!
If you’re struggling to align your images by eye, try adding some guidelines to mark your most important features.
Once your images are lined up, you’ll need to blend them. This is the bit that takes the most work, and there’s no right or wrong way to do it. Unfortunately, that also means there’s not one way to tell you how best to do it—it’s very much trial and error!
Add a layer mask to each picture and use your first image as a base. Starting on the layer above MAIN, you can make the layer visible and play with the opacity and blending modes. As I still want the subject to be recognisable, I’ve decreased the opacity as the layers go up: 2 is 55%, 3 is 50%, 4 is 45%, and so on.
Play with the layer types and see which look best. I used a mix of Screen, Overlay, Exclusion, and Colour Burn, as well as Normal.
Then, with a soft brush, start to brush over your mask on the layers, erasing any distracting ‘ghosting’ from other layers, and bringing out any details from your main subject.
Not every layer will necessarily need something changing, and conversely you might erase most of some layers—it really is just playing about to see what works. You can see above I’ve also added a little curves layer to bump the brightness a bit.
When you’re happy with your stack, save an editable copy, like a PSD if you’re in Photoshop, and then save out a maximum quality JPEG version.
Editing and Stylising
You might stay in the same editor you’ve just been using, but I prefer the functionality of Adobe Camera Raw, so I’ve popped my photograph in there. If you’re doing the same and you’re using a JPEG, you’ll need to use File > Open As and then choose Camera Raw from the options.
You’ll have your own style and preferences, but here’s a quick rundown of what I did:
There was a lot of cranking up the saturation and textures here, as well as the usual exposure balancing.
With the grade, I really wanted to pull out those greens and yellows but also to stop the whole thing being too warm, so there’s a strong nudge to blue in the shadows, which you can see in the stone and the tree trunks, and it counterbalances the warmer colours nicely.
The trees have become a bit yellow in the grade, so I nudged that back to green and bumped the saturation. The rest of the changes were mostly about pulling down the luminance in the main colours so that it didn’t all look too neon but so you also still have that rich, over-the-top colouring.
Lastly, I added a dark vignette to pull the viewer's focus in on the centre.
Finished Multiple-Exposure Image
You can really see the difference in the regular shot compared to the stacked and stylised one. I think in particular the trees came out nicely with their overlapped ghost branches; they help to give a stronger sense of the isolation of the main subject than there was at the time.
There are so many amazing images you can create using Pep Ventosa’s multiple-exposure technique. When you become more confident with it all, you can try capturing landscapes, doing ‘in the round’ with a variety of subjects, and even capturing something that moves and you don’t, like a fairground ride. Photographing people using the Ventosa technique is an even greater challenge!
The key with this style is to commit to it. The more pictures you take, the greater your choices will be in the edit. Don’t be afraid to really push the colours and textures—it’s a great way to find new creative expressions in your photography.