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What Is Double Exposure?
Double exposure photography is a technique that layers two different exposures on a single image, combining two photographs into one. Double exposure creates a surreal feeling for your photos and the two photographs can work together to convey deep meaning or symbolism. A similar technique, called a “multiple exposure,” is when you combine more than two exposures in a single image.
How Does Double Exposure Work in Film?
Here’s how your camera captures a double exposure in film cameras:
- Take your first photo. The camera shutter opens to expose the film to one image, then closes. The first image is generally a subject, often a portrait.
- Rewind the film and take your second photo. The camera shutter opens again to expose the film to a second image, then closes, shooting over the same frame again. The second image is generally a background, often a landscape or cityscape.
- Develop both images in one photo. The final image combines the two exposures into a single image where they’re both visible on top of one another.
How to Create a Double Exposure Image With a Digital Camera
The process for creating a double exposure with a digital camera is fundamentally the same, though much simpler. Both Canon and Nikon make digital cameras with in-camera double exposure settings that will help you create the effect. This setting allows you to select a base image from the memory card and take a second exposure on top of that image. The camera layers the images and adjust exposure for you.
6 Tips for Creating a Double Exposure
While the only thing truly necessary for creating a double exposed image is your camera, a few other pieces of camera gear might help in crafting the best double exposures. Here are tips on how to do it:
- Use the flash. A flash can help fill in light, since you may need to underexpose both images a bit to create a properly-exposed double exposure.
- Buy a shutter release cable. A shutter release cable to make taking the photos easier.
- Shoot against a seamless backdrop. A seamless backdrop, or even a plain black or white cloth, will make cleaner background when doing a double exposed portrait.
- Set up the camera on a tripod. If doing a double exposure with movement, a tripod provides balance and consistency.
- Underexpose your subject. It lessens the chance of overexposing the final product.
- Choose a background with a lot of color and texture. Opt for something eye-catching like bright flowers or a vibrant sunset.
How to Create a Double Exposure in Photoshop
If your camera doesn’t have a double exposure setting, or if you want more control over how the double exposure effects looks, you can create the look during post-processing with photo editing software. Here’s how:
- Begin with the first image, the image of your subject. Open the image and use the pen tool to create a selection with your subject. Create a layer mask to hide the background.
- Add your second image, to the document. Resize it to fit the frame accordingly.
- In the “Blend Mode” dropdown, select “Screen.” This will layer the two images and create the double exposure effect. If you don’t like where the images overlap, re-size the second image until it looks right.
- Adjust the contrast, color balance, hue, and saturation to achieve your desired effect.
5 Creative Double Exposure Tricks
Double exposure photos are impressive on their own, but to up the “wow” factor even more, try these tricks:
- Blend two photos of the same subject. It can make a creative statement about seeing a person or an object in two different ways.
- Add a pop of color. Use colored flash gels to add different hues to your multiple exposures.
- Merge the two images in an unexpected way. Instead of layering a landscape over an entire portrait, layer it over just one part of the person, like their head or their hands.
- Take the photos in black and white. It more seamlessly blends the two images so it’s harder to tell where one ends and the other begins.
- Blend two double exposures. It will take some refining, but the results are doubly as stunning.
Learn more photography techniques in Jimmy Chin’s MasterClass.