Design, Photography, & Fashion

Photography 101: What is Double Exposure? Tips, Tricks, and a Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Multiple Exposure Photographs

Written by MasterClass

May 21, 2019 • 3 min read

Photographers never stop experimenting with different camera equipment, camera settings, and camera techniques to find new ways to be creative and produce different outcomes. One experimental technique is double exposure or multiple exposure. Double exposure is not hard to achieve once you know the basics.

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Buy a shutter release cable. A shutter release cable to make taking the photos easier.
  3. 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.
  4. Set up the camera on a tripod. If doing a double exposure with movement, a tripod provides balance and consistency.
  5. Underexpose your subject. It lessens the chance of overexposing the final product.
  6. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Add your second image, to the document. Resize it to fit the frame accordingly.
  3. 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.
  4. 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:

  1. Blend two photos of the same subject. It can make a creative statement about seeing a person or an object in two different ways.
  2. Add a pop of color. Use colored flash gels to add different hues to your multiple exposures.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.