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Double Exposure Photography

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Double exposure photography is somehow the technical niche of photography. It started as a technique by photographers to enhance the outcomes, but today, it is a genre on its own.

As the name shows, double exposure photography is combining two different exposures in one image. If executed perfectly, the results are awe-inspiring.

It is more of a technique. It can be created using many mediums commonly available, i.e., using built-in camera settings, post-production work using Photoshop and akin editing tools, or using the film. Pictures created by using this technique have a dreamy and unique look, and commonly this technique is used for artistic purposes.

For beginners in double exposure photography, this article is a basic step-by-step guide. We will also cover some tips and techniques, and finally, you can do double exposure photography using all three techniques: a digital camera, film, or Photoshop.

What is Double Exposure Photography?

Honestly, this technique is all about paying attention to details and being creative. For example, nowadays, all digital cameras have built-in double exposure settings. A person might be missing creating dreamy, otherworldly images because he ignored this feature.

So first thing first, explore the features of your digital camera. If your camera has got this option, well and good! If not, there are dozens of editing software to assist you in creating stunning double exposure imagery.

Stone statues

Planning and selecting a theme

Creating great art without proper planning is not impossible but very rare. The same is the case with the art of double exposure photography. Before you begin with shooting and post-production, plan everything and come up with a theme.

Once you start shooting, there’s a lot on your plate. You have to get a base photo, a second image, get multiple shots to get desired results, and post-production. With a clear theme, you have a clear road to get an actual image of what you imagined.

Base image

After selecting the theme, select your base photo. Except for noisy image elements, you can add anything in the background.

An amateur might not tell this but always go for lighter or images with high exposure for your background image. In double exposure photography, generally, one image is on the darker side of exposure and the other image on the lighter side. With a lighter base, it’s easy to create brilliant highlights and shadows.

Try having light or sun behind your source image.

Girl portrait double exposure

Supplementary image

This image consists of a figure, object, or textured backdrop.

This image is not that hard to shoot, but the output of this one can ruin the whole look of your image. It would help if you kept the exposure of this image lighter or darker from your base image, as per the needs of your project, but don’t go for something 180°. Also, understand the theme thoroughly and come up with theme contrast to complement the base.

One tip that can come in handy in double exposure photography is using the same light source. To get lighter and darker images, you can shoot under different light intensities but avoid using different sources, especially if you aren’t an expert on this technique.

Blending the two

Here’s where the actual deal is. A double exposure photograph is created at this step from two separate images.

All the work is done using Photoshop or some other editing software. Details about this step are discussed in the forthcoming sections.

Creating double exposure:

The technique is a bit technical, but anyone can do it by learning the basics. There are three ways you can create it.

  1. Using film camera
  2. With Photoshop
  3. Using digital camera

By using the film camera

Double exposure photography with film cameras is the most old-school and simple method. It can be achieved in a dark room or inside a camera.

Double exposure inside the camera is simply taking two exposures in one part of the film. For modern cameras, you have to shoot one image on film and then rewind it by one frame before shooting the second image to get a difference of exposure. But if you are using a manual camera, you have to recompose the camera before taking supplementary/second photographs.

Set the ISO to 200 to 400 and lower the exposure one-stop for the underexposed image.

After getting both images, develop a film role in a dark room, compose the images, and you will get one single image with double exposure. Be very careful while developing film; if anything goes wrong, you will lose all the data.

If you want to use the film technique to get double exposure, make sure your SLR doesn’t have double exposure settings. Such cameras don’t allow the film to recompose or advance.

Girl portrait double exposed with a building

By using Digital Camera

This is the simplest way to create a double exposure photograph.

Many high-end brands, i.e., Canon, Nikon, and even some cheap brands, have built-in features. This feature requires minimal user output compared to other options, but results are as sharp as Photoshop and film.

To create a double exposure photograph using a digital camera with this function, you have to select a base image from your memory card and layer the second image on the top of the base image. The camera will do all the work for you. Just shoot, select, and create your image!

Oftentimes, the output is slightly different than what you expected. You can enhance and touch up your image using editing options within DSLR or using any editing software/Photoshop.

By using Photoshop

This one is the most professional and widely used method. People consider it somewhat difficult, but it isn’t. It would be best to learn Photoshop basics, and you can get better results than the other two options.

You will need to place your photos on top of each other and visualize and brighten your top image.

  • Begin with the base 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.
  • To layer the two images, go to the “Blend Mode” dropdown, select “Screen.”
  • Refine the image using different features to get your desired results.

5 tips to step up your double exposure photography:

1.    Follow no limits

Though double exposure photography is all about merging two different snaps, it doesn’t mean that there is no window of creativity.

Experience freely with highlights, shadows, lights, subjects, et cetera. Use abstract photography and unusual patterns. Make unconventional combinations for images like the image of a sky inside the head. The images you take are just one aspect; the final look depends on the combination and merging.

If you create it using built-in settings, experience new things using manual settings, and the results will surprise you.

2.    Incorporate colors in your work

Many photographers focus only on highlights and shadows or exposure differences in the image but little do they know that adding a splash of color can make their images stand out.

The best ways to add colors are using colored flash gels or opting for a background with some popping color, such as a bright flower or sunset. Use colored flash gels to add varied popping colors to your double exposure.

If you opt to shoot a background with some vibrant color, make sure that your image doesn’t get very noisy. Noisy backgrounds are difficult to deal with in editing.

3.    Use a single light source

Double exposure images blend two or multiple images with different exposure levels, but the practice is shooting both images in the same light source. For example, you can shoot a background image when the sun is very bright and a supplementary image at sunset.

A flash will help adjust the light as you need to underexpose the images a little to create a double exposure.

4.    Neutral exposure

Undoubtedly exposure plays a huge role in this technique, but this is a wide misconception that double exposure photography is only about exposure and their difference. Professionals deal with it by blending images of different textures and contrast levels.

If you want to give your images a professional look, neutral exposure of a mid-to-low contrast scene mixed with a high contrast scene works the best.

Double exposure with couple and forest

5.    Shoot against a coherent backdrop

A coherent and seamless background will help you refine the images. You can also use a plain white or black cloth to give your photos a neutral and subtle look. After taking the image against a neutral background, you can superimpose your second image on top of it. It is useful to superimpose with a dark shade.


Practice with camera settings, and don’t waste your time with presets. Avoid auto modes. Invest in a camera <- Affiliate Link 🙂 that has all the top features available in the market. It doesn’t have to be a top price thought. Modern cameras, the hobby ones, have most of the needed features.

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