Double exposure photography refers to merging multiple images so they become surreal, emotional, or simply humorous. Though there are exceptions, they usually feature silhouettes. Double exposures may look complicated at first, but they’re surprisingly easy to make. Both in-camera and in Photoshop.
During the photo-taking process, you have to make the most of what you have, be it a limited wardrobe or one location. In the editing world, however, confinements are replaced with endless possibilities. These can be used to transform seemingly ordinary photographs into powerful masterpieces.
With an abundance of freedom comes an abundance of questions. The most important one is “How can I make this look unique?”
There are many striking double exposures out there, but don’t let this discourage you. No matter how popular double exposures are, there will always be a need for your ideas.
As for the ideas themselves, there are thousands you can choose from.
I’d like to share 16 of my favourites. These have not only sharpened my editing skills, but inspired me to look at all of my photos from a refreshingly new perspective.
1. Use the Tilt-Shift Effect (No Additional Equipment Needed!)
You don’t need to get into freelensing or invest in a tilt-shift camera to achieve this effect. Photoshop has a great tilt-shift tool that will transform your photos into soft works of art.
If you want to be extra creative, blur one of your photos instead of the entire image. Or blur everything except for one important detail.
To use this feature, go to Filter > Blur Gallery > Tilt-Shift.
2. Create a Fake Reflection
Though shooting through windows is fun, there are other ways you can create reflections. One of them is creating a double exposure with the help of a separate window photo.
Take photos of different reflections and merge them with photos of people, animals, or simple objects. This will create moody – often abstract – photos that will add a spark to your portfolio.
I love using photos of surfaces with raindrops and bokeh, as you can see.
3. Create a Double Exposure Diptych
Diptychs, photo collages made of two separate images, are a dream come true for those who love artistic photography. These collages can be taken to the next level with the help of double exposures.
If you have two double exposures you’re happy with, see if they complement each other. They might look visually appealing next to each other or tell a clearer story about your subjects.
If they do, place them side by side to create the ultimate double exposure diptych. Two, in this case, is much better than one.
4. Or Experiment with Simple Portraits and Detailed Textures
If you don’t know what to do with a simple portrait, merge it with a photo of detailed textures. Sand, raindrops, rocks, wood, etc., are ideal for this.
Combining something plain with something complicated will give you a balanced result. It will also save a lot of simple photos that you’d typically ignore.
I myself have saved hundreds of photos by simply taking the time to experiment with them in Photoshop. Funnily enough, those spontaneous creations are some of my most popular ones.
5. Convert Your Results to B&W
A lack of colour will strengthen the emotions in your double exposure. If you want to express yourself in a vulnerable way, I highly recommend experimenting with this.
I personally love converting my double exposure photos to b&w. It gives them a unique depth and allows me to experiment with something akin to film photography.
6. Combine Two Things That Mean a Lot to You
Nothing is as impactful as a photo of something (or in our case, several things) that mean everything to you. For example, nature is something I deeply care about.
My love for biology and the world inspires me to work with details that reflect these passions. Because of this, I often include nature in my double exposures.
What do you love? Is there a way you could combine your interests with the help of this technique?
7. Start a Themed Double Exposure Project
Though this requires much more commitment than the other ideas, it’s guaranteed to inspire and excite you. Think of a photo series based on a specific theme, be it plants, architecture, family, a season, and so on, and take photos inspired by it.
Don’t choose something that’s too advanced, however. Challenging yourself too much will quickly discourage you. Instead, find a theme that speaks to you and gives you the perfect amount of obstacles to overcome.
This balance will help you work on any long-term project, especially one that demands a lot of imagination and practice.
8. Work with Silhouettes Only
As you now know, there are no strict rules in double exposure photography. Though many artists choose to work with silhouettes, there are just as many that enjoy blending two images without making any separations (#3 is a great example of this.)
What if you worked with silhouettes only? It would give you a fun and doable challenge, let alone an opportunity to show very creative sides of yourself.
Use silhouettes of yourself, other people, random objects, and anything else that catches your eye to create unique works of art.
9. Express an Emotion Through a Self-Portrait
If you’re feeling lost, elated, disappointed, determined, etc., express yourself through a self-portrait double exposure. When I create emotional double exposures, I tend to combine portraits with photos of nature that speak to me.
Feeling lost reminds me of lonely roads, while joy makes me think about fields in the summer. You may have completely different associations with these emotions, which is exactly why you must express yourself!
In double exposure photography, there is always room for one more perspective. You will not only create a great self-portrait, but have the chance to accurately document how you feel.
10. Merge Two Photos of the Same Person
Two images of the same person in one photo can express confusion, curiosity, or a search for meaning. If these topics inspire you, you’ll have lots of fun with this idea.
Don’t be afraid of going the extra mile; as you can see in the photo below, I merged two photos in only one area and converted my results to black & white.
11. Just Pick Two Random Photos
If you just want to have fun, merge a few random photos. I do this when I have interesting photos that I’m not sure what to do with.
Just because the process is random doesn’t mean it’s not meaningful, however. Your results might create a story of their own, one that others will find deeply encouraging.
A lot of my double exposures were happy accidents that led to great feedback and even greater creative growth.
12. Make Simple Objects Look Fascinating
Take photos of everyday objects you usually take for granted and try to make them look like something else.
For instance, a silhouette of a dull-looking building in your area could become the outline of a starry sky, like the photo above.
This challenge will enhance your imagination and help you appreciate life just a little more.
13. Use an Animal Silhouette
People and objects are often featured in double exposures. If you want to stand out, create a double exposure using photos of animals (bonus points if you use ones of your pet!)
Though the results of this experiment may not end up in your portfolio, they’ll let you have lots of fun.
Extra tip: if you don’t own a pet or have any photos of animals, use a website like Unsplash. There, you’ll have access to thousands of free photos to use in your experiments.
14. Merge Two Double Exposures
This is great for those who enjoy experimenting with a lot of elements at once. The results may look messy at first, but a few adjustments will result in something both abstract and impossible to ignore.
When I merge several double exposures at once, I tend to use photos that have similar colours. This usually guarantees that the results won’t look too dramatic.
If this isn’t possible for you, change the opacity of one of the double exposures or use the tilt-shift tool.
15. Instead of a Silhouette, Use a Shadow
Outlines of any kind are fantastic to work with in double exposure photography. Shadows are just as effective as silhouettes in this genre.
More importantly, they’re fascinating to work with. Take a photo of someone’s shadow and transform it into any story you want. You could turn it into a heroic tale, a thought-provoking experiment, or something that doesn’t look like a shadow at all.
You can do anything your heart desires with outlines of this sort. All you have to do is go out, take photos of a few shadows, and turn them into something beautiful.
16. Let Others Know What Makes You Laugh
Double exposure photography is often associated with serious and emotional topics, but it doesn’t always have to lack humour.
What makes you smile or laugh? This is the ideal opportunity to create something funny, touching, and memorable.
Whether it’s a season, a family member, or something completely different, you can use your sources of happiness to create something that will put a smile on someone else’s face.
When it comes to double exposure photography, almost anything is possible.
If you want to succeed, keep these 3 rules in mind:
- Acknowledge that the editing process will be challenging. And some photos won’t look good together no matter how hard you try.
- So, if a composition doesn’t work, let it go and try something else. Adjustments both big and small will have a huge impact on your work.
- Your hard work will pay off. Don’t lose hope in yourself, work with as many photos as you can, and believe in your vision.
If you have photos, Photoshop, and some free time, you can start creating incredible double exposures right now. Try making something using one (or all!) of the ideas above and share it with our community. We’d love to see your results!
Still feeling creative? Check our article on using shadows in abstract photography!
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