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How to Create a Double Exposure in Photoshop (Easily!)

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Double exposures are a great way to get creative with images in a simple way. It’s a technique that uses two photographs to create a new image. It can be a powerful way to present a concept or a fun way to combine two scenes.

Today, I will show you how to create your double exposure in Photoshop. I have been working with double exposures in film photography and digital photography for a few years. Here are the best tips I have picked up from these years of practice.

Double exposure made on Photoshop of a figure standing amongst trees.
Anna Maghradze

What Is A Double Exposure?

A double exposure in photography is when you take two exposures over the same section of film or digital sensor. This means that the film or image you get on your digital camera will have an overlay of two images on a single image.

A majority of digital cameras will not give you the option to make a double exposure, so you will have to do this on Adobe Photoshop. With film cameras, you have to rewind the film and then reshoot the whole film again! This means you will get a random double exposure (unless you counted your frames and remember your images well!).

Double exposure work by taking advantage of the dark sections in an image. If a specific section hasn’t been exposed, the second exposure is likely to fill in these areas. This means dark places will disappear in a double exposure, and light spots will punch through.

Double exposure maybe taken on film with a girls face being hidden amongst flowers

What is a Double Exposure Effect?

A double exposure effect is a technique you can do on Adobe Photoshop to achieve a double exposure but with added control. With a photographic method based on chance, control means the edit’s success will rely on your creativity alone.

The control you have ranges from the images you choose to which part of the picture contains each image. Often, this comes in the form where a landscape is projected onto someone’s clothes or faces.

You can add gradients and even use two or more exposures for extra control. It all depends on what image you are trying to create and what feeling you want to convey to the viewer.

Double exposure of a girl and a tall building. Model is wearing glasses and is a black and white image whereas the building is in colour.

Why Create a Double Exposure?

Double exposure photos create a great relationship between two images. They are great for making images that look like you are looking into the subject’s soul. A great example is when you use landscapes as the second image inside a model. We are presented with a scene and cannot help but link our feelings to the person depicted.

We can use this to our advantage. If we want to portray someone as calm, we could pick the sea as the second exposure. Similarly, if we wanted to depict someone as angry, we could pick fire as the second exposure.

Alternately, we could use an empty subject and fill it with people. This could work well for a picture of your family home. You can put a portrait of your family members inside this house!

Double exposure where the camera is looking at the ceiling of the room. On this ceiling is a picture of a landscape in the summer or spring time.
Anna Maghradze

How to Make a Double Exposure Effect in Photoshop

A double exposure effect can be tricky to get your head around. Trial and error will be a part of this process, but to help, I will guide you through an easy step-by-step.

Step 1: Selecting and Masking your Image

First, find the image you want to be the main subject of your photograph. This could be anything from your pet to a lamp! I have chosen this portrait from a stock image site, unsplash.com. Now, open your image in Adobe Photoshop.

screenshot of the portrait I'm using to create a double exposure in photoshop

Crop the image to your ideal size.

Using crosshairs in photoshop to center the portrait

This is the suitable composition that I want for my final image.

the portrait I'm using to create a double exposure in photoshop

I will duplicate my background by dragging the layer to the bottom and dropping it on the “new layer” thumbnail.

selecting the background copy layer in photoshop

Next, grab your Quick Select tool from the left-hand toolbar. Be sure the top brush has a + sign next to it.

selecting the correct brush in photoshop

Now you can start slowly painting the subject you want to select.

marching ants showing the selection in photoshop

Once the whole body is selected, make sure you double-check the image to avoid missing any parts. Select “add layer mask” at the bottom of your layers toolbar.

selecting add layer mask in photoshop

This new box will now appear towards the right of your screen. Click on “select and mask”.

select and mask pop up

This will bring up this new page. Here you can feather the outline to about 2 pixels. Most importantly, under Output Settings, make sure you output to a Layer Mask.

screenshot of output to layer mask in photoshop

Step 2: Prepping The Image

We will add a solid colour layer to have a neutral background. Go to New Adjustment Layers at the bottom of the layers toolbar and select “solid colour”.

selecting solid color in photoshop

Here you can choose any colour you like, but I will go with a neutral grey.

selecting a solid color in the color picker pop up box

This is what your layers section will look like.

screenshot of the layers panel in photoshop

And this is how your image should currently look.

the portrait I'm using for my double exposure in photoshop

Step 3: Adding Your Double Exposure

Now, let’s bring up the second image that you want inside your subject. I have chosen this forest scene.

the image I'm imprinting on the portrait to create a double exposure in photoshop

I want to stick with being monochromatic, so I go to Image > Adjustments > Desaturate.

screenshot of the desaturate option in photoshop

Let’s move this image into the other photoshop document by dragging the layer across.

dragging the image onto the portrait

Use Command+T (Control+T for Windows) to adjust the image how you would like it. I have rotated the image to make the image a bit more interesting.

the rotated version of the image I'm using to imprint on the portrait to create a double exposure

I am happy with this selection because the dark bit of the image is roughly where the model’s face will be.

the rotated version of the image I'm using to imprint on the portrait to create a double exposure

Command+click (Control+click for windows) the layer mask of the model.

screenshot of selecting the background copy in the layers panel

This will add the silhouette to your image. This is an excellent way to see how the image will look on your subject.

marching ants showing the selection of the portrait to create a double exposure

With the marching ants still over your image, select the new layer (the forest image) and click on “add a mask”.

screenshot of add a mask icon in photoshop

This is how your image should look.

the beginning stage of a double exposure in photoshop

Select your original layer and duplicate it by dragging it to the bottom of the Layers toolbar and dropping it on Add New Layer. Then bring the new layer to the top.

screenshot of selecting the background copy in the layers tab

We will add contrast to this new layer to improve the double exposure effect. Go to Image > Adjustments > Levels.

screenshot of selecting levels in the drop down menu in photoshop

Use the Shadow and Highlight sliders to add more contrast to your liking. My image already has a bit of contrast, so I won’t mess with this too much.

screenshot of contrast values in the levels pop up screen in photoshop

Now desaturate this layer as well.

screenshot of the desaturate option in photoshop

Finally, let’s go to the blending modes for our new top layer. You can select these to see which works best, but I have found that Screen replicates a double exposure best.

selecting the screen option in the layers tab in photoshop

This is what your image should now look like.

how your image should look with the double exposure effect

Step 4: Extra Touches

To give the image a bit more depth, let’s add a slight shadow behind our subject. First, select the “colour fill” layer.

selecting color fill in the layers tab

Now, grab the brush tool and set a low Opacity and Flow. Make sure your brush has soft edges, and you’re painting with black selected.

screenshot of the opacity and flow values in photoshop

Slowly go around your image outline and add where you think the shade is necessary. This is what my image will look like.

how your double exposure image should look at this stage

If I were to Alt-click on the Colour Fill mask, this slight shadow is what you will see. It doesn’t seem like much, but it helps the subject pop out the image nicely.

the shadow of the portrait

Now you have a simple double exposure!

the final image with the double exposure effect

Conclusion

Double exposure photos have a unique aesthetic to them. Using this aesthetic to your advantage can produce some impactful images. This allows you to make a double exposure in Photoshop that isn’t just aesthetically pleasing but also conceptual. Maybe you choose a landscape that is important to the subject? Or perhaps you make an object the subject and put a group image of you and your friends inside?

The opportunities to create an exciting photograph are endless. As I stated before, it can be a tricky technique to master. Go on Photoshop and have fun with it! You can even use the same stock images as I have to follow along even closer.

Check out The Creative Photography Cookbook for a ton of fun and unique photo inspiration!

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