Double Exposures

Double Exposures in Photography

Have you seen those photos that blend two images into one and always wondered how? Thats what double exposures are.

Whether you choose to do it in camera or in photoshop it is another great technique to add to your bow!

In Camera Double Exposures

The first thing to note is that not all cameras have the double exposures function. More and more cameras are being released with the capability so chances are you can produce a double exposure but check your manual beforehand if you are unsure on where your setting is.

Some cameras enable you to select a base image for your double exposures. This is great because you then don’t have to shoot the images one after another. If you captured a great silhouette earlier that day you can go back and select that shot as your base image and then find some great textures to fill it with.

Some cameras also display the base image when in live mode. The Nikon D7100 we use, unfortunately doesn’t allow the use of live mode when the multiple exposure feature is enabled (so annoying) but the much higher end cameras will display the first image softly in live mode. This is awesome as you can literally line up the first image with the textures of the second image to get the perfect double exposures shot first time.

Understand What Looks Good

The first step to planning out your double exposure is to understand that two contrasting, one colour shots, often look best. For example if you were to blend a person with a cityscape you would ideally shoot the person with a white or black backdrop to keep it simple and to create ‘space’ for your cityscape to blend into.

Top tip: Shoot the person as a silhouette against a white background to provide even more contrast. Depending on your settings the second shot in the double exposures only usually fills the dark areas. Hence if you have a white background you can manipulate the areas you wish to be filled much more easily.

Shooting in black and white? This extensive guide will have you shooting incredible images.

Background First

The next step is to find the background texture. Color helps, and so do lines and complementary shapes. As with the silhouette, find a texture that can be captured on white or black backgrounds, with a minimum of surrounding clutter.

When you’ve found the texture to place within the silhouetted figure, you’re ready to make the composite. Dig through your camera’s settings to find the multi-exposure mode. If your camera allows go through your images and choose an image you want to use as the base image. Again, if your camera allows (most don’t), switch your camera to live view after enabling the multiple exposure mode and selecting a base image. The bas image will be displayed on your LCD screen.

If you are like us and your camera doesn’t allow some of these settings you will just have to do everything manually. Enable double exposures mode, Shoot your first base image then immediately shoot your second image (your texture image). The more you practice the more you will understand the right settings for your camera. 

When you have shot your first image and then lined up and shot your second image your camera will automatically blend the two images. 

Top tip: make sure auto gain is off. We all know the automatic stuff doesn’t produce the results we want!

Struggling for creative background ideas? Check this out!

In Photoshop Double Exposures

You can create double exposures with any type of image, but this technique is particularly effective when used with a portrait photograph. Either a full-face portrait or side/profile can work equally well. You can of course combine more than two images if you want, but two is usually enough.

In this first example we have used a colour profile portrait photograph in combination with a black and white cityscape of New York. You can see them both below.


Note that it can be helpful to have the portrait with a white background, this can save having to remove areas of the top image at a later point.

Moving to Photoshop

Combining the images in Photoshop is simple, basically you want the portrait shot to be the lower layer, with the shot you want to superimpose over it on the above layer. Obviously you’ll need to make sure that both images are roughly the same size before doing so.

Then the trick is to change to layer blending mode on the top layer, for double exposures we tend to stick to two types of blending modes, overlay and lighten. You can experiment with other modes of course but these are the two that often give the best results.


Once the layers are in place and the blending mode applied you can move the top layer around a little until you get the look that you want, there is no right or wrong way of doing this, the ultimate aim is to achieve a slightly surreal image, so adjust to your own taste.

In this first example we have used the overlay layer blending mode, it can also help to play with the contrast and opacity of each layer to create a different look.


You can see the results of the blend above, note that it can also be very effective to combine two colour images, or two monochrome images, but in this case we liked the blend of colour and black and white. Experimentation is the key, as is often the case with Photoshop.

Changing the blend

This time we have used the same portrait, but converted it to black and white. Using a woodland image as the top layer, and changeing the blending mode to lighten, this has far more impact on the darker areas of the layer below, the hair in this instance.


Note that we have manually erased parts of the top layer in this example, just in areas where I didn’t want the images to blend, the eyes of the portrait for example.

Taking things further

In the final example below we’ve again used another black and portrait as the base image, then used a variety of images over the top, these included a main abstract photograph, we then added a few vector elements into the mix. We also tweaked the colour in the hair area with a vibrant gradient to create maximum contrast with the monochrome face.


You can create double exposures in Photoshop with ease, sometimes just changing the blending mode of the top layer is enough to create a striking image, other times it may be pay to be a little more creative with your layer adjustments in order to achieve the look that you want.

Hopefully this helps you to produce in camera results with your double exposures! Any questions just ask!

I know a lot of this but cannot turn my hobby into anything more. Do not worry! We have got you covered. This blog will help!


Leave your thoughts!