Double exposure photography is, without a doubt, one of the oldest types of photography.
Throughout the years, many photographers have experimented with this style of photography. People have come up with highly artistic images that have captured the imagination of viewers from across the world.
Double exposure photography can be achieved in a few different ways:
- by using the Multiple Exposure mode in your DSLR or mirrorless camera,
- with Photoshop, by simply blending two different images,
- in film cameras, by pressing the shutter, and instead of advancing the film to the next frame, recompose and shoot again
Even though it’s not a new technique, budding photographers continue today to champion this technique as a means of conveying their artistic vision through their photographic work.
If you have always wondered what exactly makes double exposure photography such a powerful instrument for artistic expression, you have come to the right place. In this post, we are going to explore the characteristics of this style, and I’ll show you how to create double exposure images. We will also highlight some of the creative ideas that you can adopt when working in this style.
So What is Double Exposure Photography?
As I’ve briefly mentioned, the technique of double exposure photography consists of superimposing two different images on top of each other to create a new photograph.
By overlaying multiple images in one frame, you can come up with surreal images that evoke certain moods otherwise difficult to achieve with single images. Double-exposure also provides an innovative way of telling a particular story through images.
How to Do Double Exposure Photography
There are two primary ways through which a double-exposure image can be created. These are:
- In-camera double exposure ( digital and film)
- Double exposure using Photoshop
While the outcome is virtually the same, the methods of achieving double exposure are different in various ways. Let us now explore how each individual technique is applied when creating double-exposure images.
Double Exposure Photography With a Digital Camera
Creating double exposure photography with modern digital cameras is a fairly simple and straightforward process. Certain modern DSLRs and mirrorless cameras come with an in-built multiple exposure feature.
However, these features aren’t always the same in all cameras. For instance, while some cameras allow you to shoot multiple images in the same frame, others are designed to let you shoot two frames in a row. It is, therefore, essential to familiarize yourself with the multiple-exposure feature in your camera.
Follow these steps to create superimposed images using a digital camera:
- Set your digital camera to multiple-exposure mode.
- Shoot the first image (first exposure) which will serve as the backdrop for your second image to blend into. You can also pre-load the first image from your camera’s memory card if that feature is available.
- Shoot the second image (second exposure) to complete your double exposure photograph.
Double Exposure With a Film Camera
Unlike digital cameras, that are fitted with multiple-exposure settings, film cameras do not allow for two different images to be captured in a single frame. Therefore, in order to create a double-exposure photograph using a film camera, you need to apply entirely different principles.
Here are some of the steps you need to follow when shooting double-exposure photos using a film camera:
- Shoot a series of exposures until the film roll is finished
- Pull out the leader and reload the (used) film into your camera
- Shoot over the film again to create double exposure images
Creating double exposure images using a film camera is a bit more challenging to do than with a digital camera. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t come up with spectacular double exposure images on film as well.
You only need to ensure that the second set of frames is properly aligned with the first set. This way you will prevent unwanted overlaps or images falling on the wrong frame.
Double Exposure Using Photoshop
One of the easiest and most popular ways of creating double exposure photographs is through editing applications like Photoshop. This involves overlaying different images manually after they have been shot separately.
Here is a simple guide on how to achieve the double-exposure effect using Photoshop:
- Select the images you want to blend together
- Create a layer mask for the image you intend to superimpose
- Select a landscape and load it onto the first image
- Fix the background of your image and edit out any imperfections
- Create the double exposure using the Blend-Mode setting by varying the opacity of the image
Tips and Tricks for Double Exposure Photography
The technique of double exposure is not as complex as it may appear at first. In fact, anyone can learn how to create double exposure images within minutes, even if they have no previous experience in it.
If you are a beginner in this style of photography, here are some of the tips you can apply to help you produce amazing images.
Understand Your Camera
If you are interested in creating double exposure images using in-camera settings, it is absolutely vital to understand how your camera operates.
In case you are using a film camera, ensure that you acquire the best quality film. Black and white films are generally the most recommended because they have good exposure latitude, and can perfectly handle overexposure.
Have a Concept in Mind
Shooting random images can be a great way to practice double exposure, but in my experience is better to have clear in mind the idea of a final result.
Start by shooting concepts such as landscapes and portraits. This will allow you to focus on when practicing the technique and you’ll find a lot of examples online to get some inspiration.
Once you’ve explored different examples and got some inspiration, imagine what’s the final result you’d like to obtain. Looking to deliver a peaceful image? Choose a beautiful landscape at sunset as your background. Want to create something futuristic? Use a cityscape and so on.
Double Exposure Composition
If you know the kind of shot you want to obtain, composing it’s gonna be a piece of cake.
Colors at this stage are not very important since you can always tweak them in Lightroom. I always prefer to use two photos of similar exposure. If you use two images that are too different you’ll have to spend too much time editing and adjusting the exposure of the two layers.
The more time you spend editing the less you spend taking photos and on top of that, your double exposure is going to result in a less natural image.
Double Exposure Black and White
Try to make your photos black and white and see how it looks compared to the color version. Sometimes converting your images to black and white results in a more emotional and expressive image.
What you can try also is to have only one of the two images in black and white and leave the other one as it is.
Experiment a Lot
There are no unbreakable rules when it comes to double-exposure photography – you are at liberty to experiment with as many ideas as you want.
One thing you need to remember, however, is that dark subjects generally tend to blend more easily, whereas light ones may lose out some details in the final image. Ultimately, your own discernment should provide you with a guide on how to use the different elements to create visually striking images.
Creating double exposure images is a great way to widen your artistic palette as a photographer.
Learning this technique can be richly rewarding since it opens up your creativity and allows you to become more innovative in your approach as a professional.
Whether you are using a digital or film camera or blending different photographs with photoshop, you can greatly develop your artistry by learning the art of double exposure.
All you need to do is start practicing now!
Stefano Caioni is a photographer from Sydney, Australia. Founder and editor of Pixinfocus, his passion for photography helps him explore new places and live new adventures. Thanks to photography he reconnected with the outdoors and was able to travel the world and take photos of some of the most beautiful places on Earth.