Learn the art of double exposure with these simple steps

It’s been popping up in Instagram stories, in digital advertising and even in museums. Double exposure seems to have stolen the hearts of photographers and designers around the world and, although it’s not a new technique, in this post we want to show you how to create these images from scratch in easy steps so you can join in the fun too. 

Double exposure could be said to be the inspirational photographic technique par excellence. It consists of the juxtaposition of two photographs whose combination results in a unique image, almost always full of mysticism, originality and charm. 

Few techniques offer as many creative possibilities as double exposure. This is probably why its origin can be traced back to the earliest days of photography, with its popularity lasting to our own time. 

What is double exposure?

The technique appeared with analog cameras. Basically, one photograph was taken after another, without moving the film on, so the second image was recorded over the already exposed negative. 

Despite this seeming simplicity, it wasn’t an easy technique to master and achieving an artistic result was a somewhat complicated task. Fortunately, with the passage of time, everything has become simpler and now, whether using a camera or through a photo editing program, it’s much more accessible to creative people. 

Some SLR cameras already include the option to perform this technique, either by shooting two photos and then allowing the option of merging them, or with the so-called “Double Exposure” or “Multiple Exposure” function, which allows the first shot to be displayed superimposed on the screen before shooting the second. 

The other option is to work with the photographs using an editing program such as Adobe Photoshop, which is perhaps the most widespread way of doing it nowadays, since the result it offers is of the highest quality and the creative options are practically unlimited. 

In this post, we’re going to focus precisely on this option, so let’s get down to work, open Photoshop and start making a double exposure image step by step. Shall we get started?

Step 1: The raw materials

Select the images you want to use in your double exposure project. As in everything, the raw material is important, so try to use quality resources that will allow you to achieve a good result. 

A good idea to practice on for your first creation is to use, for example, a close-up of a person and a landscape. The fusion of two photos in this style usually results in a very poetic image that you are sure to love. 

But feel free to experiment with any photo you like, don’t set yourself limits, just to let your imagination run wild. 

Once you’ve selected your images, you’re all set! Open Photoshop. 

double exposure

Step 2: Selecting the silhouette

Taking our model as an example, use the “Quick Selection” tool to select the entire outline. Once selected, right click on it to select “Fade” and set a rate of 0.5. 

Now use Cmd+J to put the silhouette on a new layer. You can rename this layer and call it, for example, silhouette or model, and delete the background image so that everything is neater. 

Note: Try to leave enough space to create the double exposure effect. If you don’t have enough, you can enlarge the canvas by selecting the “Crop” tool and stretching the borders on the sides you need more space. 

In the “Layers” window go to “Adjustments” and select “Uniform color”, choose white for better working – you can change it later if you want – and click OK. Then drag that layer down, leaving the layer where you have the model visible.

At this point you desaturate the image. To do this go to the main menu and then under “Adjustments” click on “Desaturate”. 

double exposure

Step 3: The second image

Select and open the second image that you want to use for the double exposure in a new Photoshop tab. Then drag it to the other tab where your main image is. 

Next change the opacity of this layer and leave it at about 50%, so you will be able to see more or less where you want to place it to start working with it.

You can move it, enlarge it or even invert it if necessary to create the effect you are looking for. Once you get it where you want it, set the opacity back to 100%. 

double exposure

Go to the layer with the silhouette you created. If you press Cmd while clicking, only the figure will be selected, which is what you want to move forward with the next step. 

Step 4: Merging the two images into one

It’s time to merge the two images to create the double exposure effect. Select the layer with the landscape or motif you’re using and in the “Layers” window click on “Add vector Mask”. 

And… ta-da! You’ve got the two images forming the same silhouette. Now you need to duplicate the silhouette layer – you can do this using Cmd+J. Make sure that it’s on top of the motif or landscape layer. 

In the blending mode select “Lighten” so that you start to get the double exposure effect and set the opacity of the layer to around 50%. 

Now apply a layer mask over it – you can do that from the “Layers” window. Go to the toolbar and select “Brush” with an opacity of about 40%, depending on your design. Make sure you have black as the foreground color and start removing the parts where you want the background image to be more visible. 

Click on the silhouette in the landscape or motif layer and do the same to bring out a little more of the model’s details. 

double exposure

Step 5: Change the background and work on the effects

If you want to change the background color, now’s the time. You can do this by double clicking on the layer and selecting a new color or by using the “Eyedropper” tool to take one from the image as a reference. 

Once you have it, select the landscape or motif layer and duplicate it – using Cmd+J as you know – then delete the layer mask by dragging it to the trash can in the “Layers” window. Add another “Vector mask” by pressing Alt to make it black and use the “Brush” with the white foreground color to make the motifs or elements of your landscape break the boundaries of the silhouette

double exposure

You will now be able to practically see what your double exposure is going to look like. So now it’s time to fine-tune details to make the result as professional as possible. 

Step 6: Taking care of the finer details

Now you’re almost finished, it’s good to remind yourself that the difference is always in the details. So spend a little more time to ensure a consistent finish to your double exposure. On the top layer go to “Adjustments”, add a “Uniform Color” and select the “Multiply” blending option. 

Play around, test and select the color and opacity of the layer that best suits your design. 

Once you are happy with the result create a new layer by pressing Cmd + Alt + Shift + E. Once done, go to “Image”, “Adjustments” and click on “Desaturate”, then select the blending mode “Soft light” and change the opacity of the layer – you can try setting it above 30% – until it looks exactly as you want. 

double exposure

We hope these steps will make your double exposure project much easier. If what you need is a little inspiration to get started, on Freepik you’ll find amazing resources made using this technique. 

What are you waiting for? Create yours now!