Sometimes your concept can’t be told in a single frame. Try these tips from seven pro photographers to master the art of the multiple exposure.

For almost a century, photographers as diverse as Lewis Carroll, Man Ray, Philippe Halsman, and Robert Mapplethorpe have turned to multiple exposure photography to tell stories that simply cannot be captured within a single frame. A multiple exposure image, composed of two or more shots, is a flight from reality and a departure into the unknown.

In the days of film, multiple exposures were somewhat precarious. Unable to see their pictures as they worked, analog photographers had to wait until the final image emerged from the darkroom before they knew whether or not it was successful. Today, however, digital photographers have an array of tools at their disposal. With practice and skill, it’s now possible to create pictures that once seemed impossible.

It’s no coincidence that about three years ago, multiple exposure photography became a major player once again. In 2015, double exposures made it to the top of the Shutterstock Creative Trends report. Since then, various apps have hit the market, making it possible for professionals and amateurs alike to dip their toes into the multiple exposure pool.

We talked to seven expert Shutterstock contributors about the secrets to making a successful image from more than one exposure. Read on for their best tips and the concepts behind some of their most powerful images.

1. “It’s a great exercise to make in-camera double exposures first.”

Beata Angyalosi

7 Expert Photographers Share Their Multiple Exposure Secrets — Try In-Camera Double Exposures

Image by Beata Angyalosi. Deer: Gear: Canon 6D camera, Sigma 85mm f1.4 lens. Settings: Exposure 1/4000 sec; f1.4; ISO 250. Forest: Gear: Canon 6D camera, Canon 200mm f2.8 lens. Settings: Exposure 1/320 sec; f8; ISO 500.

What’s the story behind this image?

I spend a lot of time in nature, and I live in Romania, where illegal logging destroys the homes of many animals. I wanted to create a picture that shows the importance of preserving their habitat. We are the ones who have stepped into their environment. I want people to respect these beautiful creatures and keep their homes safe and clean. Because I wanted a moody picture, I combined a foggy pine tree forest from Slovenia with a portrait of a deer with beautiful antlers, which always remind me of roots.

Pictured: [1] Beata Angyalosi. [2] Beata Angyalosi.

Pro Tip:

It’s a great exercise to make in-camera double exposures first. At first, I didn’t even know I had this option on my camera. Try this to explore what fits with what. Normally, you have to photograph your subject on a clean background; shooting against the sky, for example, helps. With the second picture, you can complement the dark parts of the subject. When you create a double exposure in Photoshop, you need to have pictures that match well. After buying a few double exposure actions for Photoshop, I realized that it’s much easier if you just use the Multiple and Screen options on your layers and edit what you want. I also try to clip and mask; it depends on the theme and how the images fit.

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2. “Review all available video tutorials on the topic on Youtube, and read all the tips you can find.”

Anna Efetova

7 Expert Photographers Share Their Multiple Exposure Secrets — Learn Technique First

Image by Anna Efetova. Ocean: Gear: Canon 5D Mark III camera, Canon 100mm 2.8 L lens. Settings: Exposure 1/4000 sec; f2.8; ISO 100. Portrait: Gear: Canon 5D Mark II camera, Canon 50mm 1.4 lens. Settings: Exposure 1/125 sec; f10; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this image?

I saw the Atlantic Ocean for the first time in Portugal. I was impressed, but I still did not know what awaited me. A few days later, I visited a place called Nazare, which has some of the biggest waves in the world. The view touched me to the depths of my soul. At any point in time, I can close my eyes and find myself in that place. This picture is about that feeling.

7 Expert Photographers Share Their Multiple Exposure Secrets — Creativity Will Follow

Image by Anna Efetova.

Pro Tip:

Making a quality image may take several hours. Review all available video tutorials on the topic on Youtube, and read all the tips you can find. A multiple exposure photograph is first and foremost about feelings and sensations, but how can you express your feelings without having skill? Learn the technique first, and then everything else will follow.

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3. “My secret to a good multiple exposure image is many layers—up to forty, even.”

Ariadna de Raadt

7 Expert Photographers Share Their Multiple Exposure Secrets — Include Multiple Layers

Image by Ariadna de Raadt. Gear: FUJIFILM X-T1, XF 18-135 mm F.3.5-5.6R LM OIS WR lens. Settings: Focal length 135mm; exposure 1/340 sec; f/5,6; ISO 200

What’s the story behind this image?

For a long time, I have been attracted to the idea of capturing in one image the chaotic movement of people en masse, without directing attention to any particular character. The multiple exposure method is ideal for bringing this idea to life. This image was taken from the pier one evening on the North Sea beach in the Netherlands.

Pro Tip:

You might be surprised to hear this, but all you need is a camera. Even a phone camera will do. My secret to a good multiple exposure image is many layers—up to forty, even. Do not take them all from the same spot; you can change positions by a small angle on every shot. I do not like to draw attention to myself, so I never use a tripod in public places. It is not convenient and prevents me from moving around freely. The main ingredients in multiple exposure photography are composition and light. Keep that in mind, use your imagination, and play around with it.

Usually, I shoot in RAW format, as it maintains all the details. The most exciting moment for me is when I am importing all the photos into layers in a single Photoshop file. Here, there are no strict rules. Play with the opacity and Blend Modes (screen, soft light, or multiply) to mix the layers together.

7 Expert Photographers Share Their Multiple Exposure Secrets — Focus on Composition and Light

Image by Ariadna de Raadt. Gear: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera; EF 24-105 mm f/L IS USM lens. Settings: exposure 1/340-600 sec; f/5,6-6; ISO 100.

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4. “Think about a story you want to tell, not just the visual appeal. From there, start shooting.”

Igor Sinkov

7 Expert Photographers Share Their Multiple Exposure Secrets — Tell a Story

Image by Igor Sinkov. Eye: Gear: Nikon D7100 camera, Tamron 90mm 2.8 lens. Settings: Exposure 1/160 sec; f7.1; ISO 100. City: Gear: Nikon D5000 camera, Nikon 18-55mm lens. Settings: Focal length 18mm; exposure 2.5 sec; f9; ISO 200.

What’s the story behind this image?

This is my favorite double exposure image in my portfolio. I’ve made hundreds of cityscapes while driving in my hometown of Belgrade. The photo of the eye is my girlfriend’s eye, shot in the studio. I came up with this multi-conceptual image to be able to tell many stories and cover dozens of themes. This image is about modern life in a big city, spirituality, mental health, growing up and having responsibilities, safety, the future, technology, dreams, and more.

Pictured: [1] Igor Sinkov. [2] Igor Sinkov. [3] Igor Sinkov.

Pro Tip:

Behind every multiple exposure image, you should have a strong concept. Think about a story you want to tell, not just the visual appeal. From there, start shooting. You need two or more images for the final image. Usually, these images are a portrait and a landscape or cityscape. When you shoot your portrait, you should have a darker side and a lighter side of the face so you can play with layer blend modes in post-processing. Usually, I use screen blend mode for landscapes and cityscapes. After composing images, you can use masks for highlighting what is important. Remember: black conceals, and white reveals. Unleash your imagination. Inspiration is everywhere: your dreams, the movies, the news.

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5. “When creating a multi-exposure, I use basic tools in Photoshop (crop, opacity, blend modes, transformation) to simplify the process as much as possible.”

Alexey Poprotskiy

7 Expert Photographers Share Their Multiple Exposure Secrets — Simplify Your Process

Image by Alexey Poprotskiy. Forest: Gear: Nikon 800D camera, Nikon AF-S 24-85 f/3,5-4G ED VR lens. Settings: Focal length 72mm; exposure 1/400 sec; f4,5; ISO 200. Hiker: Gear: Canon 7D camera, Canon 17-40 f/4L lens. Settings: Focal length 30mm; exposure 1/800 sec; f4; ISO 400. Mountain: Gear: Nikon 800D camera, Nikon AF-S 24-85 f/3,5-4G ED VR lens. Settings: Focal length 75mm; exposure 1/400 sec; f4,5; ISO 200.

What’s the story behind this image?

This photo was born of my love of the outdoors. I was inspired by photos on Instagram. The concept was to have a forest, a mountain, and a man—nothing more. In my mind, humankind is subordinate to the power of nature, especially when we are alone in the forest or in the mountains.

7 Expert Photographers Share Their Multiple Exposure Secrets — Let Yourself Be Open to Inspiration

Image by Alexey Poprotskiy.

Pro Tip:

Do not give up if your first multiple exposure fails. Make mistakes, and keep trying. Also, increase your database of images. Use different platforms, such as Instagram and Shutterstock. Do not limit yourself; watch movies, read magazines, look at advertisements. When creating a multi-exposure, I use basic tools in Photoshop (crop, opacity, blend modes, transformation) to simplify the process as much as possible. Usually, I already have the finished image in my mind, so I know roughly which photos I will use before I start.

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6. “Combine your images together using blending modes in Photoshop: Screen, Multiply, Lighten, Soft Light, and Overlay.”

zaozaa19 (Porapak)

7 Expert Photographers Share Their Multiple Exposure Secrets — Explore with Blending Modes

Image by zaozaa19 (Porapak). Gear: Fujifilm X‑A2 camera, Fujifilm 16-50mm lens. Settings: Exposure 1/125 sec; f/2.8; ISO 200.

What’s the story behind this image?

I like to take both portrait photos and photographs of nature, flowers, and trees, but when they were separate, it was nothing special. With multiple exposures, I can make new, creative photographs.

Pictured: [1] zaozaa19 (Porapak). [2] zaozaa19 (Porapak).

Pro Tip:

When combining the faces of people with photos of nature, remember to shoot your silhouette against a backdrop or a white sky. Try shooting during golden hour on a sunny day to minimize flare. For the background, think of shapes and textures that will work with your own unique style. Combine your images together using blending modes in Photoshop: Screen, Multiply, Lighten, Soft Light, and Overlay. Be willing to practice and experiment.

7. “It’s helpful to think about potential layers for multiple exposures when you’re out on a variety of photo shoots.”

XiXinXing (Shannon Fagan)

7 Expert Photographers Share Their Multiple Exposure Secrets — Plan Potential Layers from Different Shoots

Image by XiXinXing (Shannon Fagan). Gear: Canon 5D Mark II camera, 24–105mm F/4L USM lens. Settings: Foreground: Focal length 45mm; exposure 1/125 sec; f4.0; ISO 100. Background: Focal length 50mm; exposure 1/30 sec; f4.0; ISO 400.

What’s the story behind this image?

The image of the man was photographed in a studio on a white background and was then layered into this background as an afterthought. The background depicts the buildings of Beijing, photographed at dusk from the front seat of a car on the drive home from another, entirely different photo shoot. The concept was to create a sense of scale with the human figure against the tall buildings.

7 Expert Photographers Share Their Multiple Exposure Secrets — Use Different Backgrounds for Different Concepts

Image by XiXinXing (Shannon Fagan).

Pro Tip:

It’s helpful to think about potential layers for multiple exposures when you’re out on a variety of photo shoots. For example, shoot background images while on location that can later be used for other pictures. I often find myself shooting these background images as both sharp pictures and out-of-focus images. I also tend to shoot a bit wider than normal to allow for cropping later on.

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Top Image by Alexey Poprotskiy.