In this walkthrough, we've outlined the concept of double exposure photography, and shown practical steps to create double exposure effects with a digital camera or Photoshop.
What is Double Exposure Photography?
Essentially, a double exposure (or "multiple exposure", if you're using two or more images) layers two exposures so that they blend together in a compelling way. With a film camera, the shutter opens and exposes the film to light, and then the same film is exposed a second time. This can create spooky and psychedelic effects, depending on how you set the two exposures.
Likewise, digital images can be layered in editing software to simulate a double exposure, without having to deal with the possibility of overexposure.
Shooting Multiple Exposures on a DSLR Camera
Modern DSLR cameras from brands like Canon and Nikon come equipped with a multiple exposure function, which allows you to layer exposures in the moment. First, adjust the number of exposures that you'd like to have in each image. Many cameras also have an Auto Gain setting, which automatically balances the various exposures so that they don't get brighter.
Once you've turned on Multiple Exposure mode and adjusted the settings, you can take a picture, wait as long as needed, and then take another picture. Your DSLR will layer the photos automatically. When you transfer them to a computer, the double exposures will be saved as ready-to-use image files.
Producing Double Exposure Effects in Photoshop
Launch Photoshop, and load the first image (such as a model profile, or candid street photo) that you'd like to layer. Choose the Quick Selection tool from the Tools panel (or press the W key), and select the image subject so that it's isolated from the background.
Next, right-click on the selection and choose "Feather" from the list. We recommend setting the Feather Radius around 0.5 pixels. Press Ctrl+J (or Command+J on Mac) to copy your image selection into a new layer. The background should be replaced with a checkerboard pattern (i.e. no background). At this point, if you want to resize the image dimensions, you can select the Crop tool and drag on the edges to adjust them, and then click the checkmark icon above to apply your changes.
At this point, if you click the "Adjustments" icon at the bottom of the Layers panel, and choose "Solid Color", you can create a separate background for the composition. Depending on your creative goals, you might want to press Shift+Ctrl+U (or Shift+Command+U) to desaturate the first image. This will help to blend the two exposures.
Now, load your second image into the project, and drag it to the top of the Layers panel. Start experimenting with the Opacity setting, so that it starts to blend with the first image. Feel free to rotate, flip, and skew the second image until the composition looks exactly how you want it. Just press Ctrl+T, and then right-click on the image for a full list of transform options.
When you're happy with the image settings, press the checkmark icon to save them, and then change the second image's Opacity back to 100%. Select the first image layer, press Ctrl/Command, and then click on the layer again. A dashed outline of the first image will appear.
Next, select the second image layer and press the "New Layer Mask" button at the bottom of the Layers panel. This will crop your second image with the first image. You're nearly there! To bring more of your first image back into the final composition, make a copy of it, and then drag it to the top of the panel. Reduce the Opacity to 50%, and then click "New Layer Mask" so the first image has a layer mask as well.
Finally, you can adjust the presence of either image in the "double exposure". Just click on the image's respective layer mask, choose the Brush tool (with a black foreground color), and draw on the areas you want to hide. We recommend keeping the Brush tool's Opacity at less than 50%, so that your mask adjustments are more subtle.