How to Make Double Exposures in Photoshop


Double exposure photography is a genre that merges multiple photographs to create a single story. Stories told through double exposures are often very thoughtful and visually appealing. Like optical illusions, they catch the viewer's eye, compelling them to wonder how such an image was created.

Certain cameras can merge photographs before they're even imported to a computer. Film cameras, too, can smoothly combine two images to create an excitingly unexpected result. This genre isn't limited to specific cameras, however. Thanks to editing programs like Photoshop, double exposures have entered the world of photo manipulation as well, allowing every keen learner to create a unique image of their own.

In this tutorial, I'll teach you how to create a single double exposure with the help of two photographs. What I usually do is combine a dark silhouette against a white background with a more complicated image of nature. A dark silhouette gives me a perfectly blank canvas to work on, while the detailed photograph gives me a chance to express myself in intricate ways. Because of this, I'd recommend using a photograph of a silhouette whenever you create double exposures. However, this is just my preference, so feel free to be as experimental as you like!

I'll also be using Photoshop in this tutorial, but don't feel limited if you're using a program like GIMP. The programs' features are relatively similar, so you won't have much trouble with this. 🙂 Other than that, all you need is a big imagination and a desire to learn new and exciting information.

Let's begin!

Right click on your main layer and select Duplicate Layer. This will ensure that no matter how much you edit, you'll be able to remove changes if something starts to look off. If you solely worked on one layer, you wouldn't be able to get rid of mistakes easily, especially if you happened to change your mind later during the editing process.
Even white backgrounds have imperfections, so a certain amount of detail removal is always necessary. You can do this by painting the background white with the brush tool, or by going to Image > Adjustments > Replace Color. The second option will let you have more control over the details you remove – this is particularly useful for keeping hair details. Once the Replace Color window is open, you can control how much of an image you want to highlight and how much you want to ignore.Increasing the Fuzziness will let you capture as much of a particularly tone as possibly (in this case, white) and increasing the Lightness will simply transform an imperfect canvas into one that is purely white. Once you're happy with the results, you can remove any details the tool overlooked with the brush tool.
If your subject's appearance was affected by Replace Color, you can easily restore details by using a layer mask. Click on the layer mask icon at the bottom of the layer box (the white rectangle with a black circle in the middle) and set your foreground color to black. Using the brush tool, paint over your subject until you're happy with the results.
Now it's time for the fun part. Go to Image > Flatten Image – this will let you start over. Layer masks tend to affect surrounding layers and make a mess; if you're a beginner, you can easily avoid these obstacles by simply flattening your photograph. Once you've flattened your image, choose another image you'd like to merge with your main photo and simply drag it over to Photoshop.
Select your second image layer and change the layer mode to Screen. This will smoothly blend the two images. Keep in mind that certain silhouettes may not work with detailed photos of leaves, for example, so experiment as much as you like. The beauty of double exposure photography is that it's unpredictable and completely unique.
Right click on your second image and experiment until you're happy with the results! Rotate, flip, enlarge, shrink, etc. There are no limits to what you can do when you blend two images.
Almost done! After transforming your image, color correct it. This step is completely optional, but experimenting it will definitely give your already wonderful results an even more wonderful boost of color. You can do this by using Photoshop actions or by working in Lightroom. I personally like using Lightroom presets, as they're extremely easy to use and amazing at enhancing an image's natural colors. Alternatively, you can work with simply editing tools like contrast and curves to give your image a subtle boost.


That's it! Double exposure photography might seem like an extremely complicated process, but it's the kind of technique that gets surprisingly easier the more you practice with it. In addition to giving your photographs a louder voice, double exposures will enhance your imagination and boost your creativity.

Though there are many Photoshop actions that will create double exposures for you within seconds, it's handy to know how to create one manually. I prefer manually working on an image instead of using a Photoshop action for several reasons:

      • – It gives you more creative control
      • – It helps you familiarise yourself with a variety of editing tools you would've otherwise skipped
      • – It encourages you to be patient as you create new layers and merge photographs
      • – It makes you a better photo editor

If you have the time and desire, I'd definitely recommend creating a double exposure of your own. If you do end up making one using this tutorial, feel free to share a link to it in the comments below! I'd love to see your creations and encourage you. Also, let me know what your favourite double exposures of all time are, and what you think of this genre in general.

Keep improving and practicing!

About Author

Taissia is a professional photographer and educator.

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