What is double exposure photography? What started as a mistake in the days of film has been reclaimed by photographers over the years who are fascinated by its artistic merits. In this guide we explain what a double exposure is, when you might use this effect and what to do if your camera doesn’t offer a double exposure feature.
Common questions about double exposure photography
So what exactly is a double exposure?
A simple photographic effect where one picture is superimposed over another.
It sounds like a mistake from the days of film…
Double exposures used to be an occupational hazard when using film cameras. A dodgy loading system or a careless photographer would often lead to two exposures accidentally being made on the same piece of film. But the artistic benefits of combining images were soon discovered by photographers such as Sarah Moon.
How do you recreate the effect?
Some digital cameras provide a special multiple exposure function. This is often found in the menu options, or in the drive mode settings, and allows you to shoot one image, then record a second over the top.
Don’t all cameras provide this feature then?
No. But you’ll find it on a number of compacts and SLRs. Many cameras even help you with the process, showing you a ghost image of the first exposure as you line up the second – enabling you to preview your result before you fire the shutter for the second time.
What makes a good double exposure?
For artistic montages, try pairing a texture with a strong graphic shape. A close-up of a wall or a piece of curtain becomes a background, which then becomes a surface for your main subject. The second image stands out best in the dark areas of the first. You may need to use your camera’s exposure compensation control to make one image brighter or darker.
What if my camera doesn’t offer this feature?
Fear not. Nowadays it’s probably best not to create multiple exposures in- camera anyway. You get much more creative control if you combine your images in Photoshop (or another image-editing program).
Why does an image-editing program offer more control?
There is no need to shoot both pictures at the same time. In fact, you can combine pictures taken years ago with more recent work. If you get the double exposure bug, it’s even worth building up a folder of textured and dark images that will work well as multiple exposures. You can download 100 free textures from our website at www.photoradar.com.
Is it a complicated process?
Not really. You open up one image, copy all the images (in the same way as copying all the text from a Word document), then paste these onto the second picture. You then have a wide range of tools for blending the two images together to get the exact effect you want.
What tools are these?
Each of your images is stored in your Photoshop document on a separate layer. By varying the transparency, or Opacity, of a layer, you can see more of the layer underneath – varying the montage effect. You can also adjust the Blending Mode of a layer, making the contents combine with the layer below in different ways.
Multiply, Soft Light, Hard Mix and Exclusion are just four of the many Blending Modes worth experimenting with – each giving very different results with suitable pictures. You can also create masks so that key features of a layer underneath can be selectively made more visible.
Do double exposures have any serious, non-artistic uses?
Yes. Many of the best underwater photographs are double exposures; a close-up of a sea creature is shot with flash, and because of the depth the background appears black. By combining this with a shot taken in shallow water, the image then looks more natural. In the studio, multiple shots are often taken to allow several flash bursts to be used. This means that a narrower aperture can be set to give more depth of field.
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