How to make multiple exposure shots with a digital camera

THE MISSION

Create a double exposure using Multiple Exposure mode

Time needed: 15 minutes

Skill level: Beginner

Kit needed: DSLR with Multiple Exposure mode

Double exposures are an on-trend effect that you can easily create in Photoshop, but it’s far more fun to have a go at the technique in-camera. Multiple exposures hark way back to the days of traditional analogue photography, where a film or plate was repeatedly exposed to light. Fortunately, the same process on a digital camera is much simpler. 

In the menu of your DSLR look for the Multiple Exposure mode that can mimic the effects found with film cameras. On most models you can shoot and combine up to nine frames, but we used two for a more distinct effect. Changing the Multiple Exposure mode itself alters the way the camera merges the frames. At first it can be a bit hit-and-miss, so be patient and don’t be afraid to experiment. 

There are no rules on what subject to use. Silhouettes work well as a base image, and we filled our portrait with bright floral details. So why not give it a go? 

STEP BY STEP: Set your DSLR to shoot multiple frames

Make use of your camera’s multiple exposure mode for creative results

01 PICK THE KIT

If your camera doesn’t have a dedicated multiple exposure mode, you can combine the two frames in Photoshop later. A zoom lens might help you to compose your two frames more quickly.

02 CAMERA SETTINGS

Switch to A or Av mode, and select Spot metering. This is an easy way to expose the shot correctly in changing light. Use a low ISO of around 160, and start with an aperture of at least f/5. Just make sure the whole of the model’s face is in focus.

03 SHOOTING MODE

Find the Multiple Exposure mode in your camera’s shooting menu. There are several different options to choose from; Average mode is the best place to start, as it automatically underexposes each frame so the final image is correctly exposed. 

04 SILHOUETTE SHOOTING

Shoot from a low perspective to isolate the portrait against the bright sky. Dial in positive exposure compensation to blow out the sky. Your second image only fills in the dark areas of the base image. If you’re working indoors, shoot against a plain wall.

05 DETAIL IMAGE

Next, find something captivating to fill in your silhouette with. Natural elements, like trees and flowers, work well. Use Live View as a guide when you shoot the second image. It enables you to see the base photo with a preview of the overlay. 

06 TWEAK AND REPEAT

There’s plenty of experimentation to be had here. You might want to change to the Additive shooting mode, underexposing each shot a little as you go. You could also work with more than two frames. Just avoid making the final result too cluttered. 

PICKING THE IMAGES

You don’t have to shoot your silhouette and fill images at the same time. Your camera will actually allow you to select any image as a starting point. This is great if you don’t have a long time to work with your subject, or if they’re in two completely separate locations. If your model is in a hurry, simply snap their portrait and fill it in when you find a suitable detail later on. You can use any base image, as long as it’s on your card in an unedited Raw format (and it’s from the same camera).

QUICK TIP!

Experiment with the different Multiple Exposure modes available. Bright mode works well for night-time shoots, for example

STEP BY STEP: In the digital darkroom

Use Photoshop to merge shots if your camera doesn’t have an in-built Multiple Exposure mode

01 READY TO MERGE

Start by choosing the two photos you want to combine. Select your two images in Bridge, and go to Tools>Photoshop>Load Files Into Photoshop Layers… Keep the portrait as the top layer. Go to Edit> Transform to rotate, scale or flip your fill-in image if it’s a different orientation.

02 COMBINE THE TWO

Select the top layer and change the blending mode to Screen. You should now have one arty image. Use the Move tool, if you need, to reposition the fill layer over the portrait. As you do, pay attention to the facial features, and clone out any particularly distracting elements.

03 ENHANCE THE RESULT

Use adjustment layers to give your image a bit more oomph! Lighten the exposure of your portrait from the Layers palette to bring out detail in the midtones of the fill image. Or, increase the vibrancy of the fill image. You could even desaturate the portrait layer for a more subtle final result. 

SCENE INSPIRATION: Fill your silhouettes

Repetitive and abstract natural elements can make effective fill images

The base image should be shot using the same method as the in-camera process detailed on the previous page. Be sure to shoot your portrait against a bright background, as this will make it easy to blend images together when you edit. To avoid a flat-looking final result, pick fill frames that are full of vibrant detail, using our suggestions here as inspiration.

Flowers

Bright and colourful florals give certain portraits a feminine feel. You could even photograph a single flower up-close.

Landscapes

Although simple scenes generally have the most impact, don’t be afraid to experiment with a range of different location shots.

Leaves

These provide a way to add seasonality. For example, red hues indicate autumn, whereas  green leaves shout life and summer.

Skies

Think beyond blue skies here. Sunsets and twilight lighting work just as well when merged with facial features.

Large objects

Patterns or plain colours look better than lone subjects, because these won’t be distinguishable when merged over a face.

Flat lighting

It’s best to use images with bold colours or contrasting lighting. If you don’t, your final shots will end up looking pretty drab.