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How to capture a double exposure

Double exposure
(Image credit: Future)

Watch video: How to capture a double exposure

A multiple exposure is two or more photos overlaid on top of one another to form a single image. This technique dates back to the Victorian period and could be achieved easily using a film camera by repeatedly exposing the same piece of film (leading to plenty of accidental multiple exposures if you forgot to wind the film on…).

Today you can make a multiple exposure in post-production, but many of the best cameras still allow you to replicate this age-old form of image manipulation in-camera with dedicated multiple exposure modes. Part of the charm of working this way is that you never quite know what you’re going to get until the camera processes the final image. From moving the camera in tiny increments to spinning it around the same focal point, there’s a huge number of techniques to capture creative multiple exposures and experimentation is key.

In this tutorial we’ve settled on a simple double exposure to get you started by merging together an image of a sharp subject with out-of-focus blur. The resulting image has an ethereal quality that complements the soft hues and delicate nature of the floral subject. 

This was shot on a Nikon DSLR, and it's worth noting that the number of exposures that can be performed differs between cameras, and some don’t feature a dedicated multiple exposure mode at all. But if yours doesn’t have this function you can still create multiple exposures by overlaying images on top of one another in Adobe Photoshop using various opacities and blending modes.

How to capture a double exposure

(Image credit: Future)

1. Soft daylight works best

Soft lighting complements the delicate nature of blossoms, so we’d recommend shooting early in the morning, late in the evening, or on an overcast day to avoid harsh shadows. If you have no choice but to photograph your subject on a bright, sunny day, consider softening the harsh rays using a dedicated diffuser.

(Image credit: Future)

2. Try a tripod

If your multiple exposure needs you to keep repositioning your frame you can shoot handheld. Our double exposure required little to no movement, so a tripod was handy as it enabled us to shoot at slower shutter speeds. Tripods and image stabilization don’t always mix, so turn any image stabilization off.

(Image credit: Future)

3. Multiple exposure modes

Enabling multiple exposure modes can differ from camera to camera. On our Nikon we entered the Shooting Menu and selected ‘Multiple Exposure’. This allowed for two modes: ‘On (series)’ and ‘On (single photo)’. The former keeps Multiple Exposure mode active until manually turned off, while the latter only works for a single multiple exposure.

(Image credit: Future)

4. How to handle exposure – we used 'Auto gain'

‘Number of shots’ allows you to set how many exposures are taken before the camera processes the final image. We selected two shots for our double exposure. If ‘Auto gain’ is turned on the camera will automatically set the exposure of each image – depending on the number of shots – to balance the final exposure.

(Image credit: Future)

5. Take a test shot

Frame your image and use either AF or MF to focus on your subject. If you’re using AF, switch to MF once you’ve locked focus to prevent hunting. Whether you’re using Aperture Priority or Manual mode, it’s worth capturing a test shot to ensure you’re set up correctly. Then enable Multiple Exposure mode and shoot your subject.

(Image credit: Future)

6. Making the second exposure

For the second exposure, manually turn your lens’s focus ring until the entire image is completely out of focus and capture your second shot. Wait a few seconds for your camera to process the image and check the results on the Playback screen. Now you’ve captured your first in-camera multiple exposure, aso have fun experimenting from here!

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Mike Harris

Mike is technique editor for N-Photo: The Nikon Magazine, and spends most of his time shooting skills articles and begging for more external storage. He's worked for a variety of publications over the years and was formerly the production editor for Wex Photo Video’s content marketing team. An avid motorsport photographer, you’re likely to find him (and his trusty Nikon D800) at racing events across the country.