What Is Double Exposure In Photography?



Double exposure photography, while perhaps sounding like a technique straight out of a sci-fi film, is actually a fascinating, and very much real corner of the photography landscape. Rooted in the inner workings of both traditional film photography and the pixelated recesses of the digital era, this intriguing method involves the merging of two different images into one singular, often mesmerizing, frame.

The history of double exposure is as rich and textured as the photographs it produces. At the heart of yesteryear’s film photography, when photographers had to wrestle with rolls of film, double exposure was often a fortuitous accident. A frame might not advance properly, leading to one image being superimposed over another. Despite these seemingly precarious beginnings, the outcomes were often visually captivating, turning what may have been a photographer’s oversight into a compelling piece of art.

Fast-forward a little, and the technique began to be used deliberately and skillfully by master photographers such as Dan Mountford and Julia Fullerton-Batten. Their evocative, multi-layered images brought a fresh, abstract, and often surreal edge to the photographic arena.

In the realm of digital photography, the creation of double exposures has become a tad simpler, but no less magical. With software characteristics that can mimic the outcome of overlapping negatives, double exposure photography has made a smooth transition into the digital space, retaining its charm and allure.

So why the buzz around double exposure photography? It’s all about the intertwined layers of storytelling and the heady rush of unexpected outcomes. Artists using this technique add depth to their work by ingeniously combining separate elements, enabling them to convey complex narratives or create visually gripping pieces of art.

As we dissect and delve deeper into how to create a double exposure photograph, remember to hold onto that sense of intrigue as you blend images together, manipulating light and dark, reality and illusion. Welcome to the fascinating world of double exposure photography.

Concept And Technique

There’s a certain magic in the art of double exposure photography. At its core, this technique is about superimposing—or overlaying—two distinct images into a single photograph. It’s like visual alchemy, creating an unexpectedly harmonious blend from two separate elements. The beauty of this technique lies in its ability to construct an unconventional and unique image, one that can convey a deeper or compounded narrative to your audience.

Understanding the technicalities behind this technique can be a bit challenging at first, but once you’ve grasped the basics, it’s perfectly fine to throw out the book and experiment. Let’s start with a simple explanation: in theory, when creating a double exposure, the photographer purposely underexposes each frame, allowing for the second image to be imprinted, resulting in a composite image.

Now, let’s dive a little deeper into this process. Each image in a double exposure carries its own weight, serving a unique purpose in the final shot. Typically, one image (usually a silhouette or a high-contrast image) serves as a ‘vessel’, and the second image fills in that vessel, adding visually intriguing textures and layers.

Visual examples can be beneficial in understanding this concept. Consider a silhouette of a face as an initial image. Even under-exposed, the edges of the face will still be distinct. When you add a second photo—for example, a blossoming tree or sprawling cityscape—it fills up the underexposed area, filling and overlaying onto the face.

Adjusting settings like exposure and contrast plays an integral role in controlling the final result, however, there’s no definitive rulebook. This is where your personal style and artistic intuition come into play. The balance of elements—light and dark, subject and texture, space and density—is truly in the hands of the photographer.

In summary, through understanding the technique and concept of double exposure, we unravel a new layer of creative freedom. With the right mix of technical understanding and artistic interpretation, you can tell compelling stories, allowing your photos to resonate deeply with viewers. Eventually, like a seasoned chef, you will master the art of blending distinct ingredients (or images, in our case) to cook up a truly delectable photographic feast.

Tools Required

Understanding the toolkit for any type of photography is essential, and double exposure is no exception. While the art of double exposure was originally crafted with film cameras, the advent of digital technology allows even the casual enthusiast to try their hand at this mesmerizing effect.

Traditional Film Pathway

For the purists out there who opt for the film approach, you’ll need a specific type of camera to get started. Look for film cameras with a ‘multiple exposure’ switch or button. This enables you to take more than one exposure on the same frame. The experience with a film camera can be rewarding, especially because it’s exactly how the pioneers of double exposure photography began their creative explorations.

The choice of film is also crucial, with ISO 100 film recommended for beginners due to its lower sensitivity to light, providing a wider margin for error.

The Digital Route

For those who prefer the control and immediacy of digital tools, you will find DSLR and mirrorless cameras to be your best friends. Many modern cameras have a multiple exposure feature built-in, so make sure to explore your camera settings prior to kicking off your double exposure journey.

In terms of lenses, a versatile prime or zoom lens is usually sufficient for beginners. The focal length should depend on your subject matter.

Post-Processing Power

Whichever path you choose, you’ll inevitably end up in the land of digital post-processing. Adobe Photoshop stands as the Everest of image editing software, offering countless options for creating and perfecting double exposure images. The ‘Blend Mode’ and ‘Masking’ features play a pivotal role in getting the right balance between your combined images.

Remember that the better the quality of your tools (both physical and digital), the more likely you are to produce high-quality results. However, practicing the technique remains paramount to honing skills and refining your artistic vision.

Summary of Must-Have Tools

  • For film enthusiasts: a multiple exposure enabled film camera and ISO 100 film.
  • For the digital route: a DSLR or mirrorless camera with multiple exposure capabilities, compatible lenses.
  • For post-processing: Adobe Photoshop or similar high-quality image editing software.

With this toolkit ready, you’re now geared up to dive into the fascinating realm of double exposure photography. The perfect blend of your technical proficiency, combined with an amplified sense of artistry, awaits in the subsequent exposures. Preparation, meet creativity. Now, let’s move on to creating your first double exposure.

How To Create Your Own Double Exposure

Creating a double exposure photograph may seem like a sophisticated endeavor, but I assure you, with a guided approach and some practice, you can craft your own extraordinary piece of art.

1. Selection of Images

The journey to creating a profound double exposure starts with the selection of the right pair of images. You want two images that, although distinct, can coexist harmoniously in a single frame. Contrasting images often work best, such as a silhouette against a textured background like tree branches or a cityscape.

2. Camera Settings

Let’s proceed with setting up your camera. If you’re using a DSLR that has a double exposure function (such as some Nikon or Canon models), this will be your go-to tool. If your DSLR lacks this function, don’t fret – software such as Photoshop can help you achieve the same outcome.

For those cameras that do support in-camera double exposures, you’ll want to set your camera to ‘Multiple Exposure’ mode. This will typically be found in your camera’s shooting menu. Once enabled, your camera will automatically overlay the next photos you take to create a double exposure image.

3. Manage the Lighting

Lighting plays a critical role in double exposure photography. Remember, in the double exposure world, what’s dark can stay crisp, while brighter areas blend. In this vein, you’d want to have your first image significantly darker, preferably a silhouette, and the second one lighter, adding richer detail to already dark areas.

4. Take Your Shots

For capturing the first image, emphasize the subject by using a clear or light background which can be the sky or a white wall. For the second shot, look for textures, patterns, or any richly detailed scene. This two-image balance will contribute significantly towards a well-structured, captivating double exposure photograph.

5. Post-processing and Final Touches

If you’re using a camera with an in-camera double exposure feature, the initial work would have been done by now. Woohoo! But stand by, as the journey isn’t over. We have to add those finishing touches, the same way a well-cooked meal is garnished before serving.

We’ll make the final adjustments in a photo editing software, Photoshop being the most common. You will adjust the contrast, brightness, neon curves, and other settings according to your preferences, giving your image that final pop.

And for those who are beginning with two separate images, superimposing and adjusting them into a double exposure in Photoshop is the path to follow. There are plentiful online tutorials on achieving this – from layering your images and applying a blend mode, to adjusting luminosity and contrast – these guides can be your handy help.

Crafting double exposure photographs is akin to painting a canvas with light. It opens up new ways to express your vision and tells a story like no other. So, have your cameras at the ready, refine your vision, and take the dive into the intriguing realm of double exposure photography. Remember, experimentation is part of the journey, and the only true mistake is not giving it a shot.


At the heart of photography is the idea of visual storytelling, and arguably few techniques embody this spirit as remarkably as double exposure. Whether you’re crafting surreal landscapes that blur the line between dream and reality or simply seeking to construct visually striking compositions, double exposure offers a toolbox of endless creative possibilities.

The beauty of double exposure photography lies in its blend of artistry and technique. It presents an opportunity to tell a story within a story, layering images to create a narrative that captures the viewer’s imagination in a unique way. Moreover, it provides a chance to experiment with contrast and texture and to play with the innate symbolism between paired images.

The journey towards mastering this technique is certainly challenging, but rewarding. There’s a certain fulfillment when you witness your thoughtfully selected images merge into a singular captivating piece. Remember, each failed attempt is a stepping stone towards that perfect expose. And, like a perfectly brewed coffee, the process matters just as much as the result.

In double exposure photography, the photographer becomes a visual artist – painting with light, colors, contrast, and mostly, creativity. The technique may seem daunting to start, but with the guidance provided, keen observation, and a dash of patience, you will be well on your way to creating compelling double exposure photos.

As with any technique, remember that rules are sometimes meant to be broken. A slant of light, an unexpected shift in angle, a spontaneous moment – these can all lead to extraordinary double exposure images. Take inspiration from the world around you, experiment with your settings, and allow your creativity to unfold.

If photography is the love for life, then double exposure is being in love with the endless possibilities it presents. So get out there, embrace the uniqueness of double exposure, and let your art stand out in the vibrant panorama of photography.

The Creativv
American digital marketer and founder of TheCreativv.com with over a decade of experience in event, travel, portrait, product, and cityscape photography.