How To Take A Double Exposure With A Digital SLR :: Digital Photo Secrets

How To Take A Double Exposure With A Digital SLR

by David Peterson 11 comments

Double exposure photographs have been around since the beginning of film cameras. Back then, there was no Photoshop. You couldn’t just go in and change your images any way you want. So photographers did what they could with the tools they had. The double exposure was one tool in their belt.

It’s incredibly easy to produce a double exposure with a film camera. You simply rewind the film after you take your picture. Then you take another picture over the top of the first picture. It’s kind of ironic because it’s not nearly as easy to do the same thing with a digital camera. You need to know a few things about Photoshop first.

Luckily, you also get more control with Photoshop. You’ll be able to adjust the transparency of the image you place on top until it creates the effect you want. This sort of thing simply wasn’t possible with film cameras. You usually had to take what you could get.

When I talk about Photoshop, I’m also talking about similar programs like Photoshop Elements or Microsoft’s photo editing program. All of these programs are written with the same basic set of tools. You might need to do a little searching for the right tool, but you should be able to find it.

Creating Double Exposures With Photoshop

First things first, open your two images and make sure they are exactly the same size. You can adjust image size in Photoshop by clicking on the image menu and going to image size. Use the smaller of the two image sizes when making size adjustments. If you try to stretch a small image into a larger one, you will start to lose image quality.

Once you have your two new images, click on the one you want on the bottom. If you were taking a double exposure with a film camera, this is the picture you would have taken first.

Now to go the layer menu at the top and select “new --> layer”.

The new layer is where you will place the image you want on top of the first one. Photoshop will prompt you with a few options for your top layer. The only thing you need to change is the opacity. I chose 50% as a starting value. We can come back to this later when we are making our final adjustments, but this is the standard opacity for double exposures. Now you can click OK.

Photoshop just created a new layer on top of the bottom photograph. All you need to do is copy the top photograph and place it on this new layer. Go back to the top photograph and click on “select” from the top menu. Pick “all.” You can also press control-A at the same time to select the entire photo.

Now click on edit --> copy. You are going to copy the photo and paste it on the new layer. Be careful about this. You need to make sure you click on the top layer in the layers panel or you will end up pasting the image on the wrong layer. You might even accidentally create a new layer. This could make the entire process even more confusing.

Which Photo Should Be On Top?

It Doesn’t Matter.

Once the second image is pasted into the new layer, you should see the double exposure. From here, you can start making some minor adjustments to the opacity of the top layer. Opacity is just a different way of saying transparency. As you reduce the opacity percentage, the top image becomes more transparent.

It really doesn’t matter which image you place on the bottom. The double exposure will look the same as long as you pick a 50% opacity. Just use what looks good. You won’t really add anything new to the equation by trying to switch the images around. I just tried it out, and it does nothing. You get the same range of images either way.

Keep experimenting. You can use double exposure to create a compelling ghost-like effect. You can also transpose dramatic scenery on top of otherwise boring subjects. Some of the best double exposure images include vibrant skies transposed on bland corporate architecture. The sky is the limit with this.

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  1. Cecilia Prest says:

    Thanks so much David. Perfect! Just what I was after :)
    All the best,

  2. Gail says:

    Hi David,
    I have a Sony A 550 & use Lightroom for editing. Is there any way I can get the double exposure without buying Photoshop.

    • David Peterson says:

      Hi Gail,

      It's possible using a Lightroom plugin called LR/Enfuse, but I haven't used it myself, so I can't tell you how easy it is to use.

      Some DSLR cameras support double exposure, so you could look at that option. Otherwise, you'll need an editor. If you don't want to purchase Photoshop, consider Elements which will definitely allow you to merge two photos together.

      I hope that helps.


  3. William says:

    I have a Fujifilm Finepix SL280 digital camera and I was wondering if it were possible to take multi exposures with this camera ?

    • David Peterson says:

      Probably not. Multi-exposures are usually only available with high end cameras. However, you can definitely use Photoshop a similar program to merge two separate images together.


  4. new girl online says:

    Its like you read my mind! You seem to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with a few pics to drive the message home a bit, but instead of that, this is excellent blog. A great read. I will certainly be back.

  5. Maryanne says:

    Hi David,

    I had a heck of a time using the opacity method for satisfactory double exposures. I'm currently experimenting with the 'apply image' tool and a layer mask on the top photo. My first attempt can be found here.

    I'm not sure I've noticed the apply image option in PS prior to this? Have you tired it for any techniques?

  6. Imi says:

    Hi David, great tips! Which photoshop do you use/recommend for double exposure? Thank you

  7. Liane says:

    Hi David,
    I had much trouble to create 'Double Exposures With Photoshop'.
    I work with Photofiltre (I'm still learning).
    But after wrestle with the problem for a couple of days(!) and your help, I figure it out.
    Love your other tips to. You really help me to improve my photograph.
    Thank you so much. Liane

  8. Pauline Muir says:

    Hi David,
    I love your tips and have been getting them from you for maybe three years by now.
    I have decided that to be a good photographer you need to have a good knowledge of Photoshop......whatever.

  9. gopal says:

    thnx David...photoshop is full of magics. to horn it is a distinctive thing.

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About David Peterson
David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.