Double exposures have been around since long before digital cameras and fancy digital SLR kits and software. However, they have become quite the rage, with beautiful double exposure portraiture showing up all over the place on photo blogs, and sharing sites like Reddit and Flickr. With the littlest bit of work, some basic gear, and the instructions below you can try your hand at this in-vogue artistic technique.
It’s interesting to start with some background about double exposure photography, which gets its name from the practice used by photographers when their cameras actually used film. They would take a photo, then roll back the film and take another photo over the same, no-longer blank spot on the roll to actually exposure it to two shots worth of light, hence the name double exposure. Older photographers and those familiar with film point-and-shoots have probably experienced an accidental double exposure because sometimes those cameras would make a mistake reading the last shot on the roll and double expose it.
This type of photography has obvious visual appeal because of the dynamic coloring and lighting it makes possible, as well as strong artistic merit. You can make a powerful statement while exploring light and color when you combine two shots captured with a digital camera by blending them together with editing software.
There are a number of techniques to achieve the double exposure effect, and unless you have a Nikon D700 or another comparable camera that can combine images in the camera, you’re going to need photo-editing software like Photoshop or Gimp.
First you need to capture a silhouette-style portrait or at least one with very high contrast on the subject and nearly no dark areas on the background around the subject. You can create this effect using a manual backlight or by getting the subject to stand in front of a window on a mildly sunny day without much light inside. You also need your other photo. Verdant sceneries, nightscapes, cityscapes, billowing smoke, and sunsets are popular. The important thing is that the other photo has light, color, and details that will show up on the face of the portrait.
Get both photos loaded onto your photo-editing tool of choice and set the silhouette as the foreground. Add the second photo, such as a landscape, as the second, background layer. If you’re using Photoshop, set the second layer’s blending mode to “screen”. With other photo editing software, look for the transparency setting that makes the layer invisible except for the area underneath positive space of the layer above.
If you aren’t using Photoshop and can’t figure that out, you can also use the select tool on the second layer to select the areas of that layer that aren’t below the subject and then erase that extra space. Then just mess with the transparency levels to achieve the desired mixture. You can use filters and other settings to turn off color and improve contrast.
Once you become adept at this technique, you’ll realize that the real artistry comes in choosing the two photos you want to combine. Creativity and careful attention to composition really pay off, and you can find a great deal of inspiration browsing portrait photographers on Flickr and searching the phrase “double exposure portraits” online.
Whereas most photography requires a lot of practice to perfect your technique, blending photos to create a double exposure is only constrained by your skills with digital cameras. The actual double exposing with Photoshop only takes a few minutes and can be learned in half an hour. You will be stunned with what you can create using just a bit of creativity.