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  • Writer's picturesarahhawley

Double Exposure Photography

Double Exposure or Multi-Exposure Photography is a technique that layers at least two different exposures into a single image, combining two or more photographs into one. This technique can be done either in camera (if your camera has this feature) or after the photographs have been taken during the post production phase, by editing images together using a software that has layers like Adobe Photoshop. Using two or more photographs to build a new image, this technique can create interesting imagery, storylines or meaning that can be much more engaging than if the individual images were shown on their own. This technique allows photographers to achieve many different effects and the possibilities of photographic creation is practically endless.

I have tried double exposure photography briefly a few years ago, but I have just recently started to revisit this photographic technique in much more depth. What appealed to me the most about double exposure photography is that this genre or technique is so similar to collage. I love collage! It has been a large part of my art practice, particularly while I was in university for my Master’s in Fine Art. Over the years, I’ve made a lot of mixed media artwork that incorporates collage with a variety of other media. Although double exposure photography started using film, today it is most commonly digital. This means that unlike collage, I can use and re-use images in different projects without cutting them up or destroying the original image. Although this method is digital, it allows me to push the boundaries of my art practice and take my collage work to the next level.

I also enjoy the fact that this media can create different effects, so some images can have a rougher cut and paste look about it, while other creations look smooth, as if it's only one image. Some images have a film quality in its appearance such as an aged or film grain effect, while others embrace the digital look. Again, I am able to do so much more by combining images digitally than what I was able to do with collage. There are less restrictions which allows me the freedom to do more and to further explore my artistic abilities through photography.

Tips & Tricks

Depending on the effect and the image you are trying to build in double exposure photography the tips and tricks can vary, but here are a few bits of advice to get you started:

Start out simple. As you gain more experience using this technique, you can create more complex or multi-layered compositions.

Plan ahead. Think about the end result of what you want the final image to look like. Take time to plan what images to use, how best to put them together, what size the final image will be, what the image will be used for and what story or meaning the final image will try to convey? When you take time to consider all this before starting to make a double or multi-exposure image, it often turns out better than the images that are just slapped together.

Try black and white imagery to start. Use a silhouette as your base image and add an overlay image (something with pattern, texture or an image with interesting subject matter) to make a new image. It may be helpful to approach it as if you are working with negative and positive space.

Build a photo library. On your computer, create a folder that will become an image library that you can pull from to make double exposures. Keep an open mind when building your image library and include images with a broad range of subject matter. In mine, I have images with colour, black and white, vibrant or monochromatic images, abstract or out of focus images, images of textures, landscapes, cityscapes, nature, silhouettes, shadows, etc. This library will make your workflow easier and you won’t have to search for hours through a database to find the images you want.

So, how does it work?

Double exposure in-camera:

Consult the instruction manual of your camera. Find the multiple exposure option usually found in the menu. Choose the number of exposures you want to combine into the same frame. After you take your first photo, an overlay of that first image will be displayed on the screen on the back of the camera. This gives you a preview of what the image will look like before you take the second photo. It’s a neat option on the camera and I encourage you to try it, if your camera has that option available.

Editing images together to make double exposures:

Open the first image, usually the base image, such as a silhouette in Photoshop (or other photo editing software that uses layers). Set the blend mode to screen or lighten on this image layer. Open the second image using the same software and drag the image into the document of the first image. In the layer stack, put the second image under the first image that has been set to the screen blend mode. From this point you can continue editing to create your desired image by adding filters, gradients, vignettes, textures, more images, masks and other layers until you are happy with the result.

You may need to rotate or flip images to fit them together in a more cohesive manner. To see both images when placing them together, you can reduce the layer opacity of the first image to help place the second image.

Try to match images that create a stronger concept or meaning, for example, a tea cup and saucer paired up with a cracked texture can represent fragility or broken fine china, another example would be sunglasses and a road scene to depict a summer road trip. These compositions are much more interesting because they fit well together and make sense visually while also emphasizing the concept or story that it tells.

This brief explanation just scratches the surface of multi-exposure photography and how it works. It is only meant to help you get started with double exposures if you are interested in learning how. There is a lot to learn and if you still need help to make your own double exposure images, whether it is in-camera or using an editing software, there is lots of advice on the internet, especially with YouTube tutorial videos that walk you through the process step by step. I am really enjoying the work I am creating using the double exposure technique and should you want to try it too, I wish you the best of luck with it!

**Please note that these images were created for practice and enjoyment of double exposure photography. If there are images that feature brand names, I am not associated with any brands and I was not hired by the companies to make these images for them. It was purely for the interest and fun of image building.**

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