Superimposed Vision

Double Exposure.

Last year on holiday in Cornwall, I took my Mamiya 135 range finder camera. I was in luck when I found there was a film still in the camera. I took pictures of my trip; walks along the coast and water ways as well as my family. When returning home, having the film developed and put onto cd I was surprised at what I found. This film had not only been through my camera once but three times. I was not disappointed but ecstatic. This film had by accident record three separate trips to Cornwall over a period of 5 years.


A double exposure or multiple exposure (MX) is the act of the film or image being exposed more than once.  With a film camera it was most often the case of not winding on the film after taking a picture and a happy accident, other times it is artistically planned shot with double even triple exposures.

Double exposures were used in the 1860s as a sales technique by studio photographers offering people to have themselves in a photo twice. You can see in the image below that the same person is the picture but from a different angel. This was done by the first exposure being made and then the subject quickly moving to a new position before the second exposure. Photographers used rotating lenses and special plates to create their images.

Modern digital cameras like the Nikon D700 and Canon D5 mkII have an in camera multiple exposure settings. People with a working knowledge of how layers and blending modes in Photoshop work will be able to shot away fine. Beginners on the other hand will need to experiment with trial and error.

Taking a double exposure

Using digital or film, both mediums follow the same shooting principles. Creating a double exposure means that you should shoot your subjects one on top of each other. To do this you should expose you desired image one stop under the metered exposure setting ( For an exposure of 3 images it would need to be -1.5 stops, four images -2 stops and eight images -3 stops.).

If you are looking to merge images in Photoshop it is best to photograph your images with the guidance above. In Photoshop can create a double exposure effect by just playing with blending modes but to get a good faux double exposure effect there is just a little bit extra you can do.

Take both of your images in layers one on top of each other. 

With top layer selected add a layer mask making sure it is white so that it reveals all. 

With the layer mask selected to go >Image >Apply Image and use the following settings; 

Source: filename 
Layer: Background 
Channel: RGB 
Invert: Unchecked 
Blending: Normal 
Opacity: 100% 
Mask: Check marked 
Layer: Background 
Channel: Grey 
Invert: Check marked

Once you have clicked ok change the Blending mode of the top layer to screen.

By using a layer mask you can blend the two images together according to the brightness of the first layer.

Creative Ideas

When taking a double exposure you need to think about the composition and to have an idea of the final image you are looking for in your head. Two shots that are both busy and cluttered can look muddy when using double exposure and tend to lose the focus of the picture. Especially if the main focus of both images are in the same frame area. A good idea to think about is where the content is and how they will fit together. Sometimes having one shot which is hectic would work well with a shot that is less so. This type of exposure will leave a ghosting effect which can be hauntingly beautiful.

By taking a cityscape image at dusk and then again at night from the same position, gives an image of a city lit up but the delicate colour tones of the sunset. Taking a Landscape image with a clear sky and then another of the moon so the moon becomes imposed over the top of the sky. Another idea can be to take a single flower and then a field where it is grown. These give an added existential detail to the original image.

You can also play with the focus of the image. Photograph the same image the same composition with one picture sharp and in focus and one blurred and out of focus.

A creative idea is to have a fixed point of interest and use a zoom lens to enlarge the subject between exposures creating a feeling of movement towards a central point. Or with sports taking a series of images quickly one after another to show the movement of a person or an object.

With more complicated subjects it is best to use fewer exposures; otherwise the focus of the main subject can be lost.

Examples of double exposure

Florian Imgrund

German photographer started using a film camera in the summer of 2010. These portraits show a mastery in double exposure techniques that indicates years of experience. Imgrund combines portraits of people with nature.

Cameron Russell

Cameron Russell has created these images with a lomo camera, giving the images a feeling of age and other dimensions. Using a camera with a fully plastic body leaves vignettes and leaks light onto the image in uncontrollable and random patterns.

Dan Mountford

Dan Mountford has created quite a reputation with these expertly crafted double exposure portraits.

Pakayla Biehn

These fantastic images of double exposure photography are in fact paintings. The artist Pakayla Biehn was born with a strabismus. Strabismus is an eye condition that gave her double vision until it was corrected. Drawing inspiration from that time, Biehn merged images from various photographs and then projected them on to a blank canvas to paint.

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