Creating a Double Exposure Effect in Adobe Photoshop

Featured Creating Double Exposures in Adobe Photoshop - FilterGrade Blog

A multiple exposure is a technique where two or more images are combined to create a single image. This technique is an artistic effect that can be used to add people or objects that weren’t in the first exposure or create ghostly images. It’s a really cool effect from the old days of film cameras that we can still create today using digital cameras and computers.

Multiple exposures are called that because of the way the technique was developed on analog film cameras.  With an analog camera, a photographer creates a multiple exposure by opening the shutter more than once to expose the same piece of film to light multiple times.  The result is that the second image is imposed over the first, and the third over the first two, and so on.  These days, we can get the same effect through digital means.

How to Create A Double Exposure Effect in Photoshop

While digital cameras don’t work like film, most digital SLR cameras allow multiple exposures to be made without the use of editing software.  However, if you’re not using a camera with that capability or if the photos you want to superimpose weren’t taken originally by you, you can create the same effect in a photo editing program, such as Adobe Photoshop  or GIMP.  For this tutorial, I will be using Photoshop.


  • Photoshop
  • Two digital photographs
    • One with a solid background preferably

Prepping Your Main Photograph

The first thing you need to do is prepare your main photo. For this particular project, a photo with a neutral, black, or white background is the easiest to use.  The photograph I am using came from Pixabay, a free image source website. Once you have selected a photo, crop and resize it to the size you need.  On this photo, I decided to widen the photo a little bit just because I didn’t like the ratio.  If there is any negative space, go ahead and pop in a color.

STEPS - Creating Double Exposures in Adobe Photoshop - FilterGrade Blog

Next, we’re going to lose the background and copy the figure into a new layer.  Using your magic wand tool, select the background.  Then go up to the top bar, click the ‘select’ drop down menu, and click inverse.

While you have your figure selected, you want to go back to the ‘select’ menu and go to Refine Edge, or alt+control+R. Here, the main thing is to increase your radius because of the hair.  If you keep the radius at zero, the image is very sharp.  If you increase it to about 2px, then those fine hairs are smoother.

Now, before you save the changes, you need to change how they’re saved.  On the ‘Output to’ option, you need to select New Layer with Layer Mask.  This will give you a new layer with just the image, no background, and a clipping mask (the silhouette beside the layer).

STEPS 2- Creating Double Exposures in Adobe Photoshop - FilterGrade Blog

At this point you’re basically ready to go with the actual double exposure.  A few optional things is that you can increase the brightness or contrast of your main image, fix any little scars or blemishes, and you can add a new layer with a background of some sort.  I decided to just add a grey background because I don’t like working with a white base.  Also, I upped the contrast a little bit.

Creating Your Double Exposure

All right.  Now you want to paste your second exposure picture in a new layer above your main image.  I’m being cheesy and using a free forest picture from Pixabay. Resize and adjust this picture as necessary.

Next, go to the ‘select’ menu and click ‘all’.  This will select the whole forest scene, then hold down ‘ctrl’ and select the clipping mask from the main image (that is the silhouette part beside the main image). Then at the bottom of the Layers menu, click ‘add vector mask’.  This hides everything but the outline of the main image.

STEPS 3 - Creating Double Exposures in Adobe Photoshop - FilterGrade Blog

Now, before you continue, futz with this image a bit.  You want to see what looks the best.  To rotate the image, you need to unlink the layer mask from the layer and then you can free transform the forest image.  I flipped the image vertically so the water was on the top and the mountain on the bottom.


Your next step is to make a copy of your second layer (the layer of just the first image and the layer mask) and move the copy above the forest. To this layer, you want to change the layer qualities from ‘normal’ to ‘screen’.

STEPS 34 Creating Double Exposures in Adobe Photoshop - FilterGrade Blog

Now you’re done with the basic jist of the project.  At this point you can do little edits to make it look better.  A couple things I did to make the project look better is that I lowered the opacity of the main image, I desaturated both images, and I used the eraser to blend things more.  

If you have any questions or need clarification on anything, leave a comment below.  We’re happy to help you out.

Also, feel free to check out some of our other photo editing tutorials including How to Create an HDR Effect in Adobe Lightroom and How to Create Dreamy Retro Colors in Capture One Pro.

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