How to make a double exposure effect

The Double Exposure effect is very popular nowadays. This is a combination of two or more images. In this post, I will show you how to achieve this effect in Photoshop quickly.

  1. Select two or more source images for Double Exposure
  2. Place all images into one document
  3. Set Blending Mode for double Exposure Effect
  4. Apply mask
  5. Make Final corrections
  6. Export double exposure image


Select two or more source images for Double Exposure

Choosing images for the double exposure effect is very important. Whether you are taking new photos or using stock photos, you need to keep a few parameters in mind.

Girl1 - Double Exposure Effect

It is optimal to have black and white images with good contrast and a clear edge between the foreground and background. Of course, it is also possible to use color photographs. But then we have more work to do with color and overall matching.

Leaves - Double Exposure Effect

For the purposes of our example, we chose a portrait photo of a girl and a picture of the leaves that we want to combine using a double exposure effect. We will try to integrate the leaves’ shapes with the girl’s head to create an exciting composite. 

Place all images into one document

Let’s open both images in Photoshop. Our goal is to get both images into one Photoshop document as separate layers. I will adjust both pictures first. I changed the size of the girl’s portrait to the target size of the whole composition because I plan to use the resulting image for web purposes.

I changed the pictures with leaves to black and white. You can do this, for example, with the Black & White adjustment layer, which allows you to fine-tune the conversion of individual colors to black and white. When we are done, press Ctrl + E (Cmd + E on Mac) and then merge the adjustment layer with the background image itself.

BW Adjustment Layer - Double Exposure Effect

Now we have both pictures ready so that we can transfer the layer with leaves to the file with the girl. Simply click and drag the layer with the leaves and release it on the girl layer.

We need to reduce the size of the image with the leaves. Make sure you are on a layer with leaves. Press Ctrl + T (Cmd + T on Mac). A bounding box appears. If the image is too large compared to the girl’s image, the bounding box may not be visible.

Then the easiest way is to press Alt + 0 (Opt + 0 on Mac) to achieve a fit into view. Now we can click on one of the corners and reduce and possibly rotate the image to the desired size and position.

Set Blending Mode for double Exposure Effect

When we have an image with leaves roughly placed in the desired place, we will change this layer’s Blending mode. It will be a more or less experimental procedure where I gradually try individual Blending modes. I finally chose the Overlay Blending mode.

Overlay BM - Double Exposure Effect

Now that we see how the individual layers visually intersect, we begin to do finetuning. 

We use shortcut Ctrl + T (Cmd + T) again to display the Transform dialog box. We will fine-tune the exact position of our image with leaves for the Doubleexposure effect once again.

Now, right-click and select Warp. This function allows us to adjust the leaves’ shape so that we achieve the desired overlap with the portrait.

Warp - Double Exposure Effect

Note that such deformation is only possible with abstract shapes such as leaves, clouds, smoke, etc. We could also use a Liquify filter, but Warp is more straightforward because it is available directly in the Transform function, and it is enough for our purposes.

Apply mask

We now apply a layer mask to achieve a Double Exposure effect only on the desired location. We can choose two approaches: we will create a black layer mask, and with the white foreground color set, we will slowly reveal the places on the portrait where we want to see the leaves overlay.

Or we will create a white mask and gradually cover unwanted areas with a black brush.

Black Mask - Double Exposure Effect

I chose the first method, although this process will involve a combination of painting with white and black brushes. I recommend setting the Flow parameter to a low value so that we can gently gradually reveal the masked layer and start painting.

Make final corrections

When we have the mask done, we will start making the last adjustments. We can reduce the opacity of the leaf layer to achieve a subtler Double exposure effect. We can also create Levels or Curves adjustment layers and increase or decrease the contrast. I decided to apply the Gradient Map, which gives the whole composite a subtle color touch.

Gradient Map - Double Exposure Effect

Create a new adjustment layer and select Gradient Map. Click on the gradient image, and a dialog box will appear. Here we set the colors that will be mapped to the darkest and lightest parts of the picture. For dark shades, I chose dark blue, and for light details, pale pink.

If we want to achieve a more dramatic or artistic effect, we can add more color stops with different shades of colors.

Export double exposure image

Once we have all the adjustments done, we can export our finished image with the Double Exposure effect on the web, social networks, or printing purposes.

One way is to use shortcut Ctrl + Alt + Shift + S (Cmd + Opt + Shift + S on Mac) which is actually the same as File-> Export-> Save for Web (Legacy) menu.

Save for Web - Double Exposure Effect

A dialog box will appear, where we can set the exact dimensions of the output image, format, or type of output file (JPEG, PNG, …) and the quality in percent. The big advantage is that we can see the size of the resulting image in KB / MB and possibly reduce the quality by a few percent if the output file is too large.

Final image - Double Exposure Effect

When we have everything set, press Save. Photoshop asks us where we want to save the file on our disk. Enter and press Save and the image is saved and ready to use.

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