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Double exposure

Double exposure combines different images. Historically, many old manual cameras would have a ‘multiple exposure’ lever. Once this lever was applied, the film was held still whilst another exposure would imbue itself as a latent image into the films emulsion.

It’s a popular technique that’s become even more popular with the advent of digital photography. Most popular photo editing software these daysmakes the merging of different images a relatively easily learned operation.

Double exposures enable a diverse range of effects, from the more haunting ghostly effects to contemporary spins on reality.

Lines are a fundamental element of composition and identifying how the lines from different exposures can co-exist is a useful skill to acquire.
Lines are a fundamental element of composition and identifying how the lines from different exposures can co-exist is a useful skill to acquire.

I feel that certainly one of the most common reasons for using Double Exposure techniques, is to enable the photographer to express his or her freedom to break with convention and explore other dimensions of a dreamlike or artificial reality.

Okay, where do we begin, well you’ll need two different images,so do you want to produce your double exposure when you actually take the image, or in post-production? That question may well be answered for you depending on what DLSR you own. Many simply don’t have that facility so it’s best you check that out first.

This dark and enchanting Art Nude was the easiest of the double exposure images for me to produce. I simply shot this lovely street side building as exposure one while traveling in the Med. Observing that the doorway was very dark, I knew that shooting our model against a black cloth as exposure two, would enable her to be layered into position quite effortlessly. A good tip is to try to duplicate the lighting effects in both exposures as much as possible.

If you’re able to take double/multiple images in camera and would prefer that method, try to imagine what images you’d like to combine and why, then which areas of the frame you’d like each image to be placed.

Having a preconceived idea is always key to success. We all produce images at times that are in some way excellent. Very often this is just a consequence of the sheer volume of images we shoot. The law of averages will determine that occasionally an array of visual elements will align to create something very agreeable indeed. Whilst these ‘happy accidents’ are very welcome treats, they simply can’t be relied upon. I have always loved and lived by the phrase ‘photographers don’t plan to fail…they fail to plan’

So, planning is important and an ability to sketch, even badly is a big advantage. It is a mandatory requirement on almost all of the art and photography based courses and I feel for good reason. Sketching also teaches the learner about graphics and design,all very useful, if not essential skills to the photographer wanting to truly excel. As a compromise, even a rough outline sketch of a pre-conceived idea can quickly register where the different elements may work best for a double exposure. After time your mind will start to see and create images, this process is called ‘pre-visualisation’

Where sketching can also help you to pre-visualise greatly is in the area of Black&White. An ability to be able to see in Black&White is a great asset. Many colour images are successful because of the colours themselves being pleasing on the eye and were applied intelligently, the use of the spatial colour effects.

For this double exposure being colour as opposed to having just one predominate tone. I had to consider not only the ultimate composition, but how the hues would play out. Photoshop is of course a powerful colour management tool so balancing the colours in post-production wasn’t a problem at all. I decided to render the out of focus hues as a soft pastel effect with even the small area of diffused green, helping to create a gentle division of space
For this double exposure being colour as opposed to having just one predominate tone. I had to consider not only the ultimate composition, but how the hues would play out. Photoshop is of course a powerful colour management tool so balancing the colours in post-production wasn’t a problem at all. I decided to render the out of focus hues as a soft pastel effect with even the small area of diffused green, helping to create a gentle division of space

The spatial colour effects are basically the psychological effects that colours have on us. They influence our perception of an image from everything to do with depth to our emotional presuppositions. The psychology of colour in photography fills many large books, it’s a large but fascinating subject.

Black&White doesn’t have many of the stimulating qualities that colours do, so instead the Black&White image has to stand alone on its own merits. The Black&White image must take a greater consideration towards the arrangement and interplay of shapes, tones and especially the 3d element. Black&Whiteloses against colour here, the spatial effects can create additional depths and separations to the same scene. The dynamic for emphasis also alters between Black&White and colour. Neither wins, both are superior in their own worlds and once their distinctions are learned, you can combine and fuse them into harmony.

So, let’s look at how and where to apply some of this into our evaluations for a double exposure.

Just one example might be that you’ve found an interesting object that’s silhouetted against a white background or a sky. By experimenting with different exposures, you could render that image as weak and translucent or bold and graphic as you like.

Also an easy image to do in post-production. Exposure one captured the lovely Rachel sitting astride of her charming bicycle at sunset. Exposure two of the clouds was shot on a different day then layered to overlap the existing sky. The bottom part of the sky image was gently removed with a soft eraser tool in Photoshop. Both images were flattened together then a warm tone applied.
Also an easy image to do in post-production. Exposure one captured the lovely Rachel sitting astride of her charming bicycle at sunset. Exposure two of the clouds was shot on a different day then layered to overlap the existing sky. The bottom part of the sky image was gently removed with a soft eraser tool in Photoshop. Both images were flattened together then a warm tone applied.

Basically, finding different images that contrast in some way is a good place to start. That contrast could be tone, texture, shape, form, light, lines, colouror the contrast could be how you arrange their placement. Try pre-visualising the elements in different compartments of the frame, sometimes referred to as compositional divisions. If placed correctly, this may enable a main image to have more dominance.

Personally I love the traditional craft of merging both images in camera and there are literally countless thousands of wonderful examples out there to inspire you, the possibilities are endless.

What if your DSLR won’t allow double exposures in camera? Then importing them into a program like Photoshop is an exciting and flexible option.

This is in fact three exposures of three different images. I will refer to the main exposure being the cluster of flowers that are middle, right. The flower to the left was exposed separately and layered onto the open sky at the left and to the top of the main exposure. A sky with detail was the third exposure, this was also layered onto the detail-less sky at the top of the main exposure.”
This is in fact three exposures of three different images. I will refer to the main exposure being the cluster of flowers that are middle, right. The flower to the left was exposed separately and layered onto the open sky at the left and to the top of the main exposure. A sky with detail was the third exposure, this was also layered onto the detail-less sky at the top of the main exposure.

The five examples shown were all merged in Photoshop and are all relatively easy to do. By simply layering the two images together and lowering the opacity on one image. You will be able to sliding them around to find the most suitable alignments.

You may need to adjust the sizes or the shapes of one or indeed both images. This can be accomplished by going to Edit and then down to Free transform. From there you can pull and push the image into any shape you desire. If you want to retain the actual shape and ratio of the image, hold down the Shift key as you pull or push.

From there it’s a matter of adjusting the opacity. This could be a global adjustment, or by selecting the eraser tool, you can selectively erase different areas at varying opacities.

Let’s look again at this example in more detail to explain how I created the image below…

Sunset Bike
Sunset Bike

First of all simply open one of your exposures in Photoshop or a similar image editing software. You can undertake any tweaks on that image at this stage, however I tend to prefer leaving that until both exposures are layered together.

Snapshot - 1
Snapshot – 1

Then open up exposure 2 over the top of the background layer, which, in this case is the bicycle standing in the long grass.

Snapshot - 2
Snapshot – 2

My second exposure was in fact horizontal, so it only overlapped approximately two third of the first exposure. I then grabbed that image and slide it upwards and across to the left as I’d felt that was a better place for the sun.

Snapshot - 3
Snapshot – 3

The next stage was to select the eraser tool and to gently erase back the sky layer from the lower part of the image, in effect merging the two exposures. This also revealed and created what looks like an horizon.

Snapshot - 4
Snapshot – 4

Then, I blurred the sky layer, this was to continue the shallow depth of field effect that was apparent on the bicycle itself.

The depth of field is ‘the area of acceptable sharpness’ but what’s acceptably sharp, is subjective. In other words, if the area of sharpness on the bike was noticeably shallow, the saddle being sharp and the handle bars being softer.

To suggest it’s all one image, as opposed to a composite, we must then soften the background accordingly, in this case, the sky.

Snapshot - 5
Snapshot – 5
Snapshot - 6
Snapshot – 6

Next, you’ll see I’ve clicked on the background layer and selected an area around the Rose Bay Willow Herb with the lasso tool.

I’ve then brought up the levels box and taken the grey slider down to the left to right to slightly darken that area.

Snapshot - 7
Snapshot – 7

Using levels in a localised manner like this can be an extremely useful application throughout the whole image.
Nearing completion, I’ve tweaked the cloud formation a little with the clone tool and balanced the colours by bringing up the ‘colour balance’ box.

Snapshot - 8
Snapshot – 8
Snapshot - 9
Snapshot – 9
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