How to Create a Double Exposure Effect in Photoshop
There are some video and image effects that, once you’ve seen them, you’ve got to learn how to recreate them. The opening credits to the wildly popular True Detective television series is one such example.
Cool, right? The effect of transposing an image inside within image — called a double exposure — is surprisingly simple to create. It requires only a few Photoshop fundamentals to achieve. Here’s how!
The Simple Science Behind Double Exposure
Multiple exposures were originally created by exposing film to multiple images, transposing one picture onto the other. This effect is replicated through simple masking and layering options, which essentially transpose the contents of one image into the other.
The general quality of your double exposure will depend on a few factors, such as the size of your images and the extent of your color correction. A good double exposure effect maintains a few visual aspects of both images so that one image turns into the other smoothly. Such is the case with the example below.
We’ll be creating a simple double exposure of two images. The best double exposure images typically use a human or animal subject as the containing image, and a landscape picture as the transposed object.
That said, you can use whatever two images you’d like.
Step 1: Cut Out Your First Exposure
First, you’ll have to cut out your subject in order to use it as a base image. I’ll be using the following image.
You can use a variety of methods to cut out images in Photoshop. If you’re looking to cut an image out quickly, or are working with a very simple image, use your Pen Tool.
Trace the image and connect your two ends.
Then, right-click your image, click Make Selection, feather the radius a few pixels (1 or 2 should work for most images) in the subsequent window and select OK. A selection will then be created of your shape.
You can also use the Select and Mask tool present in Photoshop CC 2015 and on, which gives you tools to create a more accurate selection.
The more time you take to cut out an image, the better your image will be. After you’ve selected your image, press Ctrl + C and then Ctrl + V to copy and paste it into a new layer. Select the layer with your cut-out image and desaturate it with Image > Adjustments > Desaturate.
This will give your double exposure its general shape.
Step 2: Mask Your Second Exposure
I’m going to transpose an image of the sea onto the one displayed above. Drag and drop the second image into your Photoshop panel. Ensure it’s layered above your previous cut out. Then Ctrl + Click your cut-out shape in your Layers panel to select its shape and click the Add Layer Mask button in the same panel.
Your second image should appear as a cut-out of your first. You can move your image within the mask by clicking the link located between your background and your mask, selecting the background, and pressing Ctrl + T on your keyboard.
Next, copy your original cut-out subject by selecting the layer and clicking Ctrl + J. Place this copy top-most. Then change the layer type to Multiply. You should now see a bit of overlap between the background and foreground images.
Apply another layer mask to this newly created layer. Then, with the layer mask selected, activate your brush tool. Increase the size of the brush and lower its Hardness to 0%. Ensure you have Black as your foreground color and your brush’s Opacity is set to 40%. Brush around your subject until you can only note the prominent features — in my case, the eyes and hair — of your image. Your Layer layout should now resemble the following:
Finally, with your top image layer selected, press Ctrl + L on your keyboard. This will open up your Levels panel. Shift the Shadow, Midtone, and Highlight values until you can make out the details of your subject. Once done, click OK.
Now that your effect is largely achieved, we’ll create a fitting background.
Step 3: Create a Background for Your Double Exposure
Click on the Create new fill or adjustment layer button in your Layers panel and select Solid Color.
Click OK in the following window and place it bottom-most in your Layers panel. Then double-click the thumbnail of your color fill layer and click on the outer boundary of your double exposure image. Your color fill should change to the color selected.
To finalize the image, create a copy of your imposed image (the landscape image) using Ctrl + J and delete the layer mask by right-clicking the copied layer and selecting Delete Layer Mask. Drag this layer so it is directly above your Color Fill in the Layers panel and change its layer type to Soft Light.
Finally, lower its Opacity to around 50%.
Double Exposure, Exposed
The following is a result of our double exposure technique.
While the above reflects my own personal usage of the various tools available in Photoshop to achieve this effect, feel free to play around with the tools — or adding a few adjustments of your own — to achieve an even better rendition. Happy editing!
Did you like our explanation? What other Photoshop trickery would you like to learn? Let us know in the comments below!
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