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How to Create In-Camera Double Exposures


It was yet another snowy day in New York, so I headed to the Arboretum to work on macro photography. Tripod slung over one shoulder, with my Olympus mirrorless gear in tow, I approached the door only to be stopped in my tracks. “No tripods” she said, pointing to the sign.

I’ve been here plenty of times with a tripod, but on holidays and weekends the rules change. Since it was President’s Day, the ban was in place. I put the tripod back in the car and decided to use the limitation as opportunity. Instead of close up studies, my plan changed to in-camera double exposures.

This is a feature that I loved with my old film camera (Canon Elan 7). While my switch to digital was a revelation, the lack of double exposure capability was a huge let down. It was only recently that camera manufacturers started including it again. Not only has it been added to most current bodies, but the functionality has been further enhanced. Some may consider it cheating, but I look at the updates as an opportunity to be even more creative.

When you take your first shot, you can see an imprint of it in the viewfinder, while looking for shot number two. This makes it possible to line things up carefully, instead of leaving it to chance. It takes a little time to get used to it, sort of the way the depth of field preview button is a bit odd at first. After some practice however, you start to realize the incredible potential of this feature. Scenes that were once ordinary, become a treasure trove of artistic possibility.

In addition to the standard double exposure mode, the Olympus E-M1 has an overlay feature that lets you choose a RAW file from your SD card as shot number one. You then shoot as many frames as you like, to find the perfect image for shot number two. I found this to provide even greater control over the final image. I’m not sure what other manufacturers offer this feature, so be sure to check your manual. With this setting turned on, I set out to create some interesting images.

Ultimately I was looking for texture in shot one, as it would be complementary to the subject in shot number two. The possible outcomes are limitless, with every shot being completely unique. Rather than simply shooting a static flower, it’s possible to create a special piece of art. Today, as more people have cameras than ever before, the ability to make a shot has become even more important. This is not something you can do with a phone camera.

You may be wondering why I wouldn’t just do this in post-production by layering two shots in the computer. First, it wouldn’t be nearly as fun – I enjoy working with my camera more than pushing pixels around in Photoshop.

Next, there is something serendipitous about doing it in the field. You work harder, and really tune in to all the possibilities around you. A textured brick becomes more than a wall, but a perfect layer of texture. A crack in the pavement is not merely an imperfection in the floor, but a possible part of an exciting composition. By working deliberately like this, you have no choice but to slow down, and really exercise your vision. You pay attention to the smallest details, focusing on things that most people would walk right past. Isn’t that what creating art is all about?

Will there be shots that don’t work? Absolutely! To create these six images I took 200 photos, over two hours. I don’t regret a single moment of this experience however. Each one is a unique work of art that can never be reproduced. Still, you must be patient, and set aside a good amount of time to do this. If you are rushing through, you’ll miss potentially great opportunities.

With winter upon us (spring coming soon in some areas of the Northern Hemisphere), and outdoor expeditions limited, now is the perfect time to explore this form of photography. You just may create something spectacular. The only way to find out is to give it a try.

Have you tried in-camera double exposures before? Please share your results and questions in the comments below. If your camera has a cool double exposure feature – please tell us about it.

This week on dPS we are featuring articles on special effects. Check out the others that have already been published here:

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Chris Corradino is a professional photographer and head student mentor at the New York Institute of Photography. His work has been published internationally with credits including USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Newsday, and National Geographic Online. For more, visit online at

  • PJ

    The photos are nice, but there’s nothing in the article that teaches us how to make in-camera double exposures, as the title suggests.

  • Mike Wilson

    I agree. I’m sure each camera make & model instructions are a bit different, but would like to be pointed in the right direction.

  • Theo Finucane

    I, too, had an Elan 7 back in the film days and enjoyed shooting double exposures! I preferred to use my Nikon FM10, though. This manual camera allowed me to shoot a roll of film, then rewind it almost all the way back into the film cartridge, and re-shoot the same roll over again. A technique which gave me delightfully random double exposures.

    I’d been disappointed that my digital cameras (various Sony models) didn’t offer a multiple exposure function, and delighted to see this article. However, as the other comments point out, the article says nothing about how to shoot in-camera double exposures, curiously. But I’ve been inspired to ask Google, where I’ve learned this:

    “Press the menu button and then find multiple exposure under the shooting menu. Turn it on, and select single photo. Choose the number of shots you want in the final frame. If you want three clones, choose three photos”

    Well, no. Sony cameras do not have a multiple exposure setting (there’s lengthy discussions on Digital Photography Review about this lack). I guess the only way for me to do in-camera multiple exposures is to buy a different camera system. That’s a disappointment. I’m sorry now that I read this article.

  • RT

    This certainly falls waaaaay short in being a good “How to” article!!!
    I agree with PJ & Mike, and probably most of the others who read this article.
    I have wanted to do digital double exposures (as I could with film SLRs) but couldn’t find a way with my first (Canon T3i). With my new Canon 7D is their a feature that let’s me do multiple exposures? Still don’t know after reading this article.
    Please, how about a real How to article on this subject.

  • Bob Bevan Smith

    Rather than just saying it lacks something, why not say what it is that you need? Chris does say that his Olympus allows you to have an imprint in the viewfinder to line up your subsequent shot – that covers composition. But what about exposure? Would you set the first exposure to -1, or -2 if you wanted to overlay more than one shot? Aside from that, do you need to think about colour balance? You could play with shutter speed to capture a still shot, then overlay it with a panned shot or vice versa. Multiple exposure allows great creativity – all you need to know is how to set your camera up to make it happen. Ditch the old DSLR and go buy a mirrorless camera. Then just go and try it out!

  • Ivar Schiager

    Nice article, reminds me there are still functions I rearly use.
    My Nikon dSLRs (d40x-d90-d7000-d7100) don’t double expose, but “image overlay” from the menu:
    First I make the pictures in raw (NEF). Then go to the menu and choose “Image overlay” , choose the two raw-images I want to blend. I can adjust the layers transparency/lightness/darkness to fit my preferences. The result is saved as raw-image (NEF).

  • Jason Clark

    my a6000 allows me to shoot double exposures in many different styles through an app purchased for a few dollars through the app store I can even enable raw files for them.

  • Theo Finucane

    Yes, the a6000 *is* a Sony camera, true–in Sony’s mirrorless line, with the E-mount lenses. A different camera system, in other words, from the SLRs and SLTs with A-mount lenses that I use. But I’m glad to learn there’s some option of shooting in-camera double exposures with Sony!

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