How to Create a Double Exposure Effect Using Photoshop

How to Create a Double Exposure Effect Using Photoshop

What is a double exposure effect?

In days of yore, back when DSLR cameras were SLR, a roll of film was inserted in the back of your camera to give you 24 or 36 exposures. A double exposure was created in-camera by taking two different photos on the same frame of film.

How to Create a Double Exposure Effect Using Photoshop

The Double Exposure Effect created in Adobe Photoshop using Blend Modes, Layer Masks and of course two or more images.

When I did shoot with an SLR camera, I managed to achieve this effect more by accident than intent. In order to take another shot, you had to manually wind onto the next exposure!

With the onset of digital, this technique is very easy to replicate in Adobe Photoshop. If you don’t have Photoshop, get GIMP, it’s free to download and use. If you do a search on YouTube, there are plenty of tutorials on making double exposure effects to choose from. The more popular tutorials seem to use images of a portrait and a landscape.

However, you can use any images you want as this is quite a stylistic technique.

The ingredients

In essence, all you need are two images.

One of these images will have to be cut out using a layer mask so that the other image can be clipped to it.
Then it’s a case of using the blending modes, reducing the opacity, and other color effects to produce the desired result. Depending on what images that you use, experiment with the different blending options to see which effect you like the best.

The technique – step-by-step

In this article, I will show you a step-by-step tutorial on how to create your very own double exposure effect using Photoshop. The hardest part will be selecting the two images that you want for the composition.

Select your images

For my first image, I’ll be using this photo of the Hook Lighthouse. I took this shot a couple of years ago while on holidays along the hook peninsula in Wexford, Ireland.

How to Create a Double Exposure Effect Using Photoshop

Hook Lighthouse on the Hook Peninsula in Wexford in South of Ireland.

However, I didn’t get to snap any seagulls. This is exactly what I wanted for my second image, a close up side shot of a seagull.

I found one on Pixabay. If you don’t have images ready to hand. You can go to sites such as Pixabay or Unsplash. These two sites alone have excellent quality images to choose from and you can download any image for free (note: please read the usage terms for the Creative Commons license and be sure to follow them).

How to Create a Double Exposure Effect Using Photoshop seagull

Seagull image from

Cut out the subject from the background

So, first I needed to make a selection of the seagull. The Quick Selection Tool did a good job and I finished it off by using the Refine Mask. I was able to save this out on its own layer with a layer mask.

How to Create a Double Exposure Effect Using Photoshop

Using the Quick Selection Tool and Refine Mask in Photoshop to isolate the subject from the background.

I decided to add a blue background in keeping with the nautical theme but also the seagull is predominately white, so he stands out more.

How to Create a Double Exposure Effect Using Photoshop background

I added a blue background after I isolated the seagull from the original background.

Add the second image and adjust the Layer Blend Mode

I brought the lighthouse image in as a Smart Object above the seagull layer and resized it. Next, I dragged the seagull layer mask to the lighthouse layer (which copies and applies it to the second layer) and changed the Blend Mode to Vivid Light. Finally, I then reduced the opacity to 68%.

How to Create a Double Exposure Effect Using Photoshop

I used the Blend Mode – Vivid Light which produced some funky colors on the beak of the seagull. But I liked the effect it created on the lighthouse image in comparison to the other Blend Mode options.

How to Create a Double Exposure Effect Using Photoshop

The Layers Panel in Photoshop and how the double effect in Photoshop is achieved.


At this stage, the colors on the seagull went a little too funky, especially around the eye and its beak.

So, I added a Hue & Saturation Adjustment Layer, checked the colorize tick box, and dragged the Hue slider to 183 and increased the Saturation to 10.

I added a Hue & Saturation Adjustment Layer to get rid of the funky colors that the Vivid Light Blend Mode created around the beak of the seagull.

The lighthouse rocks were still a little too sharp, but I didn’t want to reduce the opacity of the overall image any further. So I duplicated the seagull layer and dragged it to the top of the layer stack. I chose a big soft brush and I dabbed a couple of times on the layer mask around the rocks and the lighthouse to give it more of an opaque/ghostly look.

Final image

A GIF animation illustrating the different stages in creating a double exposure effect.

I had hoped to put a video together to accompany this article. But honestly, Adobe Creative Cloud have done a great job with a video on their YouTube channel, in illustrating this technique in under 45 seconds!

Now it’s your turn, let’s see what you can do. Why not give this technique a go? Please post your questions, comments and results in the section below.

Disclaimer: the author was not sponsored by Adobe, Pixabay or Unsplash. Words and opinions are those of the author only.

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Sarah Hipwell is an independent professional photographer based in Dublin. She specialises in high-quality corporate, stock and portraiture photography. Her background is in Design. She received her BA in Hons Design from the University of Ulster, Belfast. She has many years commercial design experience working as a designer and as a trainer for large multimedia companies. See more of her work at or at 500px.