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How to Create a Multiple Exposure Effect in Photoshop

If your ideas are more than a photo, why not combine two or three of them in a single image? When you want to create something surreal, ghostly or that is just beyond what you can capture in a single shot, then the multiple exposure effect is the thing for you!

This effect comes from analog photography and some digital cameras offer this feature as well. However, we can mimic the multiple exposure effect not only without film and even without a camera, so let’s get creative in Photoshop!

How to Create a Multiple Exposure Effect in Photoshop

Achieving double or multiple exposures in-camera means that you have to do your photos in a sequence, this can be very impractical and therefore limits your creativity.

In Photoshop, you can combine a photo you took today with your smartphone with another one that you made last year with your camera or even add a Creative Commons photo that you found online, so let your imagination go wild!

Method Two – Creating Double Exposures in Photoshop

If you need to kickstart your creativity, try playing with opposites or contrasting concepts. To demonstrate, I’m going to use urban versus nature, I’ll also show the practicality of doing this in Photoshop instead of running back and forth from the countryside to the city, so let’s get started.

First open your first image, the one that will be the base on which you’ll compose your image. When the image opens it is the background layer which is locked. You can always change this but for now, it’s fine to leave it as is.

Duplicate your image by going to Menu > Layer > Duplicate Layer or just click and drag it into the Create New Layer button on the bottom of the Layers panel (or use the keyboard shortcut Cmd/Ctrl+J). Now you have two identical images on top of each other, one in each layer.

duplicate layer - How to Create a Multiple Exposure Effect in Photoshop

Add your second image

Now drag and drop the second image onto your canvas. I suggest you use this technique instead of copy and paste because this way it gets added as a Smart Object. Therefore you can make it bigger or smaller as many times as you want without losing image quality.

This is always a good thing to have but especially for this exercise since you still need the other photo(s) to see how they will interact to create the final composition. Then click OK and it will be added as a layer. By default it will be dropped on the top, so you won’t be able to see the other image for the moment, but that’s normal.

drag and drop second image - How to Create a Multiple Exposure Effect in Photoshop

Click on the layer you just added, the one with the second image, and drag it down so that it’s between the two previously existing layers. Now all you see is the first image again and the new image is hidden, Don’t worry, we’ll get to it in a moment.

Adjust the Blend Mode

The top layer should now be the copy of your background, click on it to select it. Now open the drop-down menu from the top of the Layer panel which contains the Blending options. Select Screen Mode and as a result, you’ll see a mixture of the two images.

Keep in mind that the results will change drastically depending on the colors of your images as this information is what Photoshop uses to make them interact.

For example, with black, it leaves the colors unchanged while screening with white produces white. In any case, don’t worry if your image doesn’t look like the example I’m using.

screen mode - How to Create a Multiple Exposure Effect in Photoshop

Adjust to your liking

The result you’re looking for is rarely achieved by just doing this, so click on the layer that contains your second image, and modify it until you’re happy.

You can change its size by going to Menu > Edit > Transform. Then drag it with the Move tool from the top of the Toolbox. Add some filters by going into Menu > Filters or adjust its settings by adding Adjustment layers by clicking on the button from the bottom of the panel. Play with it until you’re satisfied.

transform - How to Create a Multiple Exposure Effect in Photoshop

Mask out unwanted bits

Once you’ve decided on the final image position, create a layer mask on that layer by clicking on the Add Layer Mask button at the bottom of the panel. Making sure that the mask is selected, use your Brush tool to paint in black in the areas where you don’t want the image showing.

It behaves like an eraser but without actually losing your pixels. That’s the great thing about masks, it just hides things. If you make a mistake all you need to do is change the brush to white and paint it back in.

layer mask - How to Create a Multiple Exposure Effect in Photoshop

Repeat the process with as many photos as you want to add. If you don’t want one image to be predominant but instead you want to have a blank canvas on which to put many smaller pieces, first open a blank canvas that will be your “negative” where you are going to combine your images.

You can do this by going to Menu > File > New and just set the size and resolution that you want and click OK. Then follow the steps above normally. Have fun!

final image #1 - How to Create a Multiple Exposure Effect in Photoshop

A Trendy Twist, Method Two

As many vintage things, double exposures made a comeback and became trendy just by adding a little twist to it. You’ve probably often seen images of multiple exposures that are silhouettes with the second image inside it. Here’s how you can do that with the same technique as before just by adding one more step.

So, open your first image in Photoshop and duplicate the background layer once again. On this copy, select your background with the tool of your choice depending on your image.

If you have a white background you can quickly select it with the Magic Wand while a more busy background might require the Pen tool or a mix of different ones.

selection - How to Create a Multiple Exposure Effect in Photoshop

Once you have your background selected then go to Menu > Edit > Fill, choose white and click OK. Drag and drop your second image just like you did in the first part of this tutorial so that it becomes a new layer. Drag it and put it in between the background and the background copy you created.

layer order - How to Create a Multiple Exposure Effect in Photoshop

Now it’s totally covered, so click on the background copy to select that layer and change its blend mode to Screen.

result #2 - How to Create a Multiple Exposure Effect in Photoshop

Modify your second image and create a layer mask to paint with black whichever you don’t want in the composition and that’s it.

black and white - How to Create a Multiple Exposure Effect in Photoshop

You can use images with a lot of contrast or monochrome to create different effects. Try them out and share your results with us in the comment section below.

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Ana Mireles
Ana Mireles

is a photographer and artistic researcher. She has been awarded and exhibited in Mexico, Italy, and the Netherlands. Through theory and practice, she explores the cultural aspect of photography, how it helps us relate to each other, the world, and ourselves. She has also a passion for teaching, communication, and social media. You can find more about her and her work at her website or acquire some of her works here.

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