Double Exposure Photography: Everything You Need To Know to Master the Technique


When more than one exposure is combined into one image, it is called a multiple exposure. In the case of two, it’s a double exposure. Often used in fine art photography to lend the image a surrealist look or to enhance a sense of motion, it’s an unmistakable technique.

Done well, a double exposure can give a photograph just that edge it needs to bridge the gap between a great shot and an amazing work of art.

But how exactly do double exposures work? How can you make them yourself? And how can making use of this technique help bring an edge to your work?

This is going to be the topic of today’s guide. We will be analyzing in detail what double exposures and multiple exposures are, how they work, and how to utilize them to make your portfolio stand out.

We will also discuss all the important steps you need to be aware of and give you a few tips to help you practice effectively!

What is a Double Exposure?

First, let us lay down some unanimous definitions. A double exposure, as mentioned previously, is a photograph that combines two exposures on the same frame. Double exposure is not a diptych, where there is a matching couple of two separate exposures that are presented side-by-side.

Instead, with the double exposure, both frames are layered on top of each other.

How Does a Double Exposure Work?

Let’s explain in more detail by taking a look at how the exposure system works step by step.

Regardless of type, model year, brand, lens, or any other fine details, pretty much any camera exposes in the same basic way.

A shutter, which under normal conditions stays closed, is momentarily opened for a set time to let in light.

That light travels through the shutter opening to the photographic medium (digital sensor, film, plates, paper emulsion, what have you).

The medium is sensitive to light, so it leaves an imprint of the light that reaches it. This is ultimately what creates the photograph.

Now comes the important part.

Every camera has some kind of provision for advancing the frame. That is, allowing you to take multiple photographs in sequence. How this works exactly varies a lot, and we are going to discuss different approaches as necessary for different cameras below.

The idea is that by choosing not to advance to the next frame, you can expose the same, previously-exposed medium again to different light. Voilà, that’s a multiple exposure!

Double Exposures From an Artistic Point of View

To more easily picture the effect that this has, imagine you are using a sketch previously made by you or someone else as the canvas for a drawing of your own.

No matter how exactly you choose to realize your work, the two distinct images will eventually blend together.

How you choose to blend them is up to you, of course. Do you draw your image with the same kind of pen as the original, or a different color, size, or thickness?

Do you draw parallel to the existing lines or on top of them? Or perhaps you create a completely unique picture on top of the original?

Maybe you forgo the pen entirely in favor of watercolors, oil paint, or chalk?

The same level of freedom exists in photography in the case of double and multiple exposures.

In the next segment, we are going to talk about how to realize double exposures according to the type of camera you are working with.

How to Create Double Exposures: A Step-by-Step Guide

Though there exists a huge variety in terms of camera designs, nearly any photographic tool can be used to make multiple exposures – even a humble homemade pinhole box!

Let us take a close look at how double exposure photography can be achieved using some of the most widespread kinds of cameras, as well as a few that are more niche in design.

Creating a Double Exposure With a DSLR

The venerable DSLR might already be enjoying its swansong, but there are still loads of photographers worldwide who rely on a digital single-lens reflex camera for the bulk of their work.

On most DSLRs, double exposures are a built-in feature, though you should make sure to refer to your specific camera’s manual to confirm.

Don’t despair if your DSLR isn’t capable of creating double exposures natively – we will be taking a look at out-of-camera double exposures later on!

In order to make an in-camera multiple exposure, you usually take your desired number of individual exposures in the usual manner first. You can then combine them afterwards using a special camera menu.

In some cases, this feature might only be available for RAW files.

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