Making double exposures with a film camera used to be tricky. To take a good multiple exposure, for example, your camera needed to have a special control that prevented the film from advancing while you captured each frame in the series. And you needed to underexpose each frame by just the right amount so that the final image wouldn’t be overexposed from all those clicks of the shutter.
These days, creating a multiple exposure digitally is a snap. Let’s see how.
Do It in the Camera
Just like in the days of film, it’s possible to make a double exposure “in the camera,” without involving your photo editing software–but only if your camera includes such a feature. Check your user guide for any multiple exposure mode options.
If you can make a multiple exposure with your camera, set it to the appropriate mode and snap away. Remember that since you’ll be putting two or more exposures in the same image, you need to reduce the exposure of each picture you take. If you shoot two pictures, for example, a good starting place is to halve the exposure that each photo would normally get. To do that, set your camera’s exposure compensation control to -1 for both shots.
Do It on the Computer
Few cameras have a multiple exposure mode, though, so you’ll probably need to combine separate images in a photo editing program. There’s no need to vary the exposure in this situation. Just take each photo the way you normally would, and transfer them to your PC. Then start up your favorite photo editor.
This technique makes use of layers, a feature that lets you “stack” images and vary their opacity. Most photo editors, like Adobe Photoshop Elements and Corel Paint Shop Pro, have this capability. I’ll demonstrate with Photoshop Elements.
Stack Some Layers
Start Photoshop Elements and open the files that you want to use for your multiple exposure. They can be any images at all, as long as they all have the same pixel resolution. For this experiment, I’ll use a sequence of photos I shot on my desk with some goofy toys: sample 1, sample 2, and sample 3.
Now choose one of the photos and select its contents by pressing Ctrl-A. Choose Edit, Copy from the menu. Now select the next photo and choose Edit, Paste. This will paste the first photo into the second photo as a new layer. You’ll be able to tell this has happened, because you’ll see the two images in separate layers in the Layer Palette, on the right side of the screen, as the image to the right shows.
Finally, repeat the process for the remaining photo. Choose the remaining photo, press Ctrl-A, and choose Edit, Copy from the menu. Select the composite photo and choose Edit, Paste. You’ll see all three images appear in the Layers Palette.
Tweak the Opacity
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