How to obtain a double exposure effect in Photoshop

Before the digital era, double exposure portraits were made by exposing the same frame of film more than once. I remember that as a kid I discovered some old films in a drawer, and there was this print with my dad patting a ghost horse. It was an effect obtained with double exposure on film.

Now, a large number of photographers use the double exposure technique digitally to create stunning dreamy or surreal portraits. If you think outside of the box, this photography technique can be applied to any kind of object, not just people (or animals). All you have to do is use your imagination and establish a purpose.

Adobe Photoshop software program allows you to put different images in layers, and then it provides a wide range of blending possibilities. For getting a nice stronger pattern on those butterfly wings, we are going to use the color burn blend mode, and for a dreamy pattern of simple books covers, we are going to use the screen blend mode. Also, keep in mind that if you want to, you can use more images – not just two.

Double exposure using Color Burn Blending

  • Subject must be lightcolored

As an example, I will start with a butterfly image, and a foliage image, having as a purpose to color the butterfly’s wings.


Before applying the blending, we need to establish the area of the main image that we want to be textured.

The screen blending mode will multiply the light values on one layer with those on the layers below, so that the picture will get brighter, never darker, and white areas stay white. If you have a portrait photo that you want to use in the double exposure image, then make sure the area around your subject (the background) is white. This means you will need to do some painting over the background in order to isolate your subject. It’s a task that will occupy most of the time you need to allocate for the entire double exposure project.

In this example, I’m going to cut the butterfly and paste it into a new layer with transparen’t background.

Once you have the image with white (or transparent) background ready, create another layer for the texture, and put it in. Then apply the color burn blending mode to the texture layer from the dropdown menu as shown below:


This practically burned a texture over the surface of the butterfly. If you aren’t happy with how the texture looks like on the butterfly’s wings, you can move the foliage into a different position, flip it, transform it (rotate, resize), until you are happy with it.

Next, use the selection tool on the butterfly layer, and select the empty are around the subject. With this area selected, go back to the texture layer and cut it out. The layer with the texture will have gained the exact shape of the butterfly.


The final steps include: reducing the fill level (mandatory so that the original butterfly will show up a little, and soften the blending), increasing the contrast of the texture and/or subject (optional), additional toning (optional). In the end, what we have is a unique butterfly, with a pattern never seen before. Will the botanists name this new species? 🙂



Double exposure using Screen Blending

  • Subject must be darkcolored

As an example, I will start with an image of a colorful book stack, and the same foliage image as before, having as a purpose to color the book covers.

carti folliage


The idea is the same: the area around the books must be either white or transparent. Then, instead of choosing the color burn blend mode, we will choose the screen blend mode.


Here are some guidelines for the additional adjustments after you applied the screen mode over the foliage:

Higher contrast:

Click the Create new adjustment layer icon in the Layers panel and choose Curves. Plot an S-shaped curve to boost the contrast of the image by dragging one point down near the bottom of the diagonal curve line, and a second point up near the top of the line. The more pronounced the S-shape, the greater the contrast boost you will apply.


Click the Create new adjustment layer icon in the Layers panel and choose Gradient Map. In the Properties Panel, click the gradient preview drop-down menu, then click on the desired preset from the list.



Now, let’s see the results in both scenarios (click to enlarge):

books butterfly2


The best part of this Photoshop double exposure technique is that you can apply both screen blend mode and other blending mode. Here’s an example that uses two textures – one blends with screen mode and one with color dodge:




By Laura

I started photography as a hobby in 2005, during college. My passion slowly became a more important part of my life since 2008. Because of using a combination of my photographic knowledge, with those of internet marketing, I like to call myself a "photomarketer".

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