Double Exposure

The double exposure effect allows us to show literally that, just as UR is in us, we are in this place as well. It’s a powerful technique but can be challenging to pull off if certain variables are not considered. The final image consists of two key elements: a portrait (the main focal point) and an environment or scene that provides a sense of place to connect with the main subject. The latter could be a campus shot or a collection of images that tell a more specific story, highlighting the subject’s creative side or athletic achievements. The portrait should depict confidence and spirit, with a focus on the face. The subject can be shot straight on (facing the camera), at three-quarters view, or in a side profile. But the light should be directional, providing a full tonal range so that deep shadows are present to shape the contours of head and face. It’s these shadows that make the overlay possible.

professor/lab double exposure
student/classroom double exposure
student/courtyard double exposure

Double Exposure Guide

The double exposure effect takes some Photoshop know-how, but isn’t difficult once you understand the fundamentals of how the images interact. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, but this baseline explanation should provide a great starting point.


Key Variables

Strong silhouette

1. Strong silhouette: The first thing the viewer should notice is the shape of the subject, visually identified as a human head and not an amorphous blob. If the silhouette shape can be recognized as such, even with no detail, you are off to a great start.

All about the face

2. All about the face: When all is said and done, the face needs to be completely visible (or at least most of it). Use a Layer Mask to paint out any part of the overlay image that is obscuring important facial features.

Fill the shadows

3. Fill the shadows: The deep shadows are where the overlay will be most apparent, so make sure your portrait has a sufficient amount. Selectively adjust the contrast accordingly.

Find the balance

4. Find the balance: A successful composite rarely happens right away. Each layer requires custom adjustment to carefully calibrate the relationship between the portrait, overlay, and background image. It takes patience and practice to make this technique work.

Basic Structure

three layers of basic sructure

Layer 1: Overlay Image

Layer 2: Portrait

Layer 3: Background

Getting Technical in Photoshop

Original Image
Photoshop View

Set Opacity Blend Mode to Lighten. (Screen also works well in some cases).

Add a Clipping Mask to the Portrait layer underneath to limit the effect to only that layer.

Add a Layer Mask to selectively remove distracting elements from the face. With a soft black brush (start with a low opacity), simply paint on the mask where you want to subtract. Use a white brush to add back.

Make sure the Portrait is completely cut out and isolated on its own layer. High-contrast portraits work best, as the overlay appears richest in deep shadows. Selectively adjust accordingly for best results.

A low-transparency copy of the inset image will serve as the background. Set Opacity at around 15-20%, enough to be noticeable but subtle enough to let the portrait stand out.