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Simulated double-exposure in photoshop?

Charles Bandes , Nov 25, 2000; 03:13 p.m.

Ok, I'm probably just being thick-headed about this, but I've got a problem.

My photography is mostly about blending images together - in traditional photography I use multiple exposures to achieve this. I've recently started to experiment with digital photography, I have a snazzy new Canon G1 camera and an Epson 2000p printer, and I can make great images, but I can't get the look I want - that of a double exposure.

If I layer images together in photoshop, the best I can do is merge the layers at 50% opacity, which gives an unpleasing effect. A "real" multiple exposure would leave unexposed areas of the film available fully to the next image, but in photoshop, areas of blackness are preserved if I change the opacity, leaving a dark haze over the image lying beneath them. I've experimented with other modes like lighten and darken, and they seem to get closer to what I need, but not close enough - can anyone please point me in the right direction?


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Simon Butcher , Nov 25, 2000; 05:10 p.m.

Hi Charles Just tried something and it looks reasonable to me: Copy background layer and dump the original. Change it to multiply mode. Add your second image and change it to screen mode. Hope that's the effect you mean.

double exposure?

Dan Smith , Nov 25, 2000; 10:15 p.m.

Why not dust off the camera and go out and take double exposures with it and let the computer sit for awhile? For all the time you are going to spend on the computer you could probably have dozens of images done in camera by now. Even using something as simple as camera & lens to do copy double exposures will be faster.

Mark Wilkins , Nov 26, 2000; 12:08 a.m.

Paste the second, third, etc. images in as separate layers and use the "Screen" mode with 100% opacity for all of the layers except the background.

Mark Wilkins , Nov 26, 2000; 12:17 a.m.

Dan, don't be unhelpful. Overlaying multiple exposures in camera is a roll of the dice if the exposures have to be taken at two different locations, because you only get one chance. If you unload the film and reload it at the other location so that you can experiment with more than one frame at a time you'll get uncontrollable registration between the passes.

I'm also sick of "digital this, digital that" just because it's the hot new thing, but when it presents a clearly better solution (as it does when you're trying to overlay images and you care at all about alignment or controlling the result) there's no excuse for whining about someone not doing it the old-fashioned way.

Wayne Yoshida , Nov 26, 2000; 05:46 a.m.

This should be relatively simple in Photoshop...I believe that Simon has the right idea in that you would end up pasting the second image as a layer over the first. However, functionally simulate a double exposure effect you would need to add the color information together; thus, if you added black to a lighter image, you would not make it any darker, but if you added say white to anything you'd make it white.

This can be done by selecting "screen" (not multiply) in layer options when you select your added layer. Note that to maintain the proper overall luminance you might have to lower the brightness on each image, much like you would do in a normal multiple exposure. Photoshop help will tell you that screen blend mode is similar to "projecting multiple photographic slides on top of each other" which is I believe what you want.

Corel Photopaint has much the same thing, but you'd select the much more aptly named "Add" blend mode.

Wayne Yoshida , Nov 26, 2000; 05:48 a.m.

I see Mark beat me to it! Just as well, he seems to have the much more concise solution...

David Mann , Nov 26, 2000; 10:28 a.m.

You really want to use the screen blending mode and then set the blend to use the opacity of the underlying layer to determine how to blend.

A tutorial on how to do this can be found at:



David Mann

Dan Smith , Nov 26, 2000; 10:45 a.m.

Actually, digital & photoshop is NOT a better way for double or more exposures when compared to using a good camera and excellent technique. Reference Elle Schuster being hired by Sinar do do a digital calendar using the multi layering abilities. She had to inform them she was not working with a computer, the images they thought were digital (with some up to 40 separate exposures on a single sheet of film) were all done with the basic Sinar view camera. No computers involved at all. Yes, she now does much on the computer but her original in camera work is stunning and if anything, even better than what she is producing now. As I see it, the main attraction of the computer images is that it can speed up aspects of multi image creation but is still no better than what goes into it. Too many use a computer to create something and think it should be looked at as wonderful just because a machine was used to do it. Kind of like the 'Leica mentality' applied to computers. Your images stand on their own no matter how they were created and the computer is, for too many, just one more way to put out a greater volume of mediocre work. Learn to use the camera to creat excellent images and then you won't have to rely on tricks and gimmicks.

Scott Eaton , Nov 26, 2000; 11:44 a.m.

Learn to use the camera to creat excellent images and then you won't have to rely on tricks and gimmicks.

What in the world does Elle Shuster using a view camera have anything to do with a Canon G1? View cameras by nature of their independent shutters are easily capable of double exposures. Many 35mm cameras, including my older Nikon gear, do a sloppy job with multiple exposures, and I'm hardly going to run and and buy a new 35mm SLR to appease the purist anti-digital crowd. Next discussion: the auto-focus capabilities of Canon vs Sinar.

FYI - multiple exposures in Paint Shop Pro equivelant to the Photoshop technique mentioned above can be achieved by using the Image>Arithmetic>Add option.

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