Traditionally, multiple exposure images were a combination of two or more exposures by a camera to create a single image. Whilst this created, and still can create, an awesome effect, today’s technology allows us to have more control over the outcome when recreating the effect using Photoshop. And thankfully it couldn’t be easier! Using blend modes and layer masks, people have created an endless number of successful visuals that have been used as album covers, adverts, and other designs. 

If you still want to try creating a double exposure effect using a camera, with no Photoshop work required, then check out this article by Digital Photography School that takes you through some ways in which you can do so. 

Before we begin, if you want to become more familiar with Photoshop before you start this process, then check out our article that lists 50 Photoshop editing tutorials to help you get to grips with the workings of the program. And when you’re ready, let’s get started!

If you want to jump directly to the video tutorial, click right here.

1: Go to File > Open and Open Your Subject Image, Then Use the Crop Tool to Get Rid of Any Unwanted Areas

Of course, we’ll begin by heading to File > Open within Photoshop and choosing the relevant image to open.

For this process you’ll need two images; most commonly, people choose a subject (such as a person or an object) and a landscape (such as a forest or a city). You’ll want to open the subject image at this point.

file open document photoshop

For this tutorial, we used an image by Collis from Pexels. As you can see, this photo has a plain background. It’s best that for this process you use an image that has a clean background, as this will make the selection process later on a lot simpler.

image opened in photoshop

If you’re happy with the image, then leave it as it is. But if you want to crop any areas off the edges, then you can use the Crop Tool (C) to delete them.

2: Head to Image > Adjustments > Levels and Increase the Brightness and Contrast

In order to achieve the best outcome later on, we’ll now use the Levels adjustment option to make the image brighter and increase the contrast. To open the Levels options window, select Image > Adjustments > Levels from along the top of the screen.

level adjustment photoshop

Within the window, move the light slider to the left to increase the brightness, and move the left black slider to the right to add contrast. Click OK when you’re done.

level adjustment option window photoshop

3: Use the Magic Wand Tool to Select the Background, Then Invert the Selection to Select the Subject

The next thing we’ll want to do is get rid of the background. If you’re using a photo with a clean background like ours, then this couldn’t be easier. From the toolbar down the side, go ahead and select the Magic Wand Tool (W).

magic wand tool photoshop

With the tool selected, click anywhere within the background to select it.

black man portrait in photoshop

Then head to Select > Inverse along the top of the screen. Choosing these options will invert the selection, so that now the subject will be selected rather than the background.

selection inverse in photoshop

If you’re using an image that has a more busy background that would be harder to select with the magic wand tool, then check out the other methods you can use to select subjects listed in this article by Shutterstock, then carry on with this process when you’re ready.

4: Choose the Select and Mask Option from the Top of the Screen and Set the Following Values Within the Window

With the selection still loaded and the magic wand tool still selected, head to the top of the screen and click on the Select and Mask option to open a control window.

select and mask photoshop

In the options window that opens up, you can change the view mode of the layer to make any edits that you will make visible (for instance, by viewing it on a transparent or black background, the details of the edits might become clearer).

select and mask view mode photoshop

Under the Edge Detection heading, increase the Radius value to about 10 to reveal the smaller details around the perimeter of the subject, such as small pieces of hair.

Note that this value may vary depending on the size of your image, so feel free to experiment with it to find what’s best in your case.

select and mask radius option in photoshop

Also, in the Output Settings section, set the Output To option to New Layer with Layer Mask. This will automatically create a copy of the initial image with the background hidden by a layer mask.

select and mask option in photoshop

Click OK when you’re done.

5: Create a New Layer Below the Cut-Out Subject and Fill it With a Light Grey Using the Paint Bucket Tool

Next, we’re going to draw our attention to the Layers Window, which is likely to be located at the bottom right of your screen. Here, you’ll see a row of icons along the bottom. Click on the New Layer icon, as shown below.

new layer icon photoshop

Then head over to the toolbar down the left side of the screen again and choose the Paint Bucket Tool, which is represented by the icon shown below. It can also be selected by hitting G on your keyboard.

paint bucket icon photoshop

Use this to fill your layer with a neutral or light gray. This doesn’t have to be exact, so you can change it to fit your preferences.

light grey background in photoshop

Now click on the layer within the Layers Window and hold your mouse down whilst dragging the layer to be positioned beneath the cut-out subject layer. Your Layers Window should now look something like this.

layers panel window photoshop

6: Go to File > Open to Open Your Second Image and Add it Into the Subject Document Above the Cut-Out Subject Layer

By this point, we’ve got our first image and background sorted out. So, the next thing to do is to open our image that we want to incorporate into the subject one, such as a photo of trees or a cityscape. To do this, go to File > Open and choose the relevant image from your files.

photoshop open new file

We used an image by Henry & Co. from Pexels.

Photoshop will automatically open this image in a new document of its own. However, we want both images to be in the same document if we’re going to combine them. To achieve this, we can duplicate our new image into the original subject document that we were working on previously.

So, let’s head to the Layers Window of this new document and right-click on the image layer. From the menu that appears, click on Duplicate Layer.

duplicate background layer photoshop

Clicking this will open a small options window, where we’ll set the Destination to be the title of the document containing the subject under the dropdown menu.

duplicate layer to another document in photoshop

Click OK when you’ve changed it, and move back into the original document, where you should now see both of your images. You can resize the second image by hitting Ctrl + T [Win] / Cmd + T [Mac] if it’s too big or too small in comparison to the rest of the document.

images opened in photoshop

7: Click on the Layer Containing the Second Image. Hold Ctrl [Win] / Cmd [Mac] And Click on the Layer Mask of the Subject Layer to Load the Selection

Drawing your attention to the Layers Window of the original document, click on the layer containing the second image (the one we just added into the document) to make it active. You should see that it’s now the highlighted layer.

With the right layer active, you can now go ahead and hold down the Ctrl [Win] / Cmd [Mac] key on your keyboard whilst clicking on the layer mask of the subject layer. 

The selection of the shape of the subject should now be visible, marked by a moving dotted outline.

photoshop double exposure portrait

8: Click on the Layer Mask Icon at the Bottom of the Layers Window to Clip the Second Image to the Shape of the Subject

Now that the selection is loaded and the layer containing the second image is active, we can simply click on the Layer Mask Icon at the bottom of the Layers Window, as shown below.

photoshop add layer mask icon

You’ll now notice that the second image has adopted the silhouette shape of the subject, and the unwanted areas of it have been hidden.

photoshop double exposure effect

9: Click the Chain Icon Linking the Layer to its Mask to Move or Resize the Image Without Affecting the Whole Layer

Although the image now fills up the shape of the subject, it’s unlikely that it will be positioned within the shape exactly how we want it to be. To be able to transform or move the second image without applying that transformation to the whole layer (hence shifting the whole shape) we need to unlink the layer and its mask. 

This is pretty simple to do. Simply click on the chain icon that links the second image layer to its layer mask, making it disappear. 

You can then use Ctrl [Win] / Cmd [Mac] + T to resize or move the image as desired, hitting the Enter key when you’re happy.

photoshop double exposure image

10: Duplicate the Cut-Out Subject Layer and Drag it Above All the Layers to be at the Top

We’re now going to duplicate the cut-out subject layer, by right-clicking on it and choosing Duplicate Layer from the list that comes up. 

Then click on the duplicated version and drag it to the top of the layers in the Layers Window.

photoshop layers panel

11: Set the Blend Mode of the Top Subject Layer to Screen

Still working within the Layers Window, we’re going to choose the blend mode dropdown menu from the top of the window and set it to be Screen. Make sure you’re clicked on the top subject layer whilst doing this.

photoshop screen blending mode layer

You’ll now see that you’ve got some sort of double exposure effect going on!

photoshop double exposure portrait effect

12: Add a Layer Mask to the Top Subject Layer and Use a Soft Black Brush with a Low Opacity to Get Rid of the Second Image in Areas That Are Too Busy

To finish off the process, you may want to tidy up the effect in areas that look too busy. For instance, the effect may seem like too much around the eyes. You can sort this out using a Layer Mask.

So, let’s add a new layer mask by clicking on the icon shown below, located at the bottom of the Layers Window.

photoshop add layer mask icon

When working with layer masks, areas painted black correspond to areas where the layer becomes invisible, and areas painted white correspond to areas where the layer is visible. So, to hide the effect, paint over certain areas with a black brush, and use a white brush if you want to bring them back. 

It’s best to use a soft black brush, which can be selected from along the top of the screen, and to set the opacity to be quite low, so that you end up with a more seamless, smooth outcome.

photoshop brush options

Paint over areas until you’re happy with how the effect looks. And then you’re done! From here, you can make some color adjustments, add filters, or export it ready to use straight away!

I actually chose to duplicate the second image and rotate it as there wasn’t much going on at the left side of the subject. This was my outcome after playing around with it.

Final Result

photoshop double exposure portrait effect


Want to find out more about creating a double exposure effect in Photoshop? Then check out this video by Webflippy that walks you through the process.

About the Author Betchphoto

Martin is an amateur photographer and digital marketer who has more than 15 years of experience with Adobe Photoshop. Check his about page here