Create a Double Exposure with Photoshop

Learn all about how to create a double exposure effect in Photoshop. We will dive deep into the how and why of all things double exposure in this Adobe Photoshop tutorial. Learn what types of images to use in your double exposure for the best results and all kinds of selection, masking, and color tips and tricks along the way.

The photos that work best for double exposures are photos where you can see enough detail to be able to distinguish that it’s a human face with ease just from a silhouette of the image. If you can clearly distinguish the nose and chin that’s a great starting point!

Silhouettes or under-exposed photos with strong edge lighting work really well.


Better to have the subject of the photo sharply in focus. Watch out for shallow DOF images where the image begins to fall out of focus by the time you get to your subject’s ears.

Look for a simple and clean background for an easier time making a clean selection.

It’s fun (and useful!) to think of double exposures as if the recipient’s head is almost like a snowglobe that will contain a little world that is in the process of bursting out of that person’s head shape.

Open our image in Photoshop.

Duplicate the background layer.

Create a selection around the subject’s head and body.

In the video, I show you how to use the Quick Selection tool together with Select and Mask to create and refine this selection. Output to a new layer with layer mask.

Duplicate this layer with mask and shut off the duplicated layer. This is in case we mess everything up. We always have a copy of our original mask to fall back on.

Select one of the layers containing our subject and convert this to a Smart Object. The mask is now wrapped into the smart object with our subject.

Drag in the train photo and place it on top of the subject.

Duplicate the subject and place it on top of the train image.

Set this copy of the subject to the Lighten blend mode.

Duplicate the mask from the subject up to the train image.

Use the blend-if sliders. Split the bottom, black blend-if slider and dragged to about 60.

Duplicate the train layer and set it to the blend mode Screen. Reduce the opacity to 50%

Next, use new masks on both the layers containing our subject to paint away parts that you don’t want and to clean up the edges a little bit. Generally, for this kind of double exposure, a medium to large, soft-edged brush works perfectly. Feel free to reduce the opacity of the brush to weaken it and give you more smooth control while building the double exposure. 

Add a black and white adjustment layer and boost the brightness of reds, greens, cyan, blues, and magentas. Play with all the levels until it looks bright and contrasting.

Create a new layer and name it “Darken hair tips”  load the selection of our subject and use a large brush or a black to transparent gradient to add a little bit of Darkness at the very top of his hair to ensure that the sky does not wash out above the trees. 

Merge all visible layers to a new layer.

Convert this new layer to a Smart object.

Apply a camera raw filter.

Reduce the exposure and contrast, boost the shadows and reduce the highlights, add some texture, clarity, and dehaze.

Add a little touch of sharpening and a little bit of grain as well.

Commit these changes and go back to photoshop. 

Dragon of the birds stock photo and set it to multiply. Use a mask to remove a few Birds if you like.

Add a gradient map adjustment layer and use the Mango Tangerine (this is a gradient that I created and saved on my computer) gradient.

Add a color lookup table adjustment layer. Set this layer to the overlay blend mode and choose the “filmStock50 LUT.” Reduce the layer opacity to 35%.

Drag in some dust and scratches. Invert the color and set to Multiply. Reduce the opacity to 30%

Create a flare using a big brush. Create a soft white dab and duplicate the layer 3x.

Lowest layer: Change to red, set to Screen, and 40% opacity.

Middle layer: Change to CTO type orange, set to Screen, & 50% opacity.

Top layer: Change to CTO orange, set to Linear Dodge (Add), uncheck “Transparency Shapes Layer” in Layer Styles dialog, and reduce fill opacity to 15%.

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