How to Make a Better Double Exposure in Photoshop
Double exposure is a great digital art technique and it’s very popular because you can get really high-end results with a little effort. I’ve done several over the years for magazine covers and editorials. Where a lot of double exposures fail is with a boring silhouette. In this Photoshop tutorial, I’ll show you how to create a custom brush that will make the edges of your double exposure much more interesting. Of course, I’ll show you how to create a double exposure along the way. We are using Photoshop 2022, but it will work in any version of Photoshop.
Start with a photo. A profile picture is a good way to start.
Now let’s select the person in the picture
Choose the object selection tool
Click Select Subject to load a selection around the woman.
Press Cmd/Ctrl+J (Cmd mac / Ctrl Windows) to copy the selected area to a new layer
We will now add a solid white layer between the original and the cutout
Choose a new adjustment layer and a solid color
Select the blank for the layer and drag it below the cutout layer.
Pick an image that we’re going to use to overlay with our persona. I use a photo of a tree. Choose File > Place Embedded to get the second image, or dig it from another window or library (How to Combine Images in Photoshop)
If the image is below the person, drag it up the layer stack.
To fit the image inside the die cut, we’ll create a die group.
With the cursor between the 2 layers in the Layers panel, hold down the alt/Option key. You will see an arrow. Click to clip the top layer to the one below.
Here’s what it should look like with the top layer cut to the shape of the cutout.
Let’s mix the layers together.
Top layer selected, choose Normal and change it to screen in the layers panel.
In screen mode, you will see the 2 images blend together.
Screen blending mode produces a result like shining 2 projectors with different images on the same screen.
Press Ctrl/Cmd+L to open levels.
Move the right white triangle to the center. By doing so, you will notice that the brighter areas turn white and the effect is even better.
As you can see, the mix is really nice. However the edges are a little dull. Let’s spice them up by adding tree branches all around.
Make a brush in Photoshop
To add the cool looking twigs or branches, we’ll create a brush from a photo.
Find a photo of a tree
Press Ctl/Cmd+L to open curves
Drag the white slider to brighten the light areas.
Use the black slider to darken the shadows.
The more contrast, the better when doing a brush.
Now we need to blur the background. These hard edges will not work well on a brush.
Choose White as the foreground color.
Choose gradient tool
Select foreground to transparent as gradient type and linear
Create a new layer
Apply the gradient to fade the bottom
Grab the Rectangular Marquee Tool
Make a selection around the area that we are going to turn into a brush.
Choose Edit > Define Brush
A new brush will be created and added to your brush library.
The brush will also be active in the brush tool.
Create a new layer just above our cutout layer. We are going to paint on the new layer.
Before painting, we need to unclip the new layer from the cutout and clip the top tree layer to the new layer. (move cursor between layers and alt/option+Click) This will allow us to see what happens when we create the new edges.
The screen effect won’t show up on the woman right now, but it will show up on new brush strokes we create, we’ll easily fix that later.
If any of this is confusing, please watch the video at the top as it’s a pretty simple process once you see it.
Your layers panel should look like this. Note: The Levels adjustment is displayed because the tree layer is a Smart Object. If it wasn’t a smart object you won’t see the levels, either way it will work the same for this tutorial. If you don’t see the levels, it doesn’t matter.
Make sure the bush tool is active and set the color to black, although the color doesn’t really matter.
We are going to change the brush a bit and paint around the edges. Here are some shortcuts to help you with the brush.
Use the arrow key to rotate the brush, so that the branches point towards the middle. If you don’t see the brush overlay, use the [ ] support keys to change brush size.
As we paint with the edges of the brush, we will see the branches start to appear around the edges of the image.
This type of brush should not be moved. Click to dab with the brush.
Open the brush settings and use Rotate, Flip X, Y and Size to vary the brush strokes so they don’t look too repetitive.
Here we painted all around. It’s a little more repetitive than what I like on the arm, but it’ll work. (If the size had been varied, it would look even better,)
Notice that the screen effect works on the edges, but not on the woman. Let’s settle this now.
Hold down the Shift key and click on the woman layer in the Layers panel.
Both layers should now be selected (the edge and the woman)
Right-click and choose Convert to Smart Object
The 2 layers will now appear as one and the screen effect should work correctly.
If not, be sure to attach the top layer to the female layer.
We now have the basic double exposure.
If you want to color it, create a new solid color adjustment layer on top of it. Switch to color blending mode
Adjust the opacity for the effect. All of this is shown in the video above.
Here’s what the end result looked like after adding a few more elements and doing some masking.
Of course, there are so many directions you can take.
Thanks for checking out this week’s tutorial.
If you like this kind of tutorial, this is actually an example from my brand new course I released today! Photoshop Layers is all about using layers and masks in Photoshop to create digital art, design, collages, compositions, and more. There are introductory lessons on the basics, then we move on to several projects to make the learning experience hands-on and fun.
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More info here.
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