Digital Focus: Double-Exposure Tricks

Feature: Create a Double Exposure With Layers

Double exposures are handy for all sorts of photographic situations. I've used double exposures to capture ghosts on film, to photograph two of me playing ping pong, and to capture a time-lapse shot of a birthday cake new and half-eaten in the same frame. Such pictures can be cool, but they're really an artifact of the film photography universe. So does that mean you can't take double exposures with a digital camera?

Well, not exactly. Thanks to the magic of digital photography, it's actually easier to get the perfect double exposure on a computer than it is to do it by trial and error "in the lens" of a 35mm camera. In fact, combining two pictures in an image editor is a simple matter of using layers, so you've got complete control over transparency to allow just the right amount of both pictures show through. Let's give it a shot.

Blurring Flowers

Suppose you've taken a nice, sharp shot of some flower stamen, but there's something missing. What you'd really like is to add a soft, dream-like quality to the photo. One fun and easy way to do that is to create a double exposure from two pictures: one in sharp focus, and the other quite blurry.

To get those two shots, you'll want to use a tripod. That way you can take two virtually identical shots, certain that the camera won't move. Take the first photo normally, in sharp focus. Before you take the second shot, set the camera to manual focus and intentionally blur the image. Then take the second shot, being careful not to jostle the camera as it sits on the tripod.

Working With Layers

Now it's time to combine the photos. In Jasc Paint Shop Pro, open the sharp version. Make sure you can see the Layer Palette on the right side of the screen. If you don't see the palette, choose View, Palettes, Layers from the menu and it should appear. By default, this layer is called Background. To make the layers easier to tell apart, let's rename this one. Double-click Background in the Layers Palette and change the name to Sharp Flower. (If you see a dialog box after you double-click Background asking to promote the picture to a full layer, click OK.)

Now open the blurry flower in Paint Shop Pro and immediately choose Edit, Copy. Close the image; we don't need it because we copied it to the clipboard. Then choose Edit, Paste, Paste As New Layer to stack the blurry picture on top of the sharp one. This is a good time to rename the new layer (currently called Vector 1) to Blurry Flower.

Fine-Tune the Double Exposure

When you make a double exposure with a 35mm camera, you control the relative strength of each image by varying the exposure time. If you expose the sharp flower longer than the blurry flower, the sharp flower will appear more prominently in the finished shot. Using layers in an image editor, you can get the same sort of effect by controlling the transparency (or opacity) of the top layer.

Double-click on the Blurry Flower layer in the Layers Palette and zoom out, if needed, until you can see most or all of the picture in the preview window. Then change the opacity level of the Blurry Flower layer. By lowering the opacity, you let more of the sharp flowers show through. Try settings of 25, 50, and 75, for instance, and notice how the different opacity levels give you very different effects. When you find a level you like, click OK and save your masterpiece.

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