How to Create Double Exposure Images in Photoshop

Marvels of double exposure.

Posted by Graphics to Go on March 9, 2016

 

Originally Posted by Andrew Huls

You don’t look at Aneta Ivanova’s beautiful double exposure photography. It hits you. The photographer’s images — frequently organized by series — feature silhouettes mingling with beautiful images of landscapes, buildings, or flowers. All are marvels of double exposure, created through a mixture of tremendous camera work and skillful use of Photoshop, and the effect is never less than stunning.

We spoke with the Bulgarian local to learn about what goes into her work. See her insights, tips, and more of her captivating work below.

Photo © Aneta Ivanova
Photo © Aneta Ivanova

Find the Extraordinary

Every artist or designer knows that moment when they come upon something that just feels creatively right — something they have to do more of. Ivanova is no different. “It was very extraordinary when I started doing it,” she says of her double exposures. “At first, I started doing double exposures with portraits. It was not cool.” But once she moved to landscapes and silhouettes, everything clicked, and she fell in love with all the possible combinations between the two. “It’s about the relationship between the two images and developing that greater relationship between them. They are never random,” says Ivanova of her images, which evoke such powerful emotions.

Make Your Work Personal, Then Expand It

Ivanova’s double exposures began with a very particular focus. “They were more about expressing what I saw and felt when I was traveling.” It’s why several of her series are named after cities or countries (Venice, Varna, Germany) and feature their unique architecture merged with images of women.

But with time Ivanova expanded her work. “I started doing more and more double exposures with what was surrounding me, like towns, the sea, nature, floral elements, and so on.” She found that the natural world offered a lot of possibilities to evoke emotion, guiding the personal, intimate tone of her images.

Photo © Aneta Ivanova
Photo © Aneta Ivanova

Have a Very Exact Idea About What You Want

One thing that stands out in Ivanova’s work is a confidence and assuredness. That’s no accident. Ivanova goes into her projects with very precise ideas about what she wants to achieve. “I see the finished image in my mind and I know exactly what I want,” she says.

Her images begin with shooting a building, or a landscape, or a flower, and then she moves on to shoot people — usually models, and sometimes her sister. The key for Ivanova is getting the images captured as perfectly as possible in-camera. “I just have to know the perfect lighting, or the right exposure, because I’ve got to get both shots perfect.” That being said, the idea for the finished image can happen at any time. “For example, in the image with the birds from the ‘Nature’ series (below), I just had it in my mind that the whole face should be cut out from the very beginning. But with the image of the rocks in that series, it came out while I was shooting the model. So sometimes the idea comes from the very beginning; sometimes the decision comes in the process.”

Photo © Aneta Ivanova
Photo © Aneta Ivanova

Start with Creating One Image, Plan to Create More

When Ivanova shoots, her intent isn’t to create a single image. She likes to leave room to improvise and create more. “That’s why in my series I always have more than one picture. Most of the time I just imagine the first picture and then say, ‘Okay, let’s experiment a little bit’ and the end result is not one picture, but many.”

The Path to Double Exposure with Photoshop

Ivanova’s images look so otherworldly it can be easy to assume there’s an elaborate Photoshop process involved in creating her double exposures. The opposite is true, she says. “It’s actually pretty easy. It’s just setting one layer over another and setting the blending mode to ‘Screen.'” Ivanova does admit she’ll tinker with other features in Photoshop as well. “I’ll do some contrast and color, and sometimes I’ll also burn and dodge some parts of the images, or put a mask on one of the layers.” Oh, and if you’re wondering why “Screen” blending: “When I first started doing double exposures, I searched for blending modes which were closest to real double exposures. ‘Screen’ was the closest one.”

Photo © Aneta Ivanova
Photo © Aneta Ivanova

Play Until You Get It Perfect

We had to ask Ivanova about one of our favorite images, where a woman’s hair turns into seagulls. Ivanova explained: “I had the image in my mind for a very long time. I went to the beach for two or three days in a row trying to get as many shots of seagulls as I could. The seagull image here is actually a lot of images combined into one (working with blending mode). After I got the seagulls, and the form of them, I took the silhouette photo and I combined them. I did a lot of fixes, because it was kind of hard to create this effect of a woman just dissolving into the birds. I had to play in order to get it perfect and real.”

Photo © Aneta Ivanova
Photo © Aneta Ivanova

Try to Get the Best Shot In Camera (But Know You Can Add to It Later)

Just because the main effect of Ivanova’s images — double exposure — happens in Photoshop, doesn’t mean she can neglect her camera skills. “I know my camera very well, and I know how much I can do with it.” Just because you know Photoshop is waiting doesn’t mean you should neglect your shots. It just means you know there is support if you need it. Says Ivanova, “I try to get the best image in my camera, but I know that sometimes I just can’t. I try and take the best photo in camera, but know I can play around with Photoshop afterwards.”