Double Exposure on Film Tutorial

I shoot 3 different sorts of double exposures on film — the silhouette, the two photos in one double exposure, and the overlapping frames double exposure.  I have had so many people asking me how to do it, that I decided to write this simple how to do a double exposure on film tutorial for everyone.

double exposure of bride with palm tree in hawaii by wendy laurel-1-2
shot against a backlit sky and filled with palm trees (contax 645)

Its very similar to shooting them on digital cameras, same principles, but with film, you have to do it on the same frame and you cannot see what you are doing. I think that makes it more fun and sort of a surprise every time. But even with the anticipation of a happy surprise, there are techniques you can use to help you achieve the result you want.

1.    Silhouette

The goal here is to make an outline with your first frame, and then fill it with your second frame.

The First Frame

You need to shoot against a white background — it can be sky (which I usually use) or a white wall.  The reason is that in the second exposure, whatever you shoot, will only show up on the frame where there are darker areas of the image. The white parts are fully exposed and will record no more light upon those areas, so nothing will show.

For the first image, you are thinking about shape or outline.  Put your subject against the white sky or wall, and then expose in a way that will keep the white background and you can choose how much of their face to show.  If you want none or only a little of their face or body details to show (only outline) and you want mostly the second image to show, you are going to expose for their face to be a dark or black silhouette. Its easiest to do this shooting against the sun.

The darker your subject is, the more detail from your second frame will show on them. I tend to like a bit of their face to show so I don’t make a classic silhouette, but just them framed against the white.

Remember you are going to expose twice on this one frame, so you don’t want to overexpose or there will be too much light on the frame.  I play with the exposure, but tend to stop down one stop from where I normally want to be (because I know I’m shooting again on the frame).  For example, if I’m shooting Kodak Portra 160 and its a sunny day, I’ll pose my model against wide open sky backlit.  Not with the sun directly behind her (because I don’t want it in the frame) but slightly to the side.  That way I can get the sky to go whitish and have a bit of light on her face.  Normally, I might shoot a set up like this at f/2.8 1/250.  For the double, I choose to shoot it at f/2.8 1/500.  I don’t want to stop down too much as I might lose the whitish part of the sky (it will go bluer) and lose my outline.  If I want I’ll expose as if I want a completely black silhouette which will then fill completely.

Its harder with film to blow out the highlights of the sky than with digital so my outlines are not also so clean.  But I like that aspect of shooting with film as well.

double exposure on film of wedding couple and flowers by photographer wendy laurel-1
shot on beach backlit and filled with her bouquet (contax 645)


The Second Frame

Now to find something to fill in her outline with.  What works best is something with lots of color and texture.  I love flowers so that is one of my favorite things to do and if its a wedding, I can shoot the bride’s bouquet.  But other options are palm trees, ocean or sand (which because its lighter doesn’t show up as well, except as a texture really), trees, branches, fabric, mountain scenery, prints, really anything you can think of.  The trick with film is that it has to be something right there with you. You aren’t going to wait to later to fill the image — unless you aren’t using your camera again for a while — so be prepared and look around you. There is always something interesting. I love color so I look for lots of color.

For this second frame, I shoot closer and fill my frame with the second object (flowers, trees, whatever it is) and I again stop down on my exposure from where I normally would be by one stop.  I tend to not backlit this second frame but shoot it in the shade  (if its controllable, like a bouquet).

And I try to never do just one, Ill do this technique a couple of times and change the second frame or the exposure to give myself more options when the film comes back.

One of the best resources out there on shooting the silhouette double exposure (especially if you are shooting digital) is Sara Byrnes tutorial.

double exposure on film with pink flowers and girl with bun on head by wendy laurel-1e exposure on film with pink flowers and girl with bun on head by wendy laurel-1
i shot the silhouette darker so the flowers filled more of the outline and cleaner. (contax 645).
double exposures on film by maui photographer wendy laurel
left – shot against sky and filled with sand (contax) right – shot against white wall and filled with lemons (canon)


double exposure on film of girl with hands up and flowers and joy-1
shot against bright blue sky and ocean so I didn’t get the outline — filled with loose flowers. even though there is not the outline, I liked the feel of this image. (canon 1v)

2.    Two Photos in One

Making a silhouette is not the only way to use double exposure. One of the funnest to me, is just combining two photos onto one frame. And it can be anything.  What works well, are a near/far combo or a portrait/scene or detail combo. But it can be anything and its fun to be creative and fool around with this.

double exposure on film of salt on the rocks blonde with big yellow glasses against blue wall-1
I shot the two girls first and then moved in for the closeup. I choose the bright blue wall to minimize items in the frame and honestly I should have placed the closeup further right in the frame.. but oh well. (canon 1v)

The two things you need to keep in mind here are 1) exposure and 2) placement.

For exposure, again you are shooting twice on the same frame, so you want to stop 1 or 2 down from your normal settings so that you don’t totally overexpose your film.

For placement, you are have to sort of imagine what you are creating as you make it.  If you place two people far away as the subject  in your first frame, remember where they were, and then place your second subject in a different part of the frame so it doesn’t land right on top.  Its cleanest to do this technique against a clean background (wall, sky, ocean, grass etc.) so there aren’t a lot of competing items in the frame.

triple exposure on film of bride against ocean by maui photographer wendy laurel-1
triple exposure on canon 1v


double exposure of bridal party on film by photographer wendy laurel-1
I shot the full group wedding part first then moved into the groomsmen alone. just a simple background. (contax 645)

3.    Overlapping Frames

This trick is camera specific.  I use a lomo-wide.  Its my favorite little everyday camera.  The lomo wide lets you shoot either square frame or half frame. The overlapping square thing happens when you confuse the camera and open the lens wide for shooting square frame but choose half frame on the lever on the bottom of the camera. Then it lets me put 2 half frame shots on one frame with an overlap. This is by no means an exact science but its fun to play around with for a few frames.  I learned how to do this by doing it by mistake first.

Because its only double exposed where it overlaps and not in the majority of the frame,  I just expose normally for this type of image.

double exposure on film in lomo of girl in sunglasses too cool by wendy laurel-1
overlapping frames on lomo-wide — mirror image shots
double exposure on film of overlapping frames of girl in water and boy on rock-1
overlapping frames on lomo wide with water housing


4.   Cheating with Photoshop

double exposure on film of nyc skyline and colorful graffitti-1
2 film images layered in photoshop

I am all for doing everything in camera. Its why I shoot film and why I love the process.  It forces me to be more creative.  Its authentic.

BUT… sometimes I cheat.  This one time I had this brillant idea (ok maybe just brillant to me) but I was obsessed with capturing the NYC skyline and filling it with colorful graffiti.  The problem was that the graffiti was nowhere near where I could shoot the skyline and wasn’t even possible for me on the same day (I was stuck on a school tour with my daughter).  So I shot a film shot of the NYC skyline against a white sky just as if I was going to do a double.  But I exposed it correctly.  And then on the other day on a different roll of film I shot my filler image — a frame filled with rainbow colored graffiti off a building near Chinatown in NYC.

And after the film was scanned and I got my images back, I cheated with photoshop. I opened the skyline image in photoshop. Then I add another layer to it.  Then I opened my graffiti image and copied it. Then I pasted that into the second layer.  Then I choose to view both layers and pick “lighten” from the dropdown menu under the layers window.  Then play with exposure until I get the look I want.

photoshop cheat method of double exposure
from layers window in photoshop.. I choose lighten at 100%

I don’t do this often.. only when I have a concept in my head that I just really want and couldn’t get in camera.  I don’t recommend this as your method for double exposure.

double exposure on film of family wtih ocean fill by maui photographer wendy laurel-1
double exposure of caroline trans family + ocean – done in camera (canon 1v)

The Cameras

I shot the majority of my double exposures with my Contax 645 and my  Canon 1v.

With the Contax, on the left side of the camera, down near the bottom is a little lever. That is what you flip to make a double exposure.  Push the button and flip it down and it stops the film from moving forward.  So you flip it, shoot once, flip it up, and shoot your second frame.  Its really easy to forget to flip it up and keep shooting on the same frame.

With the Canon 1V, I have to open the side compartment on the right side of the camera for custom functions and use the button under M.Fn.  You hit the button and then use the dial on your camera to change the 1 to 2 on the window.   That shows how many exposures you can make on that frame. You can do 2 or experiment with making more. (Remember if you make more that you will want to underexpose accordingly.)  Once you shoot your 2, it automatically goes back to regular 1 image per frame mode so you don’t have to switch anything again.

tutorial on double exposures on contax 645 and canon 1v-1Polaroid cameras.

You just don’t pull the film and shoot again.  Pretty simple.

double exposure on polaroid by wendy laurel-1
polaroid with image shot twice with slight movement


Most cameras have options for double exposures.  Read your manual to find out how to do it on your film camera.

and most of all HAVE FUN and EXPERIMENT.   Don’t be scared to try new things.

bridal portrait double exposure with bouquet by wendy laurel-1
shot against white wall and filled with her bouquet (contax 645 + 45 mm lens)
double exposure on film of two girl holding hands and flowers by wendy laurel-1
girls laying on ground overlaid with loose flowers (canon 1v)

I welcome your comments below and Ill answer any questions you have. Thanks so much for reading this and have a great day.



Thank you so much Wendy!

you are welcome!

Soooooooo, you are an angel Wendy… just yesterday I’m all over the place looking for tutorials on this and nada… and here you go with a mindblowingly beautiful and easy one. Thank you lady, truly amazing! It’s Christmas in Feb. baby!

hahaha.. I did see your email this morning.. great timing.

This is incredibly exciting to learn, thank you! Can’t wait to experiment!

cant wait to see what everybody makes.. :)

Brilliant! Thank you for this. Can’t wait to try out something new!!! xo

Love this post! beautiful images Wendy!! thank you for all the helpful information.

Thank you for this tutorial Wendy! I have made some double exposures on film before but didn’t know what the process it. I am going to try it again!

I cannot wait to try this! Thank you for sharing!

Awesome tutorial!! Thank you so much for sharing all your hard work!!

This is perfect! Thank you so much for sharing.

Well, you know how much I ADORE all of these shots, especially the first image with the palm tree. I mean girl!! You are ridiculously talented and I’m pinning this post right now!! Thanks for sharing!!

i am so, so excited to try this!! your double exposures are just the best! so inspiring!! <3 thank you for this!! xo

“Its harder with film to blow out the highlights of the sky than with digital so my outlines are not also so clean.”

Get that you’ve never shot Fuji Velvia, or any other slide film, for that matter. Slide film has the same dynamic range as digital, so it WILL blow out your highlights if not exposed correctly.

yes.. that is true!

Ah, finally had a few minutes to check this out! Wendy, you are so rad and I love your doubles! Thanks for sharing!

thanks alpana

I’m trying to figure out if over exposure equals 1,2,4 on my cameras exposure knob or if it is 1/2, 1/4. I know that with multiple exposures it’s important to adjust but don’t know what number equals under exposed.


Your photos are incredibly beautiful – I’m such a big fan! Thank you so much for posting about double exposure, I cannot wait to give it a go.

Hey Wendy, thank you very much for this blog. Great advise here and very informative compared to other sites on this subject. Great photographs by you and I will be following you on instagram from now on. Thanks again. Chris

[…] la prise de photo ou au développement (qui se fait en chambre noir). On peut s’essayer à la double exposition directement sur le film (et non avec Photoshop), et en chambre noir, on peut varier le temps […]

beautiful! Thank you for sharing!

Thanks so much! Great tutorial on the theory, can’t wait to try it out! :-) love your photos as well.

Thank you so much for this tutorial! I can’t wait to go and try this on my next shoot on sunday :) <3

[…] Double Exposure by Wendy Laurel […]

Nicole Blumberg

Love this!! Thank you from my whole heart!! I had a question! With the first image are you able to share your settings? What did you meter and set your camera for on the girl?

Nicole Blumberg

never mind!! <3 <3

Hey Wendy,
thanks for this very simple explaination of double exposure. Now I see things in a clearer way. Can’t wait to make my second attempts with better technical background.
Have a nice weekend!

Daniel (from Leipzig, Germany)

Wow! I’m so impressed with your art. :) But is it even possible to make a double exposure on a rangefinder? Please respond. Thank you!

[…] có thể học hỏi. Trong tầm phủ sóng của mình thì mình đề xuất 2 cái tên là Wendy Laurel và Yoshitaka […]



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