Multiple Exposure Compositions

Multiple exposures are something that are relatively easy to do with many Nikon cameras, but are not available at all with Canon.  I am a Canon shooter (too much money in Canon glass to change now) and I was intrigued by the multiple exposures that I had seen Freeman Patterson produce, like “Rudbeckia Swirl” and “Maple Spiral”.

While I am no where near that proficient at creating the spiraled multiple exposure images, I have made a number of attempts, and developed a series of actions to build multiple exposure images from 9, 10 and 16 images.

To create them you start with a series of images with a zoom and rotation (you can work with different camera movements to create other effects that are also pleasing) with the rotation working around a point of interest.


When you stack these images you create an image that looks more like this:


Definitely quite a departure from the original series, and it creates an impressionistic interpretation that I find very appealing when done well.

You will find 2 separate series of actions.  The first stacks the individual images as layers and then uses a formula of 1/# of layers to set the opacity of each additional layer.  I find that this Opacity method produces somewhat flat colors at times, so I will frequently use a Lab color adjustment layer that I adapted from Dan Margulis’ technique.  This generally produces WAY too much color and requires a reduced opacity and frequently a layer mask to shield some of the color.  I’ve include a Lab Color Boost action in this Action Set.

The alternative method uses a blend mode of Multiply and brings up a Curves layer that is a rough estimate at a one stop lightening of the image.  Individual images generally require an overexposure of the square root of the number of images, so with a 9 and 10 image stack the action creates 3 of these Curve layers (one stop each) on top of each image, and in the case of a 16 image stack the action creates 4 of these layers.

Either series of actions can be used on fewer images, but it will attempt to close the background image when it runs out of images to process, so if you get a dialog with an option “Don’t Save,” press the “Cancel” button and the “Stop” button when it appears.  If you are using the Multiply methods, you may need to delete some of the layers that lighten each layer.

As always, please provide some feedback or suggestions so that I can improve the actions.

Mirror Montage Action

Like so many people, I tend to be deadline driven, and these first few posts are definitely that way. On Tuesday this week I am scheduled to give a presentation on Montages at my camera club, NVPS.  In preparation for that presentation, I’d like to have a number of my actions posted so that people will be able to download them following the presentation.  So that is why the double post on Sunday.

I had never even heard of a Mirror Montage until a couple of years ago when one of our members did an entire portfolio of Mirror Montages.  I believe that all of them were glass and steel buildings, so lots of mirrored glass and strong lines running out of the frame.  If you’ve never seen (or noticed a Mirror Montage) before, you essentially create bookends by duplicating an image and flipping it over, then butting the two halves together.

I took this image of a building with the highlighted tree:


And created a Mirror Montage with it to get this:


Many might argue about the rotation of the final image, but I liked the broader base holding the decreasing width building better than having the dark colors at the bottom and moving to the lighter colors.  Flipping it also has the benefit of creating a strong “peak” with the converging lines of the building. Oh well, you just can’t win them all!

The action set has 4 actions in it, depending on whether you want to mirror on the Top, Left, Right or Bottom of the existing image.  How you rotate the image after that is really up to you.

Overlay Montage Action

Another action that I have been working on a for a while is an Overlay montage action. I love a well done overlay, but I have difficulty myself determining which pairs of images will really compliment each other.  Over the last year I have found myself very attracted to shots of pure texture, and I’ve been working at merging those with appropriate images to produce nice overlays.  I’ve developed an action that creates the overlays by prompting you to open a second image, and then overlaying the two images.

Here is an original image, just some nice Babies Breath in front of a Rose:




Here is the texture image, a close up of a canon from the Yorktown Battlefield:




Here is the resulting overlay montage:




To run this action you do the following:

  1. Open the subject image.
  2. Run the action.
  3. You will be prompted to open the overlay image.
  4. Press Continue and an Open dialog will be displayed.
  5. Select the texture image and press Open.
  6. Use the Levels layers to adjust the relative brightness of each of the images, and the overall brightness of the image.

There is a “Stop” function at the end that displays a dialog with my website and blog address.  You can disable this by opening the action clicking on the check mark next to the Stop step.




For that matter, you can turn off the Stop function between images too if it is slowing you down.

Reverse Montage Action

I created this Action Set to produce a Reverse Montage. In simple terms, the background layer is duplicated and then the Duplicate layer is either flipped vertically or horizontally, or it is rotated. I’ve created separate actions for each of these types.

One of the actions was used to convert this close-up shot of a Ferrari F430


to a much more abstract-looking image like this:


I’ve worked with two separate techniques for creating these montages, one is based on the Opacity of the layers and the other is based on a Multiply Blend Mode. In many images, the two techniques are hard to discern, but in most images the techniques produce markedly different results. One may routinely work better for you, and personally I prefer the Multiply method in general.

To create the final image, it is often desirable to select the Duplicate layer and use the Move tool to adjust where the images should overlap. Then crop the image to the size and shape that is most appropriate for that image.

These actions are not intended to provide a completed image, but create all of the layers necessary to complete the effect. They simply eliminate all of the repetitive functions with approximate adjustments that can be fine tuned for individual images.

You can download the 6 separate actions as a single Action Set. Instructions for loading the Action Set are pretty simple. If you don’t understand mine, there are numerous other references on the Internet.

The actions are developed and tested on Adobe Photoshop CS3 for Mac, but they should function with most versions of Photoshop CS and Elements. If you have any difficulty, please drop me a comment here.

Import – Export Photoshop Actions

mgs_10Photoshop actions are a very powerful tool for automating repetitive tasks in Photoshop and they are simple to import and export.  For instance the technique that I learned from Dan Margulis to apply a L*a*b color boost to a photograph.  It is simple, produces beautiful color without a luminance shift, and is a standard adjustment that is blended by layer opacity.  So all of the work except for the final opacity adjustment is the same every time you used the technique.

An action can be used to duplicate the image, convert the image to the L*a*b color space, increase the slope of the A and B channels, copy the image, paste it as a new layer in the original image and adjust the opacity of that layer to ~50%.  With the action, all of these steps are condensed down to a 2 button clicks, one to select the action and one to run the action.


I have created a number of actions to make tedious processes less cumbersome, they can be found in the right panel under Actions.  Some of these tools work better under previous versions of Photoshop, for instance I have run into occasional issues with the Multiple Exposure actions under CS5 that I cannot explain because I cannot consistently reproduce them.  My best advice is, if it doesn’t run the first time properly, try reopening the images and running action again.

Installing Actions

I also wrote up a quick PDF on how to import or export actions in Photoshop, but there are also numerous tutorials on the web.  Do a search for “Import Photoshop Action” and there will be plenty of videos and tutorials from which to choose.