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Lightroom Editing Series

How to Edit a Double Exposure Scene in Lightroom

Images © Wei Xi Luo | Photograph IO. All rights reserved. For more Lightroom editing workflows like this one, click here. View the different steps distraction-free using the lightbox by clicking on the images.  In this second article on Lightroom editing, we’ll give a film look (without VSCO or any other presets) to a double exposure […]

Montreal Metro Multiple Exposure
The before/after result of this lightroom editing guide.

Images © Wei Xi Luo | Photograph IO. All rights reserved.

For more Lightroom editing workflows like this one, click here. View the different steps distraction-free using the lightbox by clicking on the images. 

In this second article on Lightroom editing, we’ll give a film look (without VSCO or any other presets) to a double exposure (an article on how to take multiple exposures is coming very soon) shot of people waiting in the Montreal Metro, Lionel-Groulx station textured with the picture of a wall. The first exposure of this image, the walls in the background, was shot at 1/30 sec @ f/4, ISO 800 while the second exposure, the people waiting on a bench, was shot at 1/15 sec @ f/4, ISO 800m both using a Fuji X-Pro1 with 18mm f/2 lens.

1) Distortion correction (or why the 18mm f/2 is soft in the corners)

Montreal Metro Double Exposure
Before distortion correction
Montreal Metro Double Exposure
After distortion correction

Although the Fuji X-Pro1 applies automatic distortion correction to its regular RAW files, multiple exposure RAW files produced by this camera doesn’t include that correction for whatever reason. This is something to keep in mind especially if you shoot with an *extremely* high distortion lens such as the 18mm f/2 XF R lens. No, I am not saying that this lens is bad, in fact, I would expect such a compact lens with fast aperture to have a high amount of distortion. But many people on the web wonder why this lens’ sharpness isn’t that good in corners, and that is because Fuji does automatically correct distortion to make it invisible, thus rendering corners soft.

But what happens when no distortion correction is applied? Well … an extremely pronounced barrel effect. Although I don’t know the exact distortion values to correct this lens, dialling + 20 (!!!) and constraining it to crop seemed to do the job. 

2) Cropping, straightening and white balance

They were spot-on and therefore I didn’t modify any of these in Lightroom. As for straightening, the very slight tilt of the image makes it more interesting than if it were perfectly flat.

3) Basic exposure and contrast

Montreal Metro Double Exposure
-0.35 EV, +50 contrast

Sometimes it is best to ignore the histogram or the exposure meter. Yes, I know, I am underexposing the image even further by dialling down -0.35 EV and +50 contrast, but that is exactly the feel that I am looking for. A bright spot of light surrounded by darkness.

4) Advanced exposure, tonal editing and B&W conversion

Montreal Metro Double Exposure
Punching the image a bit more : +38 highlights, +62 whites, -34 shadows, -10 blacks

Even after a contrast bump, the image still felt too ‘linear’, or flat. I decided to punch the picture further by increasing the highlights and whites respectively by +38 and +62, and decreasing slightly the darker areas by -34 for the shadows and -10 for the blacks. Also, +15 vibrance was added for the extra color without saturating everything as saturation would’ve done (vibrance only saturates the less saturated parts of an image while saturation boosts everything equally).

5) Global tone curves

Montreal Metro Double Exposure
S-Curve for the film look, and a bit of fade in the blacks

Ahh … tone curves! Although you can make a quick edit using only the exposure sliders, the use of curves is necessary for advanced Lightroom techniques, such as simulating a film look. One distinctive characteristic of digital photography is in its linear, or flat tonal response, while film has a logarithmic response more resembling an “S-curve”. First, if you wish to edit using tone curves in Adobe Lightroom, I strongly suggest you switch to point curve edit using the small button in the bottom-right corner of the tone curve panel. Compared to the default highlights, lights, darks, shadows slider, point curve allows you much greater control over the overall tonal response of the image as well as individual RGB channel curves. In fact, the default curves sliders are not much different from the Lightroom exposure sliders, therefore I do not really see any reason why you would use them.

When to use curves? While basic color editing can usually be done using the exposure sliders, if you are looking at reproducing a particular film look or if you are dealing with advanced tonal editing (e.g. HDR’s, some black and whites, etc.), tone curves is a good (and only) option. Curves allows you to seek advanced and vintage effects without looking like crap Instagram filters. In this image, I’ve added a slight S-curve as well as a bit of fading in the black areas to mimic the look of film.

6) RGB Specific Tone Curves

The shadow areas of the image were too neutral to my taste, therefore I decided to bump the blue channel a bit more in the dark areas for the blue tint.

Montreal Metro Double Exposure
Blue channel editing

As for the green channel, I’ve very slightly reduced the intensity in the shadow areas so that the blue tends more towards purple rather than green. It is purely an aesthetics taste and probably won’t affect the final image much.

Montreal Metro Double Exposure
Green channel editing

7) Split toning

Although tone curves pretty much made the whole film look, I felt that the shadow areas were too purple and wanted to add a bit more cyan to it. The quicker way of doing things is by going into split toning and adding a blue shadow (200) hue with 30 saturation, and +75 balance to reduce the effect of split toning.

Montreal Metro Double Exposure
Split toning : 200 shadow hue, 30 saturation and +75 balance

8) HSL and effects

Skip, since all of these effects were irrelevant for the film look we’re trying to get. Yes, you can add artificial grain in the effects panel, but as a matter of personal taste, I do not like artificial grain very much. Why not get the great film tones while keeping the detail and overall cleanness of digital?

9) Sharpening, detail and noise reduction

Finally, here comes the sharpening part of this Lightroom editing guide. As this image was shot at 1/30 sec while moving, it has a bit of motion in it that, coupled with a bit of noise at ISO 800, makes the image quite soft at 100%. (At a same ISO sensitivity, multiple exposure pictures tend to have much, much higher noise compared to regular pictures) Does sharpness really matter? No. Not at all. But it doesn’t mean that I can improve sharpness a bit. The aggressive sharpening with a bit of luminance noise reduction seems to do the trick.

Montreal Metro Double Exposure
No sharpening applied
Montreal Metro Double Exposure
After aggressive sharpening

Is it smudgy? Does it have the dredged “watercolor effect” that Lightroom likes to make with Fuji X-Trans files? Hell yeah. But do keep in mind that these are 300% crops, not the usual 100% crop you’re used to see. The overall detail is a lot better than in the unsharpened version.

10) Camera calibration

-10 blue saturation for slightly less punchy red and orange tiles. The effect is barely visible, skip this if you want.

Montreal Metro Double Exposure

Final result

This sums up the second guide on Lightroom editing from start to finish! Arguably, this image was a lot trickier to post-process than the first one, but I am very pleased with the overall results. But here’s what I didn’t tell you in the beginning of this tutorial : I originally did post-process this image using VSCO, more precisely the Afga Vista 800 Cool preset. But this is my attempt of recreating the VSCO film look without any of their presets, and it does look pretty similar.

Montreal Metro Double Exposure
Final result

And here’s the original version of this image processed using a VSCO preset :

Montreal Metro Double Exposure
VSCO processed image

Of course, there are subtle and not-so-subtle differences between the two images. Which one do you like better? Share it in the comments below. Hopefully, this guide has showed you that you don’t need fancy VSCO presets to get a film look if that’s what you’re looking for. But in the other hand, if you want convenience and tons of other presets, buying VSCO film presets is totally worth it, even if they tend to be a bit heavy effect-wise.


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3 replies on “How to Edit a Double Exposure Scene in Lightroom”

It is pretty amazing that you managed to simulate a film look really close to VSCO while going all manual. Congrats! I like the first one better, though 😛

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