Creative Flower Photography – Tip #8: “Place a Picture Within a Picture”

by F.M. Kearney | September 16, 2013

© F.M. KearneyDouble exposures are a fun way to add a little creativity to your flower photographs. Sometimes, I’ll shoot a close-up, then pull back and shoot a much smaller version of the same flower—giving it the appearance that it’s “nestled” within itself. Other times, I’ll combine two totally different images.

The basic concept is simple: shoot one large image and superimpose a smaller one on top. The problem is being able to clearly distinguish one from the other, and to not have everything meld together into one big cluttered mess. I tried various methods to accomplish this and the best way I found was to simply underexpose the bigger image. However, if both images are shot in the same light, even underexposing isn’t always enough. It’s for that reason that I like to shoot on sunny days. By completely shading the larger image, and then, shooting the smaller image in direct sunlight, I’m able to achieve an even starker contrast through the different lighting conditions. Coupled with the overall underexposure, both images are now sufficiently offset from each other—creating a unique effect, whereby, the smaller image will appear to “float” in the center of the larger one.

Superimposed flower image © F.M. Kearney

The photo opportunities are endless, but they do require a certain degree of pre-visualization. For proper composition, it’s important to remember the exact location of the images within the frame. Personally, I find it easier to shoot the smaller image first. That way, I’m able to ensure I have an adequate amount of “dead space” around it. So that the smaller image (and only the smaller image) is superimposed onto the larger one, everything else needs to be “masked” out. I use a 3X3 square foot black cloth that’s laid on the cloth on the ground behind the flower.

When shooting double exposures, the exposure for both images must be halved in order for the two combined images to add up to the correct exposure. One of the easiest ways to do this is to set your exposure compensation to -1. Because the subject is so small and surrounded by so much black, it’s imperative to meter very carefully by spot metering the flower. This will avoid overexposing the shot.

Set your camera up for a double exposure and take the first shot.

When shooting the larger, underexposed image, move in close and try to fill the frame as much as possible. Spot meter the brightest part, then, underexpose by about 1/3 stop. This should give you just the right amount of underexposure—dark enough so that it doesn’t compete for attention with the smaller image, but not so dark that its features become unrecognizable. Next, block any direct sunlight from falling on it.

If taking pictures of two different flowers, try not to choose two of the same color. The effect will always look more dramatic if the colors of the two images are just as different as the exposures.

Two flowers, one image © F.M. Kearney

This picture-in-picture technique is a great way to introduce something a little different in your flower portraits.

Editor’s Note: This is the eighth in a series of photo tips by F.M. Kearney on thinking outside of the box when photographing flowers. See all of F.M.’s articles in this series »

About the Author

F.M. Kearney is a award-winning fine art nature photographer specializing in unique floral and landscape images. His work has been exhibited in galleries, and featured in numerous magazines, calendars and gift cards. He is a frequent contributor to NANPA's newsmagazine, Currents, and the weekly photography blogger for Contemporary Art Gallery Online.

Kearney began his career as a photojournalist for local New York City newspapers. Using the subway as his primary means of transportation to and from his assignments, he became quite familiar with the system. It eventually became the inspiration for his newly-released horror novel, They Only Come Out at Night. A slight departure from photography, it's a supernatural thriller set in the New York City subway.

To see more of Kearney's photography and to learn more about his book, please visit

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