Looking to create a soft dreamy feel to your photos? Try out an image overlay. This technique combines an in focus and an out of focus photo of the same composition. The resulting image blends sharpness with a soft glow. You can use it for a variety of subjects, from landscapes to flowers. Let's look at how to shoot the two images, then how to combine them to create the final image.

Sharp photo: This image is a completely "regular" picture. It's properly exposed and sharp where you want it to be. By which I mean for a landscape you probably want it all sharp, but if it's a flower photo you may want a shallow depth of field.

Out of focus photo: Select the widest aperture setting for your lens (e.g. f/2.8, f/4). Keep the same composition as the sharp image (best to be on a tripod). Turn the focusing ring (in manual focus mode) to defocus the image. How much you defocus the image depends on the subject/scene and personal taste. I generally look to soften all detail in the subject, but maintain the general shape of everything. I don't want a completely indistinct mush of color. This image is also properly exposed (you're not over or under exposing).


Now that you've taken the two photos you need to blend them together to create the image overlay. This can be done in Photoshop or Elements. If you're using a Nikon camera and are shooting in the raw format you can probably do this in camera.

In Photoshop/Elements you want to have the two images as separate layers in the same file. The defocused image should be on top. Once you've got your layers set up all you need to do is reduce the opacity of the top layer (defocused image) to 50-60%. That's it!


If you're using a Nikon camera you likely have an Image Overlay option in the menus (usually located within the Retouch menu). Within Image Overlay you select the two photos from your memory card and reduce the opacity for each image. The number below the thumbnails is the opacity amount. It starts at 1.0; you want to reduce it to 0.5. When you save the resulting image it is saved as a new raw file on your memory card. The appearance is identical to the results you would get in Photoshop/Elements.