How to overlay images in Photoshop. 

A photo overlay can transform a basic image with different layers, blending, and effects – adding extra dimensions and new textures.

Learn more about what photo overlays involve, the best places to use them and how they work in Photoshop by reading our step-by-step guide.

Sky and clouds with an image of a woman standing in sand overlaid over it

What you'll learn:
 

What are overlays in photography?
 

Photo overlays are a simple yet effective way for photographers to add some fresh elements to an existing image by combining it with another picture. They’re designed to enhance and build on an image’s original features to take it to the next level.

Photographers often choose to overlay images when editing landscape, wedding, or nature pictures – bringing them to life with different textures and lighting effects. Photo overlays are also a popular way to generate collages and double exposures.
 

How do overlays work?

A different image or texture is dropped onto an existing photo in the form of an additional layer. The blending, colour, and opacity of this new layer can then be adjusted to merge the two images and ultimately enhance the original photograph.
 

How long have overlays been a thing?

Overlaying has a long history in the world of photography. Before the digital age, photographers often deliberately scratched their negatives or overexposed pictures to add different textures and effects. Staining photos and tarnishing them with rough materials was another popular way of treating images.

Thankfully, the rapid rise of image editing software has made photo overlays much more practical, quick, and accurate. You can easily overlay in Photoshop by adding extra layers to a picture and merging them – tweaking the different effects until you have a composite image you’re happy with. 

Clouds and water overlaid together with the Adobe Photoshop overlay tool

When should I use photo overlays?

Photo overlays allow you to combine multiple images in a single frame. This means they can serve a wide range of purposes – from injecting subtle artistic touches into an existing image, to blending lots of pictures together to create something entirely new.

Popular uses for photo overlays include:


Creating composite images.

Learning how to overlay photos helps you bring basic or even uninspiring images to life with just a few artistic touches. The possibilities are endless. You could add weather effects like rain, sunshine, or snow, completely reimagine the colour and lighting of the sky, recreate camera effects such as sun flares, or introduce an entirely new object into the original shot.

Water condensation on black surface
Bright light.
Golden sunrise

Pulling collages together.

Stacking multiple photos, patterns, or designs can create a unique collage image. Simply add different photos to your original image as new layers and arrange where you want them to go. Then merge each layer using Photoshop’s sophisticated blending modes, layer masks, and transparency settings, to create a new collage.

Pop Art image.

Adding new textures.

Photo overlays don’t have to completely revolutionise a picture. You can subtly change its style with the help of new textures and patterns. Play around with different paper textures or add hints of foliage and greenery.

Black creased cardboard.
Ancien manuscript.

Double exposures.

Double exposures add a new dimension to an image by subtly blending it with another one. They’re generated by layering a second photo on top of an original image. A ghostly or dramatic effect can be created by reducing the opacity of the overlaid image.

Learn how to make a double exposure effect in Photoshop

 

Woman and mountain summit image.
Cityscape and legs walking

Enhancing fashion and wedding shots.

A photo overlay can transform an image into a glossy, high-end piece of work by altering its mood, colours, and lighting. Overlays are often applied to fashion and wedding portfolios for this reason. 

Black background and gold glitter squares.

How to overlay photos in Photoshop: method one.

Photo overlays have the power to transform a simple or uninspiring image – and the good news is it won’t take you long to grasp the basics.

Here’s a step-by-step guide about how to overlay photos for the first time. This method allows you to start experimenting with the basics of photo overlays. It’s ideal if you want to quickly add some new elements or colours to a picture – for example, to create lighting or weather effects.

step

Open the basic image you want to enhance in Adobe Photoshop. Also ensure the secondary photo you intend to use as an overlay is saved on your device. Whether you’ve downloaded it from a website or it’s your own image, make sure you have a hard copy somewhere.

step

Add the secondary overlay image to the original photo as a new layer. You can simply do this by dragging the secondary image file from its saved location on to the original image in Photoshop. As an example, you could add a sunrise image as an overlay to change the skyline, mood, and lighting of a landscape photo.

Lush green fields and mountains
Fluffy clouds.
step

Resize, drag and drop your secondary image until it’s exactly the right size you want, and in the correct place, in relation to the original photo. Hit ‘Enter’ when you’re happy with its size and position. This will keep it locked in place.

step

Change the opacity and blending mode. You’ll have the option to reduce the opacity of the photo overlay from 100% within the ‘Layers’ panel. A range of blending modes are also available to test out – just change the mode from the default ‘Normal’ option. See method two below for more on blending modes.

step

Click ‘Export’ or ‘Save’ once you’re happy with your newly combined image and select a file name and location to store it. Once again, you can choose from different image file formats when saving.

Colour overlays can also be added to either an original photo or a composite image you’ve created and saved using other overlays. 

Simply open the image file in Photoshop and click ‘Create a New Adjustment Layer’ in the bottom toolbar of the ‘Layers’ panel. Then click ‘Solid Colour’, and a range of colour options will appear. Choose the colour you want to add to your image as a new layer. Finally, you can double-click your new colour overlay layer in the ‘Layers’ panel once it’s been created to edit its opacity and blending mode.

Yellow sunrise with palmtrees.

How to overlay photos in Photoshop: method two.

Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can use Photoshop’s blending modes to create more sophisticated photo overlays.

Blending modes are particularly helpful if you want to subtly change the texture or mood of your original photo, rather than completely overhauling its colour or adding lots of new elements. As the name suggests, they simply blend two photos together using varying levels of light and shade.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to using different Photoshop blending modes.

step

Open your original image in Photoshop. As before, drag the secondary photo you want to use as an overlay on to the original image. It’ll automatically become a new layer. Then finalise its sizing and position.

step

Add layer masks to block out any parts of the secondary photo you don’t want to be blended. Click on its layer in the ‘Layers’ panel, followed by the camera icon in the bottom toolbar and finally ‘Add Layer Mask’. You can then block out specific areas of the photo using a black brush, before applying a white brush to highlight the areas you want to be visible.

step

Apply a blending mode to your photo overlay. Click on the blending modes dropdown menu within the ‘Layers’ panel to change it from the default ‘Normal’ setting. You’ll then see a range of blending modes you can experiment with.

step

Commonly used blending modes include ‘Multiply’, which darkens images and can be helpful in enhancing overexposed photos; ‘Screen’, which helps to lighten images; and ‘Overlay’, which aims to improve contrast by multiplying dark areas of an image and screening the lighter areas. Depending on which mode you choose, you might ultimately be able to achieve a similar style to these images:

Bearded man sitting back relacing, with mountain landscape in the background.
Wonman with hair in a bun side profile, with clouds in the background.
2 men in suits shaking hands with city skyline in the background.
step

Click ‘Export’ or ‘Save’ once you’re happy with your newly combined image and select a file name and location to store it. Once again, you can choose from different image file formats when saving.

Overlaying images in Photoshop: frequently asked questions.


Does Photoshop come with overlays?

Photoshop offers a wide range of built-in colours, effects, and editing tools. However, it doesn’t come with its own photo overlays. That’s because overlays are separate image files that you move into Photoshop yourself. They can include your own photos and graphics – or ones you have sources from elsewhere. On Adobe Stock you can find everything from sky and colour overlays to light, pattern, and bokeh-effect options.


Can I use overlays in Lightroom?

Standard versions of Adobe Lightroom don’t allow you to add photo overlays to your images with the same ease as Photoshop. You may be able to find plugins online that make Lightroom overlays more straightforward. But for greater ease, speed, and accessibility, it’s best to use Photoshop when creating composite images or collages with the help of overlays.


What are colour overlays?

As the name suggests, colour overlays allow you to layer a different colour on to an image. You can manually create a colour overlay in Photoshop by setting up a new layer, adding your chosen colour to it, and then deciding the opacity and blending levels you want to give it. You can also download ready-made colour overlays from the web, including vintage and gradient overlays from professional designers.

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