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credit: Jake Arthur Shonborn credit: Claire Frances Spaulding credit: Max Henry Boudman credit: Seunghee Kim
Doppelgänger Photograph [intro to digital image compositing]

[Project Narrative] [Instructional Narrative] [Visual Guide]

Project Narrative

A doppelgänger is a counterpoint, a double, an alter ego, look-alike, or twin. It is a theme that can be found in literature, folklore, mythology, cinema, media, popular culture, biology, reproductive science/technologies, psychiatry and psychology. There is a wide and flexible range of references, cultural contexts, and fields of study to pull from when introducing this project.

starting points

What kind of story?


This project is about constructing an illusion with photography and editing.

Students develop the subject of the photograph(s) by performing or interacting with their invisible self. Performance or interaction can take shape through: gestures, expressions, and/or a sequence or progression of movements, positions, etc. Alternatively students might physically respond to space, the architecture, or props/elements. Students should experiment with various directions and explore the use of exaggeration to communicate their ideas. Once the performance or interaction is identified, the activity takes place on camera. Inspiration for the subject behavior/activity can be found in performance art, rituals, reenactment, theater, cinema, dance, sports, fashion, portraits, old family snapshots, poses, etc. The best of these frames are composited later with imaging software (Photoshop or GIMP) to create the twin illusion.

Students seek out a relevant and meaningful location for their scene. This means scouting, identifying, observing the space, then making informed choices and modifications. All visible elements in the scene should be considered: lighting quantity and quality, foreground information, middle ground information, background information. Necessary modifications should be made: artificial lighting, props, etc. Inspiration/research for this portion of the project can be found in cinema and location scouting, theater/set design, dioramas and museum exhibits, tableau, genre art, or any other built or natural environment. Video games, virtual spaces, and Google Street view can be used for research, but the objective is identifying a real place/space where physical interaction and photography can happen.


angle of view, aperature, composite, depth of field, digital imaging, doppelgänger, exposure, file types, iso, narrative, perspective, pixel, photography, resolution, shutter speed, tableau, white balance

project deliverables

The final project deliverables for this project are photographs. These photographs require intentional subject matter in an intentional scene or setting. Photographic illusion is the goal. This project introduces conceptual development, project planning, camera use, and a range of constrained digital imaging techniques that will give students skills, agency and confidence in the careful planning and construction of photographic images. [note: this project is not about collage]

structure and timing

There are a few approaches to organizing the project schedule:

1 day version: project emphasis on group/team work, distribution of tasks, location constraints, timing constraints, simple ideas, quick execution, basic editing, printing proofs and seeing color discrepancies between screen and printer

1-2 week version: project emphasis on individual project planning, thoughtful idea and location development, intermediate editing, printing proofs and seeing color discrepancies between screen and printer, some time for revisions

2-3 week version: project more planning, multiple critiques/reviews of proofs, time for refining ideas and reshooting photographs as needed, time for targeting output/printing, time to discuss and demo archival considerations/presentation topics

As with any studio project, if more time is an option students can be prompted to revisit, rework, iterate any phase in the project to resolve conceptual, aesthetic, or technical issues. Mature or ambitious students might also discover a more compelling direction within their process, and "start over" from there.

Instructional Narrative

This project involves 3 phases of activity: pre-production, production, and post-production.

phase 1 of 3: pre-production

[ learn the tool: camera or device ] ​This project can be used to introduce the fundamentals of photography. Using an SLR (single lens reflex) camera as a tool introduces technical problem solving in tandem with creative decision making. Students should be able to: identify features and functions of the camera anatomy (body, lens, digital sensor, and camera specific dials, switches, buttons), understand basic exposure considerations and the influence of technical choices on aesthetics (shutter speed and aperture, ISO/ASA speed, camera specific modes), know how to control color (white balance options, color profile options), and choose the right image capture option (file types, file compression, file sizes, resolution (72 versus 300), know what target output means, be aware of camera raw. If students do not have access to SLR cameras, or there isn't time/investment to cover the fundamentals of photography, make do with available resources like point-and-shoot cameras or mobile phones/devices. Students can be introduced to just the technical basics to get started: battery power, setting basic functions/using the menus, checking/formatting media storage, and checking the lens or filter for dirt or smudges. You will have to be inventive with recommendations for stabilizing a point-and-shoot cameras or mobile devices. Before heading into the field to work, students should successfully test camera/device in class (make camera adjustments, take some photographs, and transfer the photos to a computer to check the file settings).

note: other interesting topics/themes might include the history of cameras, and the contemporary use of skeuomorphs as a connection to the analog/mechanical past

[ develop the narrative: sketch, storyboard, practice ] This project can be used to introduce ideation and project planning. There are many approaches to thinking and planning visually: sketches and storyboards, rough snapshots/photos of ideas including quick montages/collages, or the practice of physical gestures/exercises. In general students should develop at least two directions/variations so there is some contrast and comparison in the decision making process. Ideally there is review, critique, conversation, or check-in time built into this part of the process so students receive critical feedback on plans/directions.

note: if students are prompted to respond to a space, place, or architecture, rather than take a scripted approach, they may have to spend time out of class thinking and planning visually in situ/on location and location exploration might take precedence over narrative

[ scout the location: collect details, problem solve ] This project can be used to introduce site research. This involves finding a meaningful and intentional place where time can be spent without interruption. Students should consider the quality and quantity of available lighting, distance and travel to location, best time of day for light quality and shadows, potential weather, security issues, photography and tripod permissions, and personal safety.

note: consider assigning some location constraints here as needed according to local tendencies (e.g. bathrooms, cemeteries, public art yards, and playgrounds can seem like great ideas to students, but they will have to work hard to discover a way to transform these places)

phase 2 of 3: production

[ modify the scene ] This project can be used to introduce looking. It's very easy to think a place seems interesting, walk up to the edge of the environment, ignore the real lighting situation, take a photograph from average eye level, and be disappointed with the resulting photograph. Students should be prompted to spend time, move around, and look, while exploring the scene with their whole body. They should look through the camera/device and frame potential vantages. Once they find the right point-of-view, they need to establish a camera position paying close attention to foreground, middle ground, background, the horizon line level, and take note of distracting elements like irrelevant objects and converging architecture/structures. Intentional props, objects, artificial lighting, etc should be added to support the narrative. Unintentional elements should be removed or modified (furniture, people, leaves, trash cans, signs, etc - elements that don't support the narrative). If elements cannot be removed, a new point-of-view should be established. 

[ stabilize the camera ] This project can be used to introduce diligence (being careful, following instructions, problem solving, taking responsibility for outcomes). Stabilizing the camera for the duration of the photo shoot is very important. Illusion cannot be accomplished in the final composite if the camera position moves between exposures/frames (this is true for beginners who have no editing experience). Students must use a tripod or design a comparable stabilizing tool. Discourage hand-holding the camera/device. Once the camera/device is stabilized students need to evaluate the scene looking through the viewfinder/screen paying close attention to the the edges of the frame and horizon line. Again, unintentional elements in view should be removed or modified. If distracting elements cannot be removed, students need to find a better point-of-view. 

[ take the photographs ] This project can be used to introduce quantitative criteria. It is challenging to get ideas, space, body, expressions, and exposure in alignment. Give students expections or constraints to work with or work against. Students could be asked to go slow and take 10 photos. Students could be asked to act fast and take 100. Generally students work together, in pairs or groups, so that they can help each other with the camera operation (reading/adjusting exposure setting, focusing on the subject), and help each other with onsite art direction based on the project plans (sketches, storyboards, exercises, etc). It might be a good idea for students to work together if they are working in unfamiliar locations or have expensive gear unattended. If the location is not an issue, and if the camera has a timer or wireless shutter release, then a student might choose to work alone.

note: working in pairs or groups is useful if equipment/gear is limited

phase 3 of 3: post-production (digital imaging or digital compositing)

[ import files ] This project can be used to introduce file management. Students come into foundation level courses with a wide range of experience. Some students will understand that it is important to store files in a named folder or directory in a specific location on a computer, drive, or network and some students will have no experience with file management. Generally files are transferred from a camera/device using an SD card or a device specific cable. To avoid surprises and problems, test file transfer scenarios based on available hardware and systems before assigning this project. This is the time to be clear with transfer and storage instructions. Some computers will be configured to launch software when an SD card is inserted or a camera is attached. A scenario like this can be inconvenient and beginners will need guidance so that files are actually moved to a folder or directory where they can be accessed.

[ evaluate files ] This project can be used to introduce editing. There are many approaches to previewing image files. Files can be reviewed using software products like Adobe Bridge or Adobe Lightroom, or seen through a Preview type application (Mac OS). Most software will provide methods for tagging or labeling images which can be a useful process for categorizing or ranking (especially useful when dealing with a lot of image files). Tagged/labeled files can be sorted or set to hide/display. Most software also provides a method for viewing or exporting photographs in a "contact sheet" mode/spread. Printing contact sheets is an excellent way to evaluate a series of photographs if students have access and funds to make color prints. Contact sheets can be marked, cut up, and moved around on a tabletop or wall. Whether evaluating files on screen or via printing, the goal is to edit the inventory by eliminating the obvious problems and identifying the most promising frames (evaluating craft, content, and concept). 

note: software versions, releases, and updates make the specifics of software features and functions variable so those details will not be described here

[ launch software ] This project can be used to introduce software conventions (this is a good time to show students where software is stored on computers to reinforce directory relationships and file components). Adobe Photoshop is the conventional software tool choice and GIMP is an alternative open source option. When introducing a new tool, it is a good idea to begin by stepping through the interface landscape to help students get acclimated to the working environment. Consider using a very generic image file to act upon so no one gets caught up or attached to meanings. This initial software information doesn't necessarily stick but it's a friendly low stakes way to move through some user interface conventions and common practices. If a more experience student suggests "better" or "easier" ways, take it as an opportunity to describe (and  demo) that there are many many ways to use software tools and everyone finds their own flow with practice, trial-and-error, and more practice.

note: in the areas of digital process and craft, we discourage "easier" because this usually involves layers of user abstraction, constrained/influenced outcomes, and prioritizes efficiency over learning 

If you are using Photoshop here are some lecture/demo notes or prompts (subject to changes as software updates). This information will be translated for GIMP asap.

General background: In computing, a graphical user interface (GUI, sometimes pronounced gooey) is a type of user interface that allows users to interact with electronic devices using images rather than text commands. Adobe Photoshop (first launched in 1990) has an intuitive interface, with a lot of feature/function redundancy. What this means is there are many ways of accomplishing the same things using different buttons, menus, palettes, or key commands. For example: You can go make a selection using a selection tool, then Edit > Copy (and Edit > Paste) from the top menu, or you can make a selection and simply use the keyboard to cmd-c/cmd-v. [note: When we are introducing new software we always use both the interface and key command methods because some students learn via visual mapping and some students learn via shortcuts/efficiency.]

gui intro: top menu / most important from left: Photoshop (preferences, take a look, always a good idea to be familiar with preferences), File (saving or creating a new doc), Edit (copy + paste), Layer (adjustment layers), Select, View (demo zoom in/out), Window (arrange, workspace, demo this)

gui intro: tools / skinny left column, from top - move tool, selection tools, cropping tool, eye dropper for selecting color, brush, clone, history, erasure, gradient fill, blur, burn/dodge, pen, text, path, shape... object/camera rotate, zoom tool, set fill and stroke colors... all very useful

gui intro: palettes / right column, there are a lot of tabbed boxes that can be stacked, hidden, and minimized. When in doubt Window > workspace > reset essentials, or Window then go to the palette you are looking for in the list. All are useful. Layers, Adjustments, History, are very important.

gui intro: palettes / layers, adjustment layers, adjustment layer masks, note: file formats that support layers (psd, tiff)

common practice / selections, +/-,  feathering, saving involved selections for later (select > save selection/load selection)

common practice / brush sizes, erasure, clone tool (changing brush size)

[ composite files ] This project can be used to introduce digital imaging or digital compositing. Demo/step-through this process with a pair of images volunteerd by a student or a pair of images demonstrated through a camera demo session earlier. Then step-through the process together in class with each student working with their two best frames. Students can build on the process and develop more sophisticated versions after the do-it-together session.

note: apply necessary constraints to tool use. with beginners there may be an inclination to use every filter, adjustment, and plugin on the market; if you have a persisent student, say yes, sure, why not! - you can do two versions of the project, the assignment and a decorated version

If you are using Photoshop here are some lecture/demo notes or prompts (subject to changes as software updates). This information will be translated for GIMP asap.

open: two of the best files / In one of the open files select>all, edit>copy. Then click on the other open image file and edit>paste. You should now have one file that contains two layers. Before you do anything else save your efforts. 

save: file>save as / lastNamePixelsComposite.psd. [keep yourself, your files, and folders/directories organized]

arrange: layers / You can rename, lock and unlock, unassign the background with a double click, and drag/arrange the layer stacking order. You can duplicate layers and hide them as a safety measure (in case you mess up or want to have a reference). Select the layer in palette, Layer>Duplicate. With the top layer selected, use the opacity slider located on the layers palette to align/nudge the image layers (IF the camera position changed.)

edit: subtractive / Select areas of the top layer that can be eliminated/deleted to reveal the layer below and create the seamless illusion. Use any selection tool. Remove large areas first, then get more specific and careful with your selections. You might need to feather the edges of the selection, select>modify>feather. Or you might need to use the erasure tool. You can adjust the size and quality of the erasure tool on the top menu.

edit: additive / Select any area of any layer that you wish to use elsewhere and edit>copy and edit>paste. Notice a new layer is created with the pasted information. 

edit: visual information / Use the rubber stamp tool to manipulate any area of any layer that you wish to modify. You can adjust the size, quality, and sample type of the rubber stamp on the top menu.

save: file>save or save as Go slow. Image editing is a back and forth process. If you make a mistake, go to your history palette and back up. 

[ correcting color and levels] This project can be used to introduce color concerns. Continue to demo/step-through an example pair of images, then slow down for a do-it-together class session.

If you are using Photoshop here are some lecture/demo notes or prompts (subject to changes as software updates). This information will be translated for GIMP asap.

fix color: layer>new adjustment layer / > color balance (with shadow, mid, highlight options).

fix contrast: layer>new adjustment layer / > levels (or curves if experienced)

When you create an adjustment layer they effect everything below them in the layer stack by default. Alternatively you can choose to “use previous layer to make clipping mask” to isolate the effects of an adjustment layer. Notice these adjustment layers stay in the layers palette so you can make changes.

save: file>save or save as / Go slow. Image editing is a back and forth process. If you make a mistake, go to your history palette and back up. 

[ output ] This project can be used to introduce printing concerns. Continue to demo/step-through an example pair of images, then slow down for a do-it-together class session. When outputting to a printer it is best to check with the service or manufacturers recommendations for best file type, resolution, color management, etc. If there is time and budget available it is also best to print tests strips, or proofs to evaluate color discrepancies between screen and printer before making final file adjustments. Depending on time, investment in photography themes,  and group dynamics this is a excellent opportunity to discuss material choices (paper), archival concerns, storage, display, and editions.  

* a quick sample file has been prepared and can be found in the right column under downloadable content

Visual Guide

expand all

Step 1: Identify Location / Position Camera

This project can be used to introduce site research. This involves finding a meaningful and intentional place where time can be spent without interruption. 

Step 2: Photograph Performance 1 of 2

It is challenging to get ideas, body, expressions in alignment. 

Step 3: Photograph Performance 2 of 2

It is challenging to get ideas, body, expressions in alignment. 

Step 4: Composite Frames Using Software

The final project deliverables for this project are photographs. These photographs require intentional subject matter in an intentional scene or setting. This project is not about digital collage. Photographic illusion is the goal.