Nikon Image Overlay Feature Tutorial
Most Nikon DSLRS and mirrorless cameras have a feature called Image Overlay. This is a vastly underrated capability that can really spice up your photographs. You can think of it as a “double exposure” technique, but it’s more powerful than that simple description.
Sample camera models that have this feature include D5000, D7000, D7100, D610, D500, D850.
I use this feature to add a moon to landscape shots that are just begging for a little something extra in them. It’s particularly interesting to be able to add a telephoto moon to a wide-angle landscape, to create an ‘impossible’ combination. The fact that these shots are created entirely in-camera makes it that much more powerful.
Most people don’t realize that the Image Overlay feature actually creates a RAW output result, with an image quality that goes way beyond simple jpeg format. You should be using RAW input images, also.
It’s of course possible to use an image editor with ‘layers’ to accomplish something like this. This technique, though, will probably yield better quality and also give you the ability to re-shoot on the spot if you decide that you don’t like the alignment, for instance.
I actually keep a little library of protected moon shots on my camera’s second card slot. I protect these shots (using the little “key” button) against accidentally erasing them. This way, I always have the ability to add a moon, for example, to a landscape. I keep a variety of moon shots that have different positions and magnifications in the night sky, to allow flexibility with composition. Note that you have to remember to not re-format this “library” memory card; even “protected” images will be lost if you do that. You might want to copy your ‘library card’ to a backup card for safe keeping.
Aloe reaching for the moon
The example shot above shows how I added a moon to the sky. This kind of shot would not have been possible with a single shot. The moon was photographed at a much longer focal length, not to mention that the moon is virtually never in the right spot at the right time for your shot.
Image Overlay Procedures
I demonstrate a typical editing session in the steps that follow. The camera menus allow you to try out different images and balance their exposures, as well. You can select the shots from either memory card slot.
Go to the Retouch Menu to find Image overlay
Press OK to locate your first image to use
Select the desired first image, then press OK
Select the second image to overlay onto the first image
Adjust the brightness of the second shot
In the example above, I increased the exposure of the second (moon) photo by 1.5X. I could see the final result in the Preview window, prior to saving the combined photo. Note that my first photo was selected from my XQD memory card, and my second photo was selected from the SD card slot.
Press the OK button to overlay the shots
Press OK to save the result or Back to adjust further
The finished shot
Saving Photos To Another Card Slot
If you want to move shots to your second memory card “library”, the images below show those details. You should begin by marking each photo you want to move as “protected” by pressing the little “key” button. This step is simple insurance against accidentally erasing them, and it will also simplify photo selection.
The operations to copy/save images are found in the Playback menu. The steps assume that you have already marked the shots to copy as “protected”.
Select the Copy image(s) option
Locate the shots to copy
Choose the “Select protected images” option here
To make things easy, there’s an option called “Selected protected images”. If you have already protected the shots that you want to copy, then this option will grab them all in one step.
Now, you can save the selected images onto your other memory card. Now you can easily build up a library of "stock" image files (mine are mostly moons at different phases, magnifications, and positions).
Nikon engineers did a really quality job when they designed the Image Overlay feature. This capability lets you create multiple exposures that have maximum quality, and you can complete the whole process in-camera.
I typically only use multiple exposures for things like combining fireworks or adding a moon to the sky. This feature, of course, doesn’t care what you decide to combine together.
You can always copy some of your original raw shots back onto your memory card later, to add a moon (or something else) after the fact.
It’s gratifying to see that Nikon has chosen to carry this feature over to so many camera models over the years. It’s a pity that more people don’t use it, or are even aware it exists.
This is something that you can have a lot of fun with.