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Orton Effect

Invented by Michael Orton using transparencies, and inspired by combining watercolour and pen & ink art, this dreamy softening effect adds a soft blur to the image and yet keeps the more prominent detail looking sharp. The original technique sandwiched two or more transparencies, one sharp and over-exposed, the other(s) of the same composition blurred and over-exposed.

The digitally produced version of this beautiful effect relies on the use of layers. There are several methods described on-line for applying a digital equivalent of the Orton Effect to our images, some more complicated than others. However, here's a really simple one I found, using instructions for Photoshop CS* versions, which I've slightly adapted:

Orton Effect
  • create a duplicate layer
  • use Image | Apply Image… setting "Layer" to the duplicate you’ve just created, and “Blending” to Screen. (This should now appear brighter than the original.)
  • use Filter | Blur | Gaussian Blur with radius set to a value which blurs the image but still allows you to see roughly what it is. This radius value will differ depending on the size of the original image. As a rough guide, start with a radius that is the pixel width or height - whichever is larger - divided by 200. So, for a 5000 pixel wide image, I'd try a radius of 25.
  • switch the blurred layer’s blending mode from “Normal” to “Multiply”. (This should appear darker than the original.)
  • adjust the image brightness to taste with an adjustment layer for “Levels”. Move the centre pointer to the left, or type a value of around 1.5 into the centre box as a starting point.

We are so lucky to be photographing in the digital age. When Michael Orton invented this technique, he had to plan his shots very carefully, taking at least two slides of the same subject (which had to be unmoving) and using carefully calculated exposures, Nowadays, we can simply apply this effect to any image we've already taken, including those which Michael Orton could not have photographed in this way have because of significant movement within the frame. It works better on some images than on others but at least we can easily try it to find out.

* The "Apply Image" command is not currently part of Photoshop Elements so this technique is not suitable for Elements users. However, Elements users may be able to find work-arounds for this by searching on-line.

© David McHutchison (Deemacphotos)
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