Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Orton Effect

Oh, all right. I already know what I want to write and it's Sunday and I have a few minutes, so I thought I'm just carry on.

I was looking at the NAPP Portfolio (mentioned it before) for inspiration, and I spotted a picture of a black eyed susan. I thought, that would look great as an Orton, then I remembered that I had shot some of the same kind of flower last week, so I opened one in Photoshop and got down to work.

Here is the original image:



Nice, but not outstanding, right?

Now I know the theory of the Orton Effect (which I'm about to share with you) and I've done some before, but I can never remember exactly how, so I looked it up and tried a few techniques. Here's one:



...but this technique is simplistic and doesn't offer the range of
control that I'd like.


So here's a second image that I did a different way:



and yet another one where I added a little twist of my own.




Click on the image to blow it up and look at it big. Go ahead, I'll wait right here.


Now let's get into some details.

The "Orton Effect" is named after Michael Orton, the photographer who invented the technique, way back in the days of film! What he did was to take two exposures of the same subject, one in focus and one out of focus, both overexposed, then he sandwiched the two transparencies together. The result was an image that had little sharp bits floating in a sea of soft, out of focus colours; and at the same time, colour saturations were 'way up. Very effective, to add a dream-like effect to an image, and it works well with scenic landscapes, punchy detailed colour shots like flowers, and even with people. It's much easier to accomplish this in the digital darkroom today. All you need is one properly exposed image.

Bearing in mind what you're trying to achieve, you need two versions of the same shot -- one in focus and one not. Both have to be over exposed because they get darker when you add them together. Here's what to do.


  • Open your image and make a duplicate layer (CTRL-J on the PC, CMD-J on the MAC). Change the blend mode of this layer to "Screen".

  • Name your duplicate layer "Sharp Layer" so you don't forget, then duplicate it again and name the second one "Blurred Layer".

  • Apply a Gaussian blur to this layer. Pretty heavy duty -- I like somewhere around 25 px radius, but you will have to experiment. Change the blend mode of this layer to "Multiply".



You're probably already liking what you see. Now try something. Go back to the "Sharp" layer and sharpen it. Big time. Since the layer is screened on top of the background layer, you won't see a lot of the artifacts you normally would, but there will be some, so select "Fade Sharpen" on the image menu and look at a closeup while you adjust it to what you like. I did one at a radius of 6px, amount 350%! Unbelievable! Play with it, but don't be afraid to go 'way up there. You can also reduce the opacity of the sharp layer to soften the effect.

You can do that with the blurred layer too -- adjust the opacity. That will also lighten and darken the image since it's in multiply mode.

Now try another experiment. What I did on the third image was to make a selection on the original image (just the flower) using the quick selection tool in CS4, then I shift-dragged the selection into the Orton'ed image (shift to keep it aligned). With that layer on top and the blend mode set to Multiply again, it added richness and detail to the flower itself and left the background untouched.

Save your image, then flatten it (in that order. If you flatten it first, you'll lose all your layers if you try to open it again). Use curves or levels to adjust the brightness and you're done.

Orton adds a wonderful dream-like effect to your image and minimizes imperfections (for instance, the flower is not in tack-sharp focus from front to back. So what?). Try it, it's fun!

PS: Here's a link to another image I did with Orton Effect last year. I like it a lot better than the one I've used as an example here, don't you? Click here.