Photography How to Use the Orton Effect in Landscape Photography

The Orton Effect is a popular, artistic post-processing technique developed. The process is popular in landscape photography and creates a soft, watercolour effect.

In this article, we’ll show you how to create the dreamy effect.

What Is the Orton Effect?

The Orton Effect is a post-processing technique used to add a romantic or mysteriousness look to landscape photography.

It’s named after Michael Orton, a Canadian landscape photographer, who introduced a surreal vibe to his photos.

To apply the Orton Effect, he shot two or three photographs of the same scene. One was focused correctly, and the second he threw out-of-focus using a shallow depth of field. Both were often overexposed.

In the darkroom, Orton merged the images together. They produced a single image that was both sharp and blurry. The images tend to have an abstract and surreal feel with a glow in the highlights.

Today, landscape photographers are more restrained in their use of the effect. They use it to add a soft glow to dramatic landscape photos, but usually do not apply it heavily.

It’s a straightforward process to achieve this look and Light room. It’s up to you how far you want to take the effect.

How to Create the Orton Effect

There are many ways to achieve the Orton Effect. Some involve using a blend mode and the Apply Image tool.

I find the best way is actually the simplest. Plus, you’ll have a lot of control over how much of the effect to apply to your photo.

Step 1: Create Layer

After applying basic edits to your photo, open the image and create a duplicate layer.

You can do this by right-clicking on the background layer and selecting ‘ Duplicate Layer ‘.

I label this layer ‘Blur’.

Step 2: Create Blur

Select the ‘Blur’ layer.

We’re going to add a blur to this layer to add glow to the scene. Go to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur.

In the pop-up dialog box, select a radius value that blurs the scene.

At this stage, blur the scene a lot. Choose a radius of between 25 and 50. You will control how much of the blur you see later in the process.

Step 3: Add Contrast & Lighten Layer

Add contrast and lighten the photo by adding a levels adjustment layer. Go to Image>Adjustments>Levels or click on the ‘Levels’ icon in the ‘Adjustments’ panel.

This step will take some experimentation to get the look you want. There’s no hard and fast rule. Try starting with the preset ‘Contrast 3’ and then pull the highlights carrot and the shadows carrot left.

Click the ‘Clipping Mask’ icon on the bottom left of the window. This applies the adjustments to only the ‘Blur’ layer.

Step 4: Adjust Strength of the Effect

Select the ‘Blur’ layer and take the opacity down to 0%. This removes the Orton Effect entirely from your photo.

From zero, slowly add the Orton Effect to your image. Many photographers like to be restrained and only add a little bit of the effect. Somewhere around 5 to 10%. Others, like Orton himself, like to go much more abstract and surreal.

Compare 15% opacity (first image) with 35% (second image).

The effect should be seen in the highlights more than the shadows.

Add a layer mask to the ‘Blur’ layer and paint out the effect with a black brush in the shadowed area.

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