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Creating the Orton Effect in Photoshop

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Read Time: 3 min
Final product imageFinal product imageFinal product image
What You'll Be Creating

The Orton Effect is named after photographer Michael Orton, who attempted to imitate watercolours with his photographs using darkroom techniques. The result is an out-of-focus, highly saturated look with detail around the edges retained. Orton achieved his results using two slides; one in focus and one out. In this tutorial I’ll show you how to achieve the same effect in Photoshop using one image.

Choosing your image

This is the image I’ve chosen to demonstrate the effect:

Original imageOriginal imageOriginal image
The original image we'll be working with in this tutorial [photo: Marie Gardiner]

Images with quite muted tones but some colour work well, as do pictures with trees, autumnal scenes and black and white images. Portraits don’t work well with this effect in my experience.

1. Create 'Screen' Layer

Open your image in Photoshop and duplicate your background layer. In the layers tab, change the blending mode from normal to screen.

Screen blending modeScreen blending modeScreen blending mode
Change your duplicated layer's blending mode to 'screen'.

I've named my duplicated layer ‘screen’ as that’s what the blending mode for that layer now is. You may wish to name your layer the same thing to make the process easier to follow. You’ll notice this layer has become brighter than our original image.

2. Create 'Multiply' Layer

Duplicate your 'Screen' layer, rename the new layer to 'Multiply' and change the blending mode to Multiply:

Multiply blending modeMultiply blending modeMultiply blending mode
Change your new layer's blending mode to 'multiply'.

3. Adjustments

Your image will now be quite dark, so to fix this, create an adjustment layer for levels

Levels adjustment layerLevels adjustment layerLevels adjustment layer
Create an adjustment layer for levels.

Then slide your mid-tones, marker left until the brightness looks correct:

Use the middle slider (circled) to adjust the brightness of your mid-tones

Create another adjustment layer, this time saturation, and use the saturation slider to boost your colours slightly. You’re going for an over the top look so don’t be afraid to increase them to the point that they look unnatural.

Saturation layerSaturation layerSaturation layer
Increase saturation until colours stand out boldly

4. Blur

Once you’ve made your adjustment layer tweaks, select your 'Multiply' layer again (make sure it’s highlighted) and click Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur

Blurring the imageBlurring the imageBlurring the image
Select Gaussian Blur from your Filters

The settings for your blur will really depend on your image. Drag the slider until you have enough blur but still retain the details you want to keep. For this image, I found about 20px was enough.

Gaussian BlurGaussian BlurGaussian Blur
Use Gaussian Blur to blur your image whilst retaining edge detail

5. Finishing Touches

Add any finishing touches you think the picture needs (in my case I straightened up the horizon line and made a small crop) and you’ll have your finished image.

Image with Orton EffectImage with Orton EffectImage with Orton Effect
Finished image demonstrating the Orton Effect [photo: Marie Gardiner]


Before and after imagesBefore and after imagesBefore and after images
Image before and after the Orton Effect was applied in Photoshop [photos: Marie Gardiner]

The Orton Effect is a great way to jazz up mundane shots that you may not have used for anything. It’s also very handy for rescuing an image you like but that isn't in sharp focus. Doing this the non-digital way would be time consuming with no real way to guarantee your results. As a quick Photoshop technique though, it works very well and you can try this on any photo you have without changing the original; getting varied, interesting results every time. 

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