The Orton Effect – Digital Photography Tip of the Week

Image editing programs such as Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Photoshop Elements, Gimp and Microsoft Digital Image Suite offer a wide range of tools that can be used to create beautiful photographs, many of those tools and the effects they crete originated in the world of film photography. One such tool effect is the Orton Effect.

Gull on Rocky Beach

The Orton Effect is named after Michael Orton who first used the technique is a sandwich of two images, one in focus the other out of focus. Freeman Patterson and Andre Gallant have both used the technique successfully in their work as well.

The Orton image has traditionally been done using slide film with the first, sharp, image overexposed by two stops and the second, out of focus image, over exposed by one stop. It is important to use a tripod for this type of work to ensure your photographic elements remain in register on the film. The shots were then sandwiched together in single slide mount to produce a beautiful, impressionistic image. We are beyond that now and with so many things in the world of digital photography, we can now duplicate the same effect in multiple ways.

For purists, you can use the same technique as with film, two images, overexposed the same way, and in your image editing program place your out of focus image on tip of your in focus image as a layer and choose multiply as your blending mode. Of course this means always taking at least two images of your scene and always using a tripod. Another method is to use a single image a create a layer, now opening up the effect to any image you have in your collection.

I will be using the new Adobe Elements 5 for this tutorial and a photo of a Wake-Robin I shot this past spring..

  1. Open your image (Image 1)
  2. Duplicate the background layer (Right click on the background layer and choose duplicate) and name that layer Sharp
  3. Create another duplicate of the background layer.
  4. Change the Blending mode of the Sharp Copy to screen
  5. With the Sharp Copy layer selected, right click and choose Merge Down (Image 2)
  6. Right click on the Sharp layer, choose Duplicate and name this layer Out of Focus
  7. On the Filter Menu, choose Blur – Gaussian Blur (Image 3)
    Depending on the resolution of the image you are using, the amount of blue needed will change. Use enough that the shapes are still visible, but detail is not. For this 6.1 Megapixel image, a value of 15.9 was sufficient.
  8. Change the blending mode of the Out Of Focus layer to Multiply. (Image 4)
Open image for editing
Image 1
Create Duplicate layers and set blending mode to screen
Image 2
Apply gaussian blur to out of focus layer
Image 3
Change Blending mode to multiply
Image 4
Final image after some levels adjustments
Final image including levels adjustment and cropping

Once you are complete, you may find it necessary to adjust the opacity of your Out of Focus layer and/or apply a levels (or curves) adjustment layer to the Sharp layer if some tweaking is necessary.You can also adjust the amount of blur you apply to the out of focus image, as well as adjustments such as level, brightness and contrast and it is good practice to apply sharpening to your image Sharp layer. (Image 5)

Not all images work well with this effect, but digital photography makes it easier to try it out on wide range of photos. I have included a few examples here of other photos with the Orton Effect applied, though the effect is lost on the small images. You can view another on my personal site, or view the Orton group.

Until next time, happy shooting.

HeadStones - Orton Effect

The digital photography tip of the week is written by the PCIN Assistant Editor, Chris Empey. Chris is a long time photographer and is currently the President of the Niagara Falls Camera Club. You can see more of his photography at his Photo of the Day website.
If you have a tip to send Chris, or a question about digital photography he can address in the newsletter, send it to

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