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What is the Orton Effect?

The Orton Effect is a photographic technique that blends two different photos of the same scene to achieve a mix of high and low detail areas. It essentially adds a gentle blur and glow to give a dreamlike quality to landscapes and portraits. It was originally conceived by Michael Orton in the 1980s.

So what actually is the Orton Effect?

The Orton Effect is mostly added to landscapes in post-processing, but it can be used in portraits quite effectively as well. It is achieved in Photoshop by taking a secondary copy and adding a blur, using some basic blending modes and it sorts of muddies it all together to create a dense, softly glowing slightly blurred ethereal effect. See the before and after below. It is definitely not for everyone or every image, but can make a really cool effect.

Where can it be used?

Well, that becomes a little bit of personal preference. Do you even like the Orton Effect? If you want to add some glow and mystical ethereal look to a landscape, then sure, give it a go. But if you like sharp crisp landscapes, then this might not be your scene.

I use it rarely, but knowing HOW to use it, can be handy. I have even used it on portraits from time to time, albeit sparingly. That’s the bonus in Photoshop, you can dial in just how much glow you want.

How do you create it in Photoshop?

1. To start, duplicate your Background Layer. This can be done by right-clicking on it and selecting Duplicate Layer. A new layer will appear called Background Copy.

2. Now go to Image > Apply Image. When the dialog box appears, change the Layer to Background. The Channel should be RGB, and next to Blending, change that to Screen and press OK.

Apply Image in PhotoshopApply Image in Photoshop

3. Duplicate the Background Copy layer. Next, we need to blur this new layer, (Background Copy 2). Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. The Radius you choose here is dependent on the size of the file you are working on. For this image, which is 4032px wide, the Radius was set to 10.

Gaussian Blur in PhotoshopGaussian Blur in Photoshop

4. Now select both of the Duplicate layers, right-click and merge layers or go to Layers > Merge Layers, to merge these into 1 layer. Now change the Blend Mode Multiply. This will create the Orton Effect.

5. Reduce the Opacity of this layer as you like it.

Can you create the Orton effect in Lightroom?

By playing with the Texture and Clarity sliders in Lightroom Classic, you can mimic something similar to the Orton Effect. By taking both sliders to the left — while not exactly the same — it gives that ethereal glow and feel to your landscapes.

Creating the Orton Effect in LightroomCreating the Orton Effect in Lightroom

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