The Orton Effect

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The Orton effect is a fairly straight-forward effect that is applied in Photoshop, the effect results in adding a dreamy look to you photos, it works better on some pictures than others.

Developed by photographer Michael Orton, the effect was originally used with slide film. Two exposures were taken with the camera on a tripod, the first one would be taken out of focus and the second one taken in sharp focus. The two shots would be overlaid onto each other and the result was the dreamy and surreal look that we are about to demonstrate.

You can download the image in this example from the link below – it is free to do this but you must be a registered site user which is also free. You can register on the home page.

Orton Effect Original

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This is the image that we are going to use for this tutorial. It’s not a bad shot but it’s a little dull and I know that it will benefit from a little attention Photoshop. When you have downloaded the example image open it up ┬áin Photoshop and then follow the steps below.

1. Duplicate Background Layer

First of all you need to duplicate the background layer, you can use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl-J (Cmd-J on Mac,) to do this.

Hit Ctrl-J twice and you will end up with three layers as per this screen shot here. Make sure that the top layer is highlighted by clicking on it and then change the layer blend mode to Screen.


Changing the layer blend mode to screen has the effect of overexposing the image. This is necessary as when we overlay the two layers later we need to get back to the correct exposure. This is the same as if we were shooting on film as to create the effect, Michael Orton had to overexpose each photo so when the two slides were put on top of each other they produced a correct exposure.

2. Adding the Blur Layer

Hit Ctrl-E (CMD-E on Mac) to merge the top layer with the middle layer, then with that new layer selected hit Ctrl-J to duplicate it so now you are back to three layers, the original background layer and then two over-exposed layers. Make sure that the top layer is selected and then go to Filters/Blur/Gaussian Blur.

ortonss2The amount of blur that you select will depend on the actual photo and also the size of the photo. Basically you want to move the slider so fine details disappear but objects are still visible. In this instance I have moved it to 10. Hit OK and then go and change the layer blend mode to Multiply and Hey Presto! the Orton effect right before your eyes.

Ideally we would have created an extra layer and used a mask to selectively apply the effect but I wanted to keep this tutorial short and simple. I hope you have fun with the Orton effect!

I have created a Photoshop action file that automates the above process, it can be downloaded below by registered site users (registration is free) Register HERE

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