Re-create the Orton effect

This classic photography effect named after Michael Orton can be re-created in Photoshop using adjustments and filters

Photo editing apps like Instagram and Photoshop Express are flooding the market, and their use is becoming ever more commonplace among mobile device owners. They provide one-touch results on a small screen that are comparable to those of high-end software like Adobe’s CC and Elements, and there are a multitude of effects resurfacing that, in some instances, have been overlooked for other, newer and more innovative techniques.

In this tutorial, we are looking at the Orton effect – aka the Orton slide sandwich. Originally conceived to make imagery look dreamlike and add a watercolour quality, the effect stemmed from darkroom techniques that originally used two exposed slides, layered on top of each other and projected through to create an individual exposure. Now, though, with layering being a common practice amongst image editors, the concept of adjusting and manipulating layer stacks and blending options means that these techniques are literally a fingertip away. When shooting and editing for this particular effect, images with broad strokes of detail and colour sometimes work much better than those with finer detail.

Fix lens distortion

01.Depending on your image, a great starting point is usually the Lens Correction tool, as you can attack any barrel distortion or pinching of the image. Head to Filter>Lens Correction – or hit Cmd/Ctrl+Shift+R – and then alter the slider bars accordingly.

Sharpen image

02.Now go to Filter>Sharpen>Unsharp Mask; you can bring a good amount of detail back to the edges of the image. In this instance we have used an Amount of

160, Radius of 2.0 and a Threshold of 0.

Reduce noise

03.By going into the noise reduction filter (Filter>Noise>Reduce Noise) and inputting Strength: 7, Preserve Detail: 63%, Reduce Color Noise: 45%, Sharpen Details: 72% and ticking Remove JPG Artifact, we can remove some of the digital noise.

Bring back the detail

04.Next, we will help force some detail into the image by using the Dodge and Burn tools (O) to bring some light and dark detail into areas such as the windows. Here, we’ve burned using the Midtones at 50% and without the Protect Tones box ticked.

Enhance the colour

05.Since the main result of the Orton effect is to instill a dreamy, colourful feeling in an image, why not enhance the colours slightly? By using the Hue and Saturation commands (Cmd/Ctrl+U) to raise the master Saturation to 31 and reduce the Red channel’s Saturation to -27, you get a nice punch to the colour tones without the reds dominating too much.

Boost contrast

06.To add contrast, why not use a colour curve? Cmd/Ctrl+M will bring up the Curves adjustment. Here you can add and control the contrast as much as you see fit. We have used two points on our curve: one that has an Output value of 54 and an Input value of 68, and another that has an Output of 181 and Input of 171.

Remove artifacts

07.Our next step is to remove any blemishes from the image, such as bugs in the water or bits of twig, and for this we will use a combination of the Spot Healing tool (J) and the Stamp tool (S). Keep the Content Aware option ticked for the Healing brush, and if you use the Stamp too then watch where you’re cloning from.

Crop for composition

08.The last stage of our preparation is to make sure that we are happy with our composition, and in order to finish this off we will use the Crop tool (C) to make our image fit into the shape that we want.

Duplicate layer

09.Select the Background layer and duplicate it with Cmd/Ctrl+J, or by dragging the layer onto the New Layer button. After that, rename the layer to Sharp by double-clicking on the layer title.

Sharpen your new layer

10.Select Sharp and then sharpen the image some more, but this time by using Filter>Sharpen. This will give the new layer an extra, but subtle edge.

High Pass layer

11.Now your new layer is looking rather sharp, another tip is to use the High Pass filter to add a slight hint of tonality, as well as further sharpness to the image.

Fade the High Pass

12.The next thing to do is hit Cmd/Ctrl+Shift+F to fade the results of the High Pass slightly. Once you’ve done that, set the layer’s blend mode to Hard Light, making the image more detailed but also more tonally rich around the edges.

Duplicate the background again

13.It’s time to get the ball rolling with the next stage. Once you are done with the Sharp layer, duplicate the Background layer again and rename it Soft.

Multiply the Soft layer

14.Now that you have identified the layers, you can start to alter their properties a little more, helping you lead up to your final image. Look to the layer properties of the Soft layer in the Layers palette and change it’s mode to Multiply.

Adding the blur

15.Now for the most important part of the Orton effect: the blur. For this, we have selected the Soft layer and applied Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur, set to a radius of 130px. As you can see, it’s already softening out the colour and detail nicely.

Lighten the Sharp layer

16.For this part of the image we are stepping back to the Sharp image. This is because, at the moment, the overall feel of the image is slightly dark, so we need to head back to the Sharp layer and use the Curves adjustment again. This time, just use one point with an Output value of 153 and an Input value of 102 in order to lighten the whole image.

Burning back the Sharp layer

17.Now that the Sharp layer has been lightened, it’s time to use the Burn tool to outline areas that need darkening so as to keep detail and interest elsewhere in the image. So, setting your Burn tool at a sensible size and 50% Exposure on the Mid tones range, begin painting back into the image.

Dodge the Sharp layer

18.Now we’ll do the same with the Dodge tool. Use the same settings as the Burn tool – stick to the Mid tones range and work at 50% Exposure – and paint in where you feel necessary. In this instance, though, painting in the shadows is advisable.

Flatten the image

19.Time to flatten the image. You can do this by either Ctrl/right-clicking on the layer stack and selecting Flatten Image, or by going to Layer>Flatten Image.

Diffuse Glow

20.This step is not a necessity, but you can add a touch more glow to the image. Go to Filter>Distort>Diffuse Glow and then set Graininess: 0, Glow: 5 and Clear: 5. Instantly, you will see the image become lighter and more diffused.

Fade the glow a little

21.Diffuse glow is a filter that can very easily dominate the content of an artwork and cover up the work that has already been carried out, so we’re going to fade it out a little. Choose Edit from the main menu and hit Fade. Now bring it down to 35% to get a nice, subtle presence.

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