I have heard of a photographic effect known as the 'Orton Effect'.

Can anyone tell me what the effect is, what its history is and how I would create it in both film and on my digital SLR?

  • Nik Color Effects has a filter that does this quite well.
    – dpollitt
    Aug 11 '11 at 19:15

The Orton Effect is an image-processing technique resulting in a high-contrast look with a slightly "glowing" appearance. It started as an analogue technique made from two slide exposures of the same scene - one sharp and one soft - but nowadays it's more commonly done digitally. You can find plenty of examples on Flickr.

A basic recipe for doing this in Photoshop (or similar image-editing software) is as follows:

  1. Create a duplicate layer (so you have two copies of the image, stacked one directly on top of the other).
  2. Set the blend mode of the top layer to Overlay.
  3. Apply a Gaussian blur to the top layer - the required amount will depend on the size and subject matter of the image, so experiment.
  4. Tweak the opacity of the top layer to taste: somewhere around 50-80% should do it but again it'll depend on the image and how pronounced you want the effect to be.
  • 1
    I forgot one bit: the Overlay blend will often result in quite a dark image, so you may want to slightly over-expose your original shot (either in camera or in post-processing). Aug 14 '11 at 9:33
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    The image seems to have disappeared from Flickr, could you replace it?
    – Imre
    Jan 9 '13 at 7:55

According to Michael Orton, the originator of the method, he used this to imitate watercolor paintings when using slide film. It involves overlaying of a sharp, overexposed image with an out-of-focus version of the same image.

This can be done in Photoshop or similar by mixing image and a blurred version of it. Playing with the transparency levels gives you control over the outcome.

My understanding is that while the in-focus image gives the detail, the blurred image gets the bleeding of the water paints on the canvas.

You can read about it directly from the man himself here.

  • Is overexposure needed in digital case as well?
    – Imre
    Aug 12 '11 at 4:37
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    @Imre - I don't really know, but my understanding is that the overexposure was required to compensate for stacking of several slide layers. In digital blending this happens automatically, so I assume this is not necessary per-se, but may add to some "glowing" or brightness effect, as per Mark's answer example.
    – ysap
    Aug 12 '11 at 7:13

The technique I've seen for the Orton Effect in photoshop uses two duplicate layers. The first is set to screen, and creates a very light version of the image. The second is blurred and set to multiply blend mode. Compared to Mark Whitaker's version, this recipe will tend to produce a lighter, more ethereal effect.

Precise steps, a downloadable action, and a podcast with Michael Orton here: Orton Imagery – The Orton Effect – Interview with Michael Orton and Darwin Wiggett

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