Pulling Dreamscapes via Orton Effect - Digital Photography School

Pulling Dreamscapes via Orton Effect

Not far from my home is the residence of one of the best teachers of photography in Canada, if not the planet. Freeman Patterson has that incredible ability to not only implant a contagious passion within his student he does so in a way that demands they push their limits. Thankfully for us he has penned no less than 12 books, including four of the absolute best instructional volumes available. His sense of design and use of space have influenced many, many photographers that stand behind a camera today, myself included.

On the opposite Canadian coast, in British Columbia, Michael Orton is one of a very few photographers who has created an effect that has endured both the film and digital ages. Some photographers have re-named the technique for their own purposes, but the fact remains it was Orton who mastered the technique.

In the early 1980’s Orton started experimenting with sandwiching two slides to create a final image. This in and of itself is not unique; many photographers had been doing this for years. What Orton did, however, through his experimentation was to purposefully over-expose the two slides – one by two f/stops and the other by one f/stop. To add his own personal touch he would throw the two f/stop over-exposed image out of focus and thus came the “Orton Effect.”

For the last 30 years this “Dreamscape” style of image has been appearing in camera club competitions, on greeting cards and calendars. We can call the technique what we will, but I am a firm believer in providing credit where due – Michael Orton.

Once digital capture became the norm and film was relegated to disposal at yard sales, many photographers were left trying to discover ways to replicate in Photoshop those techniques that had previously taken considerable practice to master. It took some time for me to develop the recipe that “worked” and closely mimicked what I was able to capture on film. I have tweaked this many times and have yet to acquire that same “feel” as film, but will attribute this to the fact that digital capture simply is different than film.

Please feel free to adjust and season to taste, but this technique should be included in every recipe book. I will not use shortcut keystrokes or use the command or control key function of Mac versus PC platforms. I will assume the reader can understand where, when and how to substitute these keystrokes.

  1. Open image
  2. Duplicate background layer and call this new layer “Base Layer”
  3. Create a duplicate layer of the Base Layer and call this new layer “Screen Layer”
  4. With the screen layer active, change blend mode to Screen
  5. With the screen layer active, select Merge Down
  6. Create a duplicate layer of the “Base Layer” and call this new layer “Blur Layer”
  7. With the “Blur Layer” active, go to Filter > Gaussian Blur. Adjust the blur to a point where there are no identifiable features; 20 is a good starting point.
  8. With the “Blur Layer” active, change the blend mode to Multiply, and adjust the opacity and / or fill slider bars to achieve the desired effect.
  9. Flatten the layers.

Depending on your own taste you might find the blacks have become blocked-up. To adjust for this there are several usual techniques, most often it is easiest to create a curves adjustment layer and simply open those shadows until you begin to see a hint of detail.

Like all cookbooks you adjust the recipe and season to taste.

While there are many photographers utilizing variations of this technique today, it is always refreshing to review the works of the original craftsmen. Study Patterson for his approach to design and how to utilize space, in so doing it his style of image that loans itself best to the Orton Effect; and, review Orton’s work to see how it is possible to move an image from the documentary “I was there” type of picture to a well crafted and intended piece of art that captures the flavour of the place.

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Dale Wilson is a freelance photographer based out of Halifax, Canada. He has been a regular staff writer for a variety of Canadian photo magazines for 18 years. Wilson has also published or co-published four books and was the photo-editor on the Canadian best selling Canada’s National Parks – A Celebration. His practice concentrates on commercial work and shooting natural history images for four stock agencies. After a 10 year hiatus Wilson will once again be offering eastern Canadian workshops with his teaching partner Garry Black.'

  • http://www.portraitinspiration.com Jai Catalano

    Craftsman is a good word for this type of art. Lovely work.

    http://portraitinspiration.com/inspiration-for-the-day-43/

  • Scottc

    Not knocking it, and there are some sources here that many photogs will find worthwhile, but it’s just not my style.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/

  • Joe Shelby

    Picasa’s recent 3.9 update has an “Orton-ish” processor available, with a few ways to adjust the strength and impact. Haven’t played with it too much, but maybe I’ll try it a bit with some of the forest shots i’ve got. It looks like it is better when you have a really extensive depth of field (shooting at f/9 or lower), and as I tend to shoot faster than that I’m not sure how much I’d benefit from it unless I actually composed a shot to use this way.

  • http://fossphotographer.blogspot.com Skand Hurkat

    I had created a GIMP script for achieving the Orton Effect. You can get it via my GitHub repository.
    There are a bunch of other scripts there. Feel free to use them.

  • http://energizeyourphotography.blogspot.com EnergizedAV

    I like it!
    Looking forward to running this through some tests.
    Thank you

  • Lee

    This gave some of my favorite forest pictures a nice boost – I have a lot as I am fortunate enough to live in the Black Forest for a couple of years. Thank you for sharing this technique.

  • http://www.naturephotographie.com Philippe Sainte-Laudy

    Great post, I love this effect, take a look here: http://www.naturephotographie.com/effet-orton/

  • http://www.dalewilson.ca dalewilson

    To those adventuresome photographers looking to experiment with this technique, try backing off the blur filter to around 5 or 10. What you should realize is an image with much deeper richness in colour and tonal range.

    Thanks for your comments.

  • http://jpcrazy.com/photogallery JP Crazy

    I’m always looking for ways to enhance photos. This is a great technique. I used in on a photo of some store bought flowers. (http://jpcrazy.com/photogallery/floral/img_8667orton.jpg.php).

    Thanks

  • http://mrme.me Mr. Me

    I’ve always envisioned orton photos as having that blurry dreamlike quality, but also having harsh shadows, and lots of contrast. Would you say this is a correct description, or would you consider any picture that has blurred the low frequencies a orton photograph. Great article, and great photos.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/mytonytiger/ Tony

    I like this. Just have to be careful how much and what scenes you use it on. I tried it on a shot of my wife and two of her sisters. Of course, I lowered the blur but still like it.

  • Darren

    A very interesting technique for editing photos and is one everyone should have in their tool box of skills. Thanks for the post.

  • http://tri-eyephotography.com Ben Keys

    This effect can also be accomplished in camera with 2 multiple exposures and of course a tripod. The first exposure is taken at f16+ for the sharp image and the second image taken at f4- with defocusing of the image so it is larger than the sharp image. Defocus to the left or right to acquire the correct results. Voila-the camera does all the work with minimal post processing. I learned this from a tutorial by Andre Gallant, Freeman’s workshop partner. Enjoy.

  • Lenore Gray

    I love the above image. But, I would like to learn how to make a montage, using two different images; like we used to do with one overexposed and blurred and the other overexposed a little but sharp. Or, two different images such as one image as a stone wall and the other some flowers. Thank you

  • http://www.dalewilson.ca Dale Wilson

    Lenore … for the montage you are seeking the image choice(s) is more critical than technique. For a very simple process, to get you started in Photoshop , open an image and re-name that layer from Background to Layer 0 (this will allow you to move this layer on top of the next layer should you wish). Next, open the next image you want to experiment with in Photoshop (and for starters make sure it is the same pixel dimension as Layer 0); next go to image, select all, and copy. Now go back to the image Layer 0, and paste the image you just copied into the Layer 0 image. Next you can simly adjust the opacity and fill sliders and see what you get; you migth also want to try using different blend modes.

    The recipe in the blog text will give you the out-of-focus and in-focus you describe.

    This is a quick and dirty, but should get you started. Most importantly experiment, and with Photoshop -and photography in general- there is no right or wrong way. Just do it! … and have fun learning.

  • Lenore Gray

    I just tried making a montage and can’t believe how easy it was. Love it. I was hoping to find a tutorial to explain more details and maybe I could expland this technique a little. Thanks so much. Lenore Gray

Some older comments

  • Lenore Gray

    September 5, 2013 05:34 am

    I just tried making a montage and can't believe how easy it was. Love it. I was hoping to find a tutorial to explain more details and maybe I could expland this technique a little. Thanks so much. Lenore Gray

  • Dale Wilson

    July 2, 2013 03:43 am

    Lenore ... for the montage you are seeking the image choice(s) is more critical than technique. For a very simple process, to get you started in Photoshop , open an image and re-name that layer from Background to Layer 0 (this will allow you to move this layer on top of the next layer should you wish). Next, open the next image you want to experiment with in Photoshop (and for starters make sure it is the same pixel dimension as Layer 0); next go to image, select all, and copy. Now go back to the image Layer 0, and paste the image you just copied into the Layer 0 image. Next you can simly adjust the opacity and fill sliders and see what you get; you migth also want to try using different blend modes.

    The recipe in the blog text will give you the out-of-focus and in-focus you describe.

    This is a quick and dirty, but should get you started. Most importantly experiment, and with Photoshop -and photography in general- there is no right or wrong way. Just do it! ... and have fun learning.

  • Lenore Gray

    June 29, 2013 04:39 am

    I love the above image. But, I would like to learn how to make a montage, using two different images; like we used to do with one overexposed and blurred and the other overexposed a little but sharp. Or, two different images such as one image as a stone wall and the other some flowers. Thank you

  • Ben Keys

    December 6, 2012 11:37 am

    This effect can also be accomplished in camera with 2 multiple exposures and of course a tripod. The first exposure is taken at f16+ for the sharp image and the second image taken at f4- with defocusing of the image so it is larger than the sharp image. Defocus to the left or right to acquire the correct results. Voila-the camera does all the work with minimal post processing. I learned this from a tutorial by Andre Gallant, Freeman's workshop partner. Enjoy.

  • Darren

    November 7, 2012 03:05 am

    A very interesting technique for editing photos and is one everyone should have in their tool box of skills. Thanks for the post.

  • Tony

    November 5, 2012 12:23 pm

    I like this. Just have to be careful how much and what scenes you use it on. I tried it on a shot of my wife and two of her sisters. Of course, I lowered the blur but still like it.

  • Mr. Me

    November 4, 2012 07:20 am

    I've always envisioned orton photos as having that blurry dreamlike quality, but also having harsh shadows, and lots of contrast. Would you say this is a correct description, or would you consider any picture that has blurred the low frequencies a orton photograph. Great article, and great photos.

  • JP Crazy

    November 3, 2012 10:16 am

    I'm always looking for ways to enhance photos. This is a great technique. I used in on a photo of some store bought flowers. (http://jpcrazy.com/photogallery/floral/img_8667orton.jpg.php).

    Thanks

  • dalewilson

    November 3, 2012 06:09 am

    To those adventuresome photographers looking to experiment with this technique, try backing off the blur filter to around 5 or 10. What you should realize is an image with much deeper richness in colour and tonal range.

    Thanks for your comments.

  • Philippe Sainte-Laudy

    November 3, 2012 02:35 am

    Great post, I love this effect, take a look here: http://www.naturephotographie.com/effet-orton/

  • Lee

    November 3, 2012 01:12 am

    This gave some of my favorite forest pictures a nice boost - I have a lot as I am fortunate enough to live in the Black Forest for a couple of years. Thank you for sharing this technique.

  • EnergizedAV

    November 3, 2012 12:08 am

    I like it!
    Looking forward to running this through some tests.
    Thank you

  • Skand Hurkat

    November 2, 2012 02:12 pm

    I had created a GIMP script for achieving the Orton Effect. You can get it via my GitHub repository.
    There are a bunch of other scripts there. Feel free to use them.

  • Joe Shelby

    November 2, 2012 11:56 am

    Picasa's recent 3.9 update has an "Orton-ish" processor available, with a few ways to adjust the strength and impact. Haven't played with it too much, but maybe I'll try it a bit with some of the forest shots i've got. It looks like it is better when you have a really extensive depth of field (shooting at f/9 or lower), and as I tend to shoot faster than that I'm not sure how much I'd benefit from it unless I actually composed a shot to use this way.

  • Scottc

    November 2, 2012 09:14 am

    Not knocking it, and there are some sources here that many photogs will find worthwhile, but it's just not my style.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/

  • Jai Catalano

    November 2, 2012 06:20 am

    Craftsman is a good word for this type of art. Lovely work.

    http://portraitinspiration.com/inspiration-for-the-day-43/

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