How To Create A Dream Effect In Photoshop

How To Create A Dream Effect In Photoshop

Dream6Our last Monthly Critique featured an image from Lynne Daley with a dream-like quality.  This process is sometimes called the Orton Effect and Helen Brady laid out a great tutorial for producing such images using only one image in her article The Orton Effect: Mimicking darkroom processes in Photoshop.  For those looking to create the same effect using two images, as was Orton’s original slide process, I’ll lay out the basic steps first and then give some creative options as there are a lot of different looks to be achieved with this tutorial.

Step One – In The Field

Step one of this process is to take the photos!  You’ll need two individual photos of the same subject.  I’d highly recommend shooting with a tripod to make life easier in the computer later.

Shoot the first image with a small aperture and in focus.  I chose f/36.  Overexpose this image by two stops.  These settings gave me a shutter speed of 5 seconds which introduced some blur into the far tree, which, for me, works in this situation.  ISO 50.


Next, shoot another picture out of focus, aperture wide open (f/4.5 in my case).  Overexpose this image by one stop with a shutter speed of 1/8th of a second.  ISO 50.  As my subject was a few meters away, I chose a focus point further away.  This still left some of the main subject defined.  Picking a point closer in gave a lot more blur.  This is part of the experimentation that is photography.  Try both!


Step Two – In The Digital Darkrom

  1. Dream3Import both shots into Photoshop
  2. With the second image highlighted, click Select -> All , then Edit -> Copy
  3. Now, highlight the first image (the in focus shot)
  4. Click Edit -> Paste.  This will past the blurry image over the clear one as a new layer, seen here.
  5. With Layer 1 selected, click Layer -> Layer Style -> Blending Options.  You should now see a box pop up like the one below.  If at all possible, move this box to the side so as to be able to see the image as adjustments are made.


This is where the fun begins as it’s experimentation time!  As a good place to start, move he Opacity Slider to the middle, 50%.  Now change the blending mode to Darken.  This produces an acceptable rendition as seen below (after clicking OK)


Hard Light can also give an interesting effect.


As a baseline, this is a great place to continue fine tuning the image based on colors involved.  What happens if you only select certain color channels?  What about using Multiply?  Be adventurous!  Tweak and try out different settings until things are to your liking.

I’d like to thank Lynne, again, for introducing this simple method to experimenting with photography.  Please feel free to give this method a try and post a link to your results in the comments section below.

Read more from our Post Production category

Peter West Carey leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics - A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

Some Older Comments

  • Peter Nguyen May 1, 2010 04:28 am

    Honestly you should consider carefully when choose photo for tutorial. 'coz the photo create the strongest impact & most likely people will judge whether the tut is worth to read or not through the photo.

    If you really want the dreamy effect. Well, my advice is just take a photo in raw, import it into lightroom & pull down the clarity bar. :)

  • JP Lumansoc November 18, 2009 02:29 pm

    i like the technique used but honestly... horrible photo. you should try a different photo that is actually interesting to start with rather than try to save some random photo.

  • susan November 7, 2009 07:40 am

    Here's a quick way to do it with one exposure....duplicate layer, use screen, duplicate layer again, use multiply, add gaussian blur to taste.....merge those layers, and voila, Orton !!!

  • pril November 7, 2009 07:28 am

    Yeah, that effect might work didn't try it. but to me the final image just looks blurry and over exposed!
    I'd love to see this redone with a better image.

  • entlor November 2, 2009 09:49 am

    love the pic of the flower too but that would be a rose not a tulip

  • amir November 1, 2009 04:34 am

    I went out and did just that !

    thank you for introducing this technique, its so cool :)

    here is my first attempt at it :


  • Sabreena LEya October 27, 2009 09:19 pm

    the flower is relly nice, but the example above that is a CRAPPY OVERexposed worst kinda photo

  • Phoenixheart October 26, 2009 12:30 pm

    In deed, the tutorial is read-worthy, but the sample image is just not that good.

  • Joe Missoula October 26, 2009 12:17 pm

    I really like the tulip. Proves that you don't have to sacrifice focus to get the effect. Thanks for sharing.

  • Rolling Stone October 26, 2009 09:47 am

    I'll try this again.
    Here's a single image I did with a tut tip from one of our members. Sorry, I can't remember who it was. But it was one photo overexpose and a copy underexposed. Then blended together with some adjustments.


  • johnp October 26, 2009 09:39 am

    Thanks Peter I've been trying to get the best "dream" painted yet natural looking affect to use as a background for outdoor wedding portraits and that might just do the trick. It looks better to me (at least) than just blurring the background.

  • Rolling Stone October 26, 2009 03:36 am

    Here's a single image I did with a tut tip from one of our members. Sorry, I can't remember who.

  • Brian October 25, 2009 10:27 pm

    I use this technique to get the "dreamy" effect: 1) create a duplicate layer, 2) give it a gaussian blur (pretty high number), 3) set the blend mode of the blurred layer to either overlay or soft light and then adjust the opacity if needed. I picked this up from The Sassy Shutterbug.

  • Lynne October 25, 2009 09:23 pm

    Hi Peter,
    Nice job on the tutorial for the Orton effect. However, I would like to say that to achieve success in camera, one needs to shoot on a very dreary, overcast day as the bright sky will create big over-exposed holes in the final photo. Again, thanks for featuring my photo for the Monthly Critique. You have given me incentive to go back and shoot this type of technique again. I enjoy reading the Carey Adventures.
    Lynne Daley

  • Jesper Revald October 25, 2009 08:05 pm

    Thanks to Peter for writing up this tutorial. However, I'm not quite sure that the sample pictures chosen were the best to illustrate this otherwise great effect (when not overused).

  • Tom October 25, 2009 07:47 pm

    I did the orthon effect once, with photoshop only. I did only take one (good in focus) picture.[img][/img]

  • Gabsriel October 25, 2009 05:53 pm

    Ok for me you didn't made orton effect, but you help me understand how to make this effect :
    for the trees.
    So, thank you ;-)

  • sarah October 25, 2009 02:06 pm


  • Jeremy October 25, 2009 12:21 pm

    You took an uninteresting, overexposed and blurry photo and made it worse? I don't understand this effect.

  • RichArt October 25, 2009 11:34 am

    I'm sorry as well. This just isn't a good example. I just take a proper exposure of my subject, make two copies ( or layers) in Photoshop....add a Gaussian Blur to the top copy, set it to Multiply and adjust the Opacity to control the amount. The second copy I set to Screen to bring back some of the lightness then apply sharpening, and adjust the Opacity as well. It's not an effect I use much, but when I use it this way, it offers me better control from one image. Here's one of the first tutorials I ever found for this effect back around 2006:

    Try it out and experiment.

  • Adriana_G October 25, 2009 11:31 am

    Here's a link to an Orton effect tutorial and example of an image with the effect applied to it:

  • MeiTeng October 25, 2009 10:55 am

    I am sorry to say too that I don't like this image at all. No dreamy effect at all.

  • michael October 25, 2009 08:21 am

    I'm sorry, but this image just looks like overexposed crap to me.