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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.

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Peter West Carey
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.

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