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How to Use the Orton Effect in Landscape Photography

Never heard of the Orton Effect? It’s a popular post-processing technique developed in the 80s. It’s common among many landscape photographers who use it to ‘boost’ their scenes.
Let’s see what the Orton effect is and how you can start using it too. You’ll realise it’s already all over social media.
A luscious landscape scene of a flowing water, edited using the orton effect

What Is the Orton Effect?

The Orton Effect is a glow that we add to photographs, usually landscapes, during post-production. You should be able to see the glow around objects in the scene.
The effect was developed by abstract landscape photographer Michael Orton. It was a technique used with film photography in mind.
It required two images layered on top of each other. One image was in focus, and the other was purposely overexposed and out of focus. When placed together, the two images produced a single photograph that was simultaneously sharp and blurry.
This gave the images an abstract and surreal feel.
Nowadays, the technique is used digitally, and in many cases, it’s over the top on purpose.
A beautiful evening landscape scene of light shining through trees in a forest, enchanced using the orton effect

What Can the Orton Effect Do for Your Landscape Photography?

Step 1

Open your image in Photoshop and duplicate the layer.
A screenshot of how to apply the orton effect to landscape photography on Photoshop

Step 2

For the top layer, click Image > Apply Image. 
A screenshot of how to apply the orton effect to landscape photography on Photoshop

Step 3

In the ‘Apply Image’ blending mode, click Screen and hit enter.
A screenshot of how to apply the orton effect to landscape photography on Photoshop

Step 4

Duplicate that layer, then click the Multiply blending mode.
A screenshot of how to apply the orton effect to landscape photography on Photoshop

Step 5

Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Adjust to taste.
A screenshot of how to apply the orton effect to landscape photography on Photoshop

Step 6

Merge the two top layers (Command+E / Control+E) and create a mask. This decreases or increases the Orton Effect in different portions of the image.
You almost certainly will want to reduce the layer’s opacity, or the effect will be far too strong.
A screenshot of how to apply the orton effect to landscape photography on Photoshop

Step 7 (Optional)

As a final touch, since the Orton Effect darkens the shadows of a photo, you may want to lighten them back in Lightroom or Photoshop.
A stunning forest scene enhanced by using the orton effect
That’s it; the Orton Effect is pretty simple to implement. However, it does take a few steps in Photoshop, some of which may not be intuitive.
Some software has built-in Orton Effect settings, while others (like Lightroom) do not allow for layers and cannot be used to create the Orton Effect.

Exaggerated Examples of the Orton Effect

Looking at Michael Orton’s images, you’ll probably think they’re ‘over-cooked’. Michael was the creator of this technique, and he did it for a reason.
He wanted to create something abstract and surreal. In my opinion, they are overdone, but that’s because I looked at his images last. I didn’t think about his purpose.
Nowadays, people use it in a way to boost their realistic landscape images. They aren’t trying to create something different. They just want to make their images more beautiful.
Michael’s images look over the top because that is their purpose. He did it for this exact reason.
A blurry landscape shot - Exaggerated Examples of the Orton Effect

The Problems of the Orton Effect

One of the main problems with the Orton Effect is that it can make all images very similar. The applied ‘fog’ hits the highlights and detailed areas, making its post-production treatment obvious.
Even the more subtle edits are easy to spot.
More and more people are trying the Orton Effect, releasing the same images in the world. It’s trendy, so everyone wants to try it out.
The other problem is over-processing. Just like HDR (High-Dynamic Range) images in the past few years, we are growing tired and weary of looking at the same other-worldly image with the same concept.
It isn’t natural to have such an ethereal glow lingering around parts of your image. Even when the images are processed right, it will probably still feel unnatural.
When most of the landscape images we find online are using this technique, it’s time to stop and come back to reality.
A stunning forest scene enhanced by using the orton effect

Conclusion

There is nothing wrong with post-producing images. I’m no #nofilter warrior. Saying that, when most landscape photographers employ the same effects, it might be time to move on.
It’s hard to stand out when all images look the same.
By all means, give it a try. Just know what you’re getting into. Do it sparingly, and do not use it for every single image you have.
You don’t need the Orton Effect for beautiful landscape images.

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