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How to Use the Orton Effect in Landscape Photography

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Related course: Simply Stunning Landscapes

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 post-processing technique used to add excitement and mysteriousness.
It’s named after Michael Orton, a  landscape photographer, who used to introduce a surreal vibe to his images. Initially, he shot two photographs on slides of film, using a tripod. One was focused and exposed correctly. The second one was then overexposed and defocused.
Of course, in itself, this second photograph was unusable. But when the two were blended, they produced a single picture 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. As with all post-processing techniques, you must apply it carefully, with taste.
A beautiful evening landscape scene of light shining through trees in a forest, enchanced using the orton effect

How to Create the Orton Effect in Photoshop

Step 1

Open Photoshop. Drag or import your photograph into the software. Unlock the image in the layer panel. Then, hold down Alt/Option and drag the image up to duplicate it.
A screenshot of how to apply the orton effect to landscape photography on Photoshop

Step 2

Select the top layer in the layer panel. Go to the top menu, to the image section. Press Apply Image. 
A screenshot of how to apply the orton effect to landscape photography on Photoshop

Step 3

The ‘Apply Image’ boy pops up. Open the blending mode list, and choose Screen. This will overexpose the image with a blending algorithm.

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

Select the top layer (that you’ve just set to multiply mode). Go to the filter panel. Choose Gaussian Blur in the blur section.

If your source photograph is around 3000px in width, choose a radius of ~10 pixels.
A screenshot of how to apply the orton effect to landscape photography on Photoshop

Step 6

Select both of the newly created layers, and merge them. You can do that by either right-clicking on them, and choosing Merge Layers, or pressing Ctrl/Cmd + E.

Decrease the merged layer’s opacity, if the effect is too strong for your taste. In most cases, it will be.

A screenshot of how to apply the orton effect to landscape photography on Photoshop
Decrease the opacity of the merged layer, otherwise, the effect will not be pleasing to the eye

You can also create a layer mask. Paint on it with a black or white brush (choose a low hardness). This way, you can decrease or increase the effect on selected parts of your image.

Step 7

Continue with post-processing. Adjust your image as you would with any other image. Look at your picture with a new eye and decide if the Orton Effect improves it or not.

A stunning forest scene enhanced by using 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 visible.
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 picture with the same concept.
It isn’t natural to have such an ethereal glow lingering around parts of your image. Even when the photos 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 sinful 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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