The Orton Effect is a tech­nique that was devel­oped by Cana­di­an pho­tog­ra­ph­er Michael Orton in the 1980s.

This effect gives pho­tos a soft glow and dimen­sion and is com­mon­ly used when edit­ing land­scape pho­tog­ra­phy.

After apply­ing this effect, the image looks both very detailed, but at the same time soft and mes­mer­iz­ing, result­ing in a dis­tinc­tive style. The pic­tures come out like illus­tra­tions for mag­i­cal fan­ta­sy books.

Ini­tial­ly, the effect was achieved by lay­er­ing sev­er­al pieces of film togeth­er, one in focus and one out of focus.

Nowa­days, we can eas­i­ly repro­duce the Orton effect with Adobe Pho­to­shop in a few sim­ple steps.

Step 1 Duplicate the Background Layer

Cmd+J on Mac or Ctrl+J on PC dupli­cates the back­ground lay­er. A copy is need­ed in order to then blur this lay­er. That being said, we still need the orig­i­nal back­ground image to show through.

Step 2: Gaussian Blur

Go to Fil­ter > Blur > Gauss­ian Blur (Fil­ter > Blur > Gauss­ian Blur) and set the radius to the num­ber of megapix­els in the image. If you don’t know how many megapix­els, try a val­ue between 25–50 pix­els. Most like­ly, this will be enough.

Step 3: Switch The Blend Mode To Soft Light (Blend Mode > Soft Light)

In the lay­ers pan­el, switch the blurred lay­er to Soft Light (Soft light). Your image should now look very dark and con­trasty. How­ev­er, we will refine this with a mask to hide the high con­trast areas in the shad­ows where we don’t want to cre­ate a glow.

Step 4: Use The Color Range To Create The Layer Mask

Go to Select > Col­or Range (Select > Col­or Range). Change the set­ting Select at the top of the win­dow col­or range on the High­lights (Light).

Now you can adjust the blur and its range as you need. Keep in mind that all white will show the Orton effect and all black will not show the adjust­ment.

You can leave Fuzzi­ness to 100% and adjust the range as you like for each image.

Step 5: Apply The Layer Mask

After you adjust the Col­or Range, wait for the set­tings to be saved. Then you need to press the but­ton lay­er mask (Lay­er mask) in the pan­el Lay­ers (Lay­ers), to apply this as a lay­er mask to the blur­ry lay­er.

But­ton lay­er mask is a rec­tan­gle with a cir­cle inside to the right of the but­ton FX. Once you have applied the lay­er mask, you can use the Brush paint over areas where you do not want the effect to work.

You can also reduce Opac­i­ty (Lay­er trans­paren­cy)to reduce the effect.

What to pay attention to

While the Orton effect makes many pho­tos look amaz­ing, it won’t work for every pho­to.

Here are some con­di­tions:

  • strong back­light;
  • strong side light­ing;
  • illu­mi­nat­ed veg­e­ta­tion;
  • light break­ing through the fog.

As you can see, each of these cri­te­ria revolves around the world. If your pho­to does not have light that falls beau­ti­ful­ly on clouds or an object, the Orton effect will only make the image blur­ry.

It’s impor­tant to refine the lay­er mask so that the effect only works where you want to apply it. Oth­er­wise, the light may “leak” to places where it should not be.

And most impor­tant­ly: do not over­do it with the effect. Try low­er­ing the Opac­i­ty after apply­ing the effect for a more real­is­tic look.

If you leave Opac­i­ty 100%, then the pic­ture will look fake and unre­al­is­tic, it’s just that your blur­ry eye will not see it right away.

Prop­er use of the Orton effect can add depth and dimen­sion to images, as well as cre­ate a beau­ti­ful, real­is­tic glow that is the per­fect fin­ish­ing touch to light-filled land­scape shots. It is espe­cial­ly good for sun­set and sun­rise pho­tos.