Orton Effect



Motivation: Use Orton Effect to add diffuse glow to images
Features:PaintShop Pro use of layers and blurring to add atmosphere/diffusion

One of the debates raging within photo clubs across the world, as many cross over from film to digital camera usage, is what should be allowed in the post processing of digital images. One community is for minimal post processing. Another group would like to see only what could be done in a wet darkroom be allowed. And finally there is a third group that says anything goes.

This party is from the expressive school of thought which endorses any technique that contributes better to the overall message and feeling the maker is trying to convey with their image. Hence the growing popularity of photo essays; because the consistency of design and styling of the images can be more readily judged as to how well they support and advance a consistent theme or message.

Now if there is one effect that sits right on the fault line between legal and illicit it is the Orton Effect named for Vancouver Island's Michael Orton. The effect is achieved by sandwiching a sharp image with a duplicate that is deliberately blurred or softened. The overall result is often characterized as a dreamscape, diffusion or softening glow.

In this tutorial one way of achieving the Orton effect is featured; and then some options are discussed. The starting image from the Allen Gardens show (see PixofToronto ) is shown to the left. Again using PaintShop Pro, duplicate the background layer using Layer | Duplicate. Next Blur or soften this layer with your favorite tool. Our choice is to use Adjust | Blur | Gaussian Blur with a radius setting of 11-15. The bigger the radius setting, the more diffuse the blur.

The screenshot to the left shows the Orton layer with a number of additional corrections. The Layer was brightened with the Adjust | Brightness and Contrast | Curves command. Also the Orton layer was made more saturated with the Adjust | Hue and Saturation | Hue/Saturation/Lightness command in PaintShop Pro.

Finally,we take advantage of another trick - if you lighten up portions of the Orton layer than the glow or diffusion effect is reduced in that area. This is exactly what we have done as shown in the screenshot to the left. The left part of the the Orton layer has most of these touchups. One can see in the burred Orton layer exactly what part of the image needs minimal glow or diffusion.

Just as in the case of the simple Overlay effect we are essentially done. All we have to do is set the Orton Layer in the Layers Palette to have a blend mode switched from Normal to Multiply.
The screenshot to the left shows the Opacity of the Blend Mode set at 82%. This setting is highly subjective. Just user the slider to adjust the Opacity of the layer from 0 - no diffusion effects to 100 - maximum diffusion effect. Our experience is that the diffusion sort of snaps to a maximum and then starts to fade away as the image becomes darker with the effect of the Multiply blend.

So we tried a number of other Blend options including Soft Light, Hard Light and Overlay. All three of these Blend Options were distinctly brighter than Multiply as might be expected. Soft Light had the narrowest range of intensity while Hard Light was a distinctly broader with more saturation. Finally Overlay had the most saturated of colors; but each blended dark tones of different hues in different ways.

The result is that unlike the Overlay Effect in which the Overlay blend option is clearly the best at producing the effect - there is no clear cut winner in the case of the Orton effect. Users will just have to try and see for themselves.

In the screenshot at the left, we have done another cutaway to highlight the difference between the Multiply Blend option and the other three. Again we use mask and then cut it away from the Orton layer. This means the strip on the right has no Orton effect applied and reveals the underlying original image. Note how much lighter it is from the original when Multiply is applied. So if users want to achieve a darkening effect; particularly moving the darker areas then this is the Blend option to choose.

The next easiest to work with is the Overlay setting for the Blend option for two reasons: 1)it has the most saturated hues and 2)it responds quickly to burning or dodging of the Orton Layer. Note the tools Burn/Dodge tools must be set at an Opacity of 50% or less when altering the Orton layer otherwise the change is too garish.

After this it is a case of pick and choose. Soft Light and Hard Light as Blend options diffuse differently because they act differently within the same hues - red to scarlets move quickly in Soft Light, less so with Hard Light, etc. As noted it is case of artistic preference. In the screenshot at the left we have gone with the Multiply as our Blend option.

The Orton effect can produce some spectacular results - see the Allen Gardens pictures at PixofToronto.com and see if you can guess how many images have been Ortonized. But it works best in subtle use. thus I find that its best to decide which Blend option I am going to use then apply a mask layer to cutout most of the diffusion .. its sort of like using a touch of airbrushed on color in B+W images.

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