While browsing some photos on Flickr the other day I came across an interesting artistic photography technique. It is known as the “Orton Effect” after a guy called Michael Orton, and involves superimposing a focussed image and blurred image (both overexposed) of the same scene. The effect is a mixture of sharp detail and blended colour that produces somewhat ethereal and emotionally engaging images. Orton developed the technique using slide film and physically mounting 2 images in a single slide frame, but it is easy to reproduce the effect with digital post-processing.
The Orton effect has become a very standard technique in creative photography, and there are heaps of tutorials to be found on the web. I found this article and this tutorial particularly helpful as I was trying to find out what Orton imagery was. I use the GIMP for this sort of thing (its freely available if you want to use it too), and here’s a quick demo.
Clansi took this photo at the Keukenhof gardens while we were in the Netherlands. The first step in simulating the Orton effect is to make an overexposed version of the photo. An easy way to do this is to duplicate the background layer, set the mode of the new layer to “Screen” and then do a “Merge Down”.
This is what the merge produced. Now this “overexposed” layer can be duplicated and blurred (“Filters” > “Blur” > “Gaussian Blur”). I used a radius of 40 pixels here, but the right value will depend on the photo and the desired effect. Come back and experiment here if necessary.
Now this blurred layer needs be be blended back with the sharp overexposed layer, to simulate two slides in a single mount. Setting the mode of the blurred layer to “Multiply” is all that is required. The opacity of the blurred layer can be varied to adjust the result to taste.
Here is the result. Notice how the colour has a smooth feel that seems almost painted, particularly on the yellow flowers in the background. The orchid stem has also been softened. Fine detail remains, though, and the veins on the orchid petals are still sharp and visible.
This effect is not for everybody, and certainly not for every photo. However, the ease of producing it digitally makes it possible to experiment for fun. Here are some additional examples.