How To Create The Orton Effect in Adobe Photoshop

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How To Create The Orton Effect in Adobe Photoshop

The before and After versions of the project are shown.
The Orton Effect is actually quite interesting and easy to create in Photoshop.

The plethora of mobile imaging apps has resulted in the rise of what some are referring to as “Iphoneography”. Though originally centered around Apple’s iPhone the definition has broadened to include Android and Windows Phones. In fact there are a number of web sites dedicated to showcasing great work and techniques.

Even though I have written about a few of the apps you can use such as Adobe’s Paintcan , Pixelmator and Aviary , I have always been a firm believer in understanding how the effect is created rather than just simply tapping a button.

One really neat effect is the “Orton Effect” which attempts to imitate watercolor paintings by having areas in the image out of focus and the colours somewhat over-saturated.

Before we start, a word of caution. Business portraits, technical photos showing machinery  and images meant to have a harsh contrast are not ideal candidates for this technique. Still, it is a lot of fun.

Let’s get started.

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How To Start Creating The Orton Effect In Adobe Photoshop

The Screen blend mode is highighted in the Layers panel.
You start by applying a Screen Blend Mode to a duplicated layer.

The first step in the process is to open an image you think will work. In this case I am using the image of a pond I photographed earlier this Spring. The first thing I did was convert the image to a Smart Object and then I selected Filter > Lens Correction to remove any distortions added by the camera lens.

 With Photoshop, a good habit to develop is to create Smart Objects. This way, any effects applied to the image will be non-destructive meaning the original image will not be affected.

With that done I duplicated the layer and applied a Screen Blend mode to the new layer. I also named the new layer, “Screen”. What the Screen Blend Mode does is to brighten the image.

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How To Apply A Multiply Blend Mode To Create The Orton Effect In Adobe Photoshop

The Multiply blend mose is circled in the layers panel.
Applying a Multiply blend mode will darken the duplicated layer.

The next step in the process is to duplicate the Screen layer but this time apply the Multiply Blend mode to the new layer which I named “Multiply”.

The Multiply Blend mode is one of my favorites. Essentially what it does is to multiply the color values of the overlying pixels to each other and then divides the result by 256. The result is always a darker pixel which explains why the image looks dark.

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How To Correct The Image Using Adjustment Layers in Adobe Photoshop

Hue Satuartion and Levels Adjustment Layers are highlighted.
Adjustment layers will help intensify the colours and the Orton Effect.

Obviously the result is awfully dark . This is where Adjustment Layers will play a key role in the final result. With the Multiply layer selected I added a Levels Adjustment Layer and moved the midtone slider to the left to brighten the image.

With the image brightened I turned my attention to “popping the colour ”. To do this I added a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer and moved the Saturation slider to the right to make the colours look a bit unnatural. Though it may look overdone, I plan to deal with it in the next step.

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How To Complete The Orton Effect In Adobe Photoshop

A Gaussian Blur is applied to the Multiply layer.
Everything from feathers to Unsharp masking uses a Gaussian Blur.

The final step in the process is to soften the stark colours in the image. With the Multiply layer selected, I selected Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur and applied a blur with a radius of 25 pixels.

Though you may think a Gaussian Blur does nothing more than smear out or blur pixels, you would be mistaken. Everything from feathers to Unsharp Masking relies on this blur.

In this case the blur, being applied to the Multiply layer actually serves to fade out the harsher colour changes between the tree line and the sky, for example, and to soften the overall image giving it the almost ethereal quality so typical of the Orton Effect.