Photography: Orton Technique

What is it? Orton imagery, also called an Orton slide sandwich, is a photography technique which blends two completely different photos of the same scene, resulting in a distinctive mix of high and low detail areas within the same photo. It was invented by Michael Orton.

Orton did it with film. Today, we do it in Photoshop. Much easier, much faster. In fact, I can apply an Orton technique to a photo in less than a minute.

We start with a good photo, one that has nice contrast and interesting light. I love this photo! Look at the detail on the tree, in the wall, even down in the grass. The shadows do wonderful things in that grass. 


Now I apply the Orton effect to the photo. Immediately, contrasts are more obvious and colors are richly saturated.


Which one do you prefer?

When using this technique, I caution you to be careful. It’s very very easy to overdo it and come up with something odd. Here’s how I did it:

In PS (any version will do), open a photo. This is your background layer. You will not mess with that one. Create three copies (Ctrl+J three times). The layer above the original you will ignore.

On the third layer, in the layer window, change blending from Normal to Screen. In the final, top layer, change blending to Multiply. You may have to use levels to bring back some of the light on this layer; I almost always do.

Making sure you’re on that top layer, go to Gaussian Blur and set to around 2.5. Play with it, see what raising it will do to the photo. I’ve gone higher at times, but 2.5 to 3 seems to deliver the best, most pleasing results.

Merge the top three layers. By clicking between the two remaining layers, you can see the difference between the photo with Orton and without it.

I was a huge Heroes fan and when I came across the following still from an episode featuring Sylar, I had to see what I could do with it. The original photo is nice. That’s about it: nice. You know, flat, like you’d find online. But after I did my usual adjustments and slapped the Orton technique on it, the photo came alive. The colors glow, they’re so vibrant and deep. This is still a fave of mine, simply because of the light. Look at that table! Look at the wall!


When applying Orton technique to photos with people in them, make sure to mask to the original to bring back detail in face, hands, and other flesh. Orton tends to blur them in a way that is, to me, unsatisfactory. In this photo, I also masked to the original newspaper so the print wouldn’t be blurred.

If you ever have questions about photography you think I can answer, email me: fenraven at

A final note: While I love posting to this blog every day, it takes a lot of time. Also, stats tell me a lot fewer of you stop by on weekends, when we are all busy with family, friends, errands, and the like. Starting next week, I’ll be posting only on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Thanks for reading! I appreciate you!



About Fenraven

Fenraven happily lives in south Florida, where it is really hot most of the year. Find him on Twitter, Google +, and Facebook by searching on 'fenraven'.
This entry was posted in photography, RL and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Photography: Orton Technique

  1. Suze says:

    Do love your photos!
    I visit your site a couple times a week, so I’ll time it to your posting days

  2. Isa says:

    I too love your photos and how you change the pictures with the different effects. I like seeing the original and then after the changes. Although I understand why you are cutting back on posting I’ll miss reading your posts every day. Just keep us in the loop on your books and when they are releasing. (One of my pet peeves are authors not keeping their blogs or websites current.)

  3. You have a great blog. I love all your posts about Photoshop, writing, and shit that’s going on in your life. With good quality, I don’t think you need the quantity. I’m involved with some other smut writers in putting together a blog, and we decided 1 post a week is plenty, because we want to focus on quality.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s