The Orton Effect: A Photoshop Tutorial

Friday night, instead of getting some work done, I knocked off and played in Photoshop. I posted the result on Facebook. Now I’ll show you how I did it.

Let’s start with the pic. I found it on G+, and instantly loved the setting and the expression on the man’s face. It’s 72 dpi, which is low res, but I’m going to make it look so much better, wait and see.

Here’s the original pic. blogspot-camping-071810-007 (1)

Pretty, isn’t he? But like all online pics, washed out. Let’s bring him to life.

Normally, I’d adjust curves, but this picture is in such bad shape, that just made it worse. Instead, I took it into Topaz Adjust and applied the clarify filter, followed by noise removal. You can skip this step; it’s not crucial to the Orton effect.

Note there are four layers in the screenshot below. The lowest one is our original. The next three are copies of it, and we’ll be using these to create the Orton effect.

Copy 2 is set to normal blending (above the top layer you’ll see a field with Multiply in it; this is where you set the blending mode for each layer). Copy 3 set to screen. Copy 4, the top one, is set to multiply. The minute you choose that blending mode, the picture will go dark. Use the levels window (Ctrl+L) to lighten it again (generally, you only have to move the center indicator a little to the left). You don’t want to play with the one on the right; it blows out the highlights. Pic2 LayersLevels

Make sure the top layer is selected. Click on Filter, Blur, Gaussian Blur and choose a setting around 2.5.
gaussian blur

The picture now looks something like this:
After blur

He looks pretty good, but we’re not finished yet. Still more to do!

Highlight the top three layers, right-click, and Merge Layers. Now you are down to two, the original on the bottom, and the Orton layer on top.

The Orton effect blurs everything, as you can see. We’re going to mask back detail from the original layer. With the top layer highlighted, click on the second icon from the left at the bottom of the Layers window.
layer mask

Change to default black/white colors (click D on the keyboard; X switches them). Black should be the foreground, white the background. When you mask, black reveals, white conceals. So: painting with black brings back detail from our original layer, but if you get more than you want, switch to white, go over that area again, and it goes away. Masking is one of the most important things you can learn!

Default colors

Change to your brush and size it accordingly; we’ll be bringing back detail from his face and body. Click on the layer mask in the top layer to make sure it’s selected. Before you start painting, near the top of the program window are settings for the brush. Make sure it’s set to maximum softness and change opacity to around 25. This gives you greater control of the mask.

Now run the brush over his face and body. Because opacity is set to 25%, you’re only bringing back part of the original. Go over the area three more times and you’ll get everything from the original. Remember, if you grab too much, change to white and go over the area again.

We want the background to remain blurry, but bringing back some sharpness to the man will make him the focal point in the photo. To check your progress and see if you want to bring more detail back, turn the top layer off by clicking on the eye (this lets you see only the bottom original layer), then turn it on again. I chose to bring a little detail back in his pants, too, and I hit the knife, as well. Don’t forget his feet! I also lightly touched the rock where he’s standing; I only wanted the area directly around his feet, not the entire rock.

You’ll notice the mask now has black in it. That’s the stuff you brought back from the original layer.

When you’re satisfied with the results, merge both layers. Because I like my colors rich, I open the color window (Ctrl+U) and slide saturation to the right until it looks good to me. Here’s the final pic. The man is sharp and clear while the background remains blurry.

Here’s a side-by-side comparison:

And here’s a side-by-side b&w of Gale Harold from QaF. The original was scanned from a magazine; you can see the grainy pattern in it. Using the Orton effect, I managed to get rid of most of that while bumping the intensity of the pic (which, again, was a low-res 72 dpi).
4onvd0hhdug (1)

In Gale’s pic, I masked back his hair, eyes, mouth, and facial hair. The rest I left blurry to get rid of the grain in the paper.

This technique works great on portraits because it makes skin really smooth while allowing you to retain the sharp detail you need.

And there you have it. If you have questions, ask in comments.





About Fenraven

Fenraven lives in central Florida, which reminds him of Wisconsin and Minnesota. Find him on Twitter and Facebook by searching on 'fenraven'.
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8 Responses to The Orton Effect: A Photoshop Tutorial

  1. Allison says:

    Thanks! I will be keeping this handy for when I have time to play. I love your tutorials, you are very good at making them clear and easy to follow.

  2. Brandilyn says:

    Thanks for this. I love these tutorials 🙂

    • Hope you can make use of it one day. I used to use this effect almost exclusively on all kind of things, then I got away from it for several years. I’m amazed I remembered how it was done. Heh.But there’s no denying it adds drama to just about any photo.

  3. diannegray says:

    Well done, Theo. I’ve never used Photoshop, but I do use Monkeypic (which can be rather complex to navigate at first, but the results are amazing).

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