The Orton Effect

Posted by Cynthia Crawford on Thu Jan 14, 2010 4:56 pm

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A P&DA Technique

Michael Orton developed some new concepts in photography in the 1980’s, which consequently became known as the Orton Effect, or Orton Technique. He began experimenting with “sandwiching” slides to create various visual blurs, intense colors and interesting combinations of textures. His work, however, encompasses much more than the now-commonly used technique known as the Orton Effect. Before we discuss this technique and how it can now be done in photoshop or similar applications, I would like to share with you some quotes from his book:
Photographing Creative Landscapes-Simple Tools for Artistic Images and Enhanced Creativity, by Michael Orton. Amherst Media, Inc. Buffalo, N.Y. © 2001.

This book speaks to much of what we aspire to here in our Photo and Digital Art forum, and I find his thoughts inspiring and encouraging.
p.5 -Preface: “Photographing the “reflection of the mind” has been a fascination for me since I began to photograph…..The landscape is only the beginning as we adopt new ways of seeing, and bending the way that we respond in our search for the creative.”

p. 18- “ Creative Photography is the freedom to explore, uninhibited, the multitude of relationships between the camera, lens, film, light, subjects, and ourselves. It involves abandoning some of our preconceptions and going beyond the assumed boundaries of a photograph.”

p. 35-“The essential elements of creativity form what I refer to as a three-part cycle, each dependent on the others.

The first component of the cycle is Vision, the recognition of that which has captured our attention, the visual qualities of our surroundings, our “raw material”, so to speak. We then take this information, process it and begin our inner conversation consisting of questions and answers. We identify the photographic choices or responses that will best convey our impression, mood, theme, or concept. We clarify how we feel and how we are affected by what we see. This is the Imagination segment of the cycle. The third part of the cycle is the component we most often neglect to nourish. This is the fuel, the catalyst of the cycle. Our motivation and persistence to explore our capabilities in Vision and Imagination will not flourish without Passion. “
I hope Michael’s words will be an inspiration to you as they are to me. I highly recommend this book- the photographs in it show just how wonderfully he carried out these ideas. Here is his list of visual qualities elements you might want to consider when you create your own Vision:

p. 37-
• Color
• Quality of light
• Direction of light
• Patterns and textures
• Reflections
• Motion
• Weather effects
• Translucence
• Sunrise/sunset
• Shadows/tonal contrast"

Orton employs many of the techniques we have been exploring- in-camera blur, high-key, layering, macro, etc. He seems to combine these elements in an inspired and unique way which clearly shows his passion for creativity.

There are dozens of ways to simulate the best-known of Orton’s techniques- you have only to do a web search to find them. I have used, most often, a simple version which can easily be tweaked. Instead of making slide or image “sandwiches”, we will work this time with a single image.


1.Open your image in Photoshop or a similar application. Make a duplicate/copy (Image-duplicate) of it, and put your original away for safekeeping.


2. Go to your layers dialogue and you will see a single layer, usually called the “background layer”. Duplicate that layer (right click on the background layer and choose “duplicate”, or go to the top marquee, drop down “layer” and choose “duplicate”. ) Give this layer a name, such as “sharp”.


3. Duplicate your “sharp” layer- it will automatically be named “Sharp copy”.


4. Select the Sharp Copy” layer and chose “merge down” (by right clicking or using the layers drop-down). . Now you will again have one”sharp” layer. Use “screen” for your blending mode. The image should look rather washed out.


5. Duplicate the “sharp” layer, and call it “Blurred” or “out of focus” .

6. From the filter menu, choose “Gaussian Blur”. Blur this layer just enough so that you can still see the shapes but they are indistinct. You may have to try several times to get the effect you want. The easiest way to backtrack is to open up your "History" window, and click on the Blurred (or OOF-out of focus) step. Then try the Gaussian blur at a different level.


7. After you have applied Gaussian Blur to that layer, choose “multiply” for your blending mode. You can now adjust the opacity and fill to change the intensity of the overlay effect.


I would suggest something simple and contrasty , like a bright flower, to experiment with at first. Landscapes, of course, can look wonderfully impressionistic with this method as well.

Here are some other "Ortonized" photos, with further adjustments made after the "multiply" blend was applied. The possibilities are infinite!



There are some more examples of the Orton Effect from our own members in our References file: here.

In addition here is a web page with a podcast interview with Michael Orton and Darwin Wiggett, (another fan of the Orton Effect who also offers an Orton Action to download): here.
Cynthia (Cindy) Crawford-Moderator, Photo & Digital Art
web site: http://www.creaturekinships.net
"If I Keep a Green Bough in My Heart, the Singing Bird Will Come"  Chinese Proverb

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