Orton Imagery – Tutorial

As mentioned elsewhere on the site, Orton images are a style of photography named after well known Canadian photographer Michael Orton. Similar in some ways to impressionistic images in that they make use of more than one exposure but different in the feeling they evoke and the visual interest they generate.

Ortons are made from two exposures. The first is made in focus with a small aperture to generate greater depth of field. The second is out of focus and with a large aperture to minimise depth of field. Layering one over top of the other creates a soft, almost dreamlike result.

As with impressionistic images, Ortons can be made on film or digitally.

If done on film, they can be done in camera on a single frame or, using slide film, with two separate frames sandwiched together after the fact.

To create an Orton with two frames of film, shoot the first frame in focus at a small aperture and increase exposure by 2 stops. Shoot the second frame out of focus at a small aperture and increase exposure by 1 stop. When you get the film back, take the two slides out of the mounts and combine both slides in one mount. The two exposures build on each other in the overlapping areas and what you end up with is a slightly overexposed image (which enhances the dreamlike quality) with some elements sharply in focus but others slightly blurred.

To make an Orton on a single frame of film, set your ISO for double the rated film speed, whether you’re using slide film or print film. See the Impressionism tutorial for how to make in camera multiple exposures. Working in either Manual or Aperture Priority, set your camera for the first exposure (in focus, small aperture) and take the shot. For the second exposure, adjust the aperture to the widest for the lens and with manual focus, defocus the lens so that the out of focus image appears to grow in the viewfinder. Make your second exposure and then see the result when you process the film.

The rose on the left is a single macro shot. The one

Orton Rose (click for larger version)

Creating an Orton digitally is really pretty simple. It can be done with scanned film or from a digital camera.
If you know you want to create an Orton ahead of time, you can plan for it at the time you shoot. Take the first shot in focus with a small aperture and overexposed by two stops. The second will be shot defocused at the widest aperture for the lens and overexposed by 1 stop. When you get the two images into your editing software, copy the defocused image onto the in focus image and set the Blend Mode of the top layer to Multiply. The Multiply Blend Mode is equivalent to a 1 stop decrease in exposure.

The photo on the left is in focus at +2, the middle is defocused at +1 and the right is the final combined result.

Digital Orton (click for larger version)

If you want to experiment with creating Ortons after the fact where you didn’t shoot for it in the field, you can do that too.  There are a few ways to go.

This first method gives a slightly darker result overall but that can be adjusted with Levels or Curves very easily.  Open your image and duplicate the Background Layer (Layer>Duplicate).  Set the layer Blend Mode to Screen then duplicate that layer.  On the top layer, apply a Gaussian Blur with a radius of about 40 as a start (you can go back and redo it to try different blur effects) and set the Blend Mode of the top layer to Multiply.  If the result is too dark, simply apply a Levels or Curves adjustment (on an adjustment layer) to lighten to taste.

For the second method, open your desired image file and duplicate the Background layer as before.  Now go to Image>Apply Image and select Screen as the Blending.  Make sure you select Background Copy as the layer for the effect to be applied to in the Click OK.  Duplicate this layer dropdown menu in the top part of the dialogue box.  Duplicate this layer and repeat the Apply Image process on the Background Copy 2 layer.  Apply your Gaussian Blur to this top layer and set the Blend Mode to Multiply.  This produces an overall slightly lighter result than above.

The third method works by double processing a RAW file out of your camera.  Open the RAW file in Adobe Camera RAW (ACR), set the Exposure to +2, make whatever other colour, shadow/highlight, saturation, hue, etc. adjustments you want and set the Clarity to somewhere between 75 and 100 (it’s somewhat image and personal taste dependent) then click Open.  Open the same RAW file again in ACR, change the Exposure setting to +1 and reduce the Clarity to between 0 and -100.  As you drop the Clarity below 0, you’ll begin to see a slight softening and a bit of the ‘dreamlike’ effect of the Orton start to appear (play with different Clarity settings and see what you like best).  Click Open.  Apply your Gaussian Blur to this +1 version.  CTRL+A to select the entire image, CTRL+C to copy, activate the +2 version and CTRL+V to paste the blurred version onto the +2.  Set the Blend Mode of the blurred layer to Multiply and you’re done.

Below are 3 versions using each of these three methods.  The first is without any Curves or Levels adjustment so you can see the difference.

Orton Comparison (click for larger version)



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