Learn How To Create The Orton Effect In Photoshop

The Orton Effect is one of the most commonly used photo editing effects among landscape photographers. Just take one look at any popular landscape photographer on platforms such as 500px, Flickr, or Instagram, and you’ll see how prevalent this glow effect really is.

The Orton Effect is a post-processing trick that adds a soft glow over top of a photo. It’s a great tool to make images appear more whimsical, dreamlike and grand. The exact thing all landscape photographers are striving for!

There are a variety of ways to apply the Orton Effect into your photography, but in this article, I’ll be sharing the best way to create the Orton Effect using Photoshop, in just a few simple steps.

What Is The Orton Effect In Photography?


The Orton Effect gets its name from a photographer named Michael Orton. In the 1980s, Orton would create this effect on slide film by taking two different photos of the same scene. One photo would be taken in focus, while the second photo was taken out of focus at a brighter exposure. When merging these two slides together, it created an interesting glow like appearance to the photo. So was born the ‘Orton Effect’ that we know and love today.

Fortunately for us, the age of digital has made life much easier. With a few simple image adjustments in Photoshop, the Orton Effect can be applied to any image in just a matter of minutes. So let’s learn how to do it!

How To Create The Orton Effect In Photoshop: Method #1

Just as Michael Orton created this effect on film, we will be following a very similar process, but in Photoshop!

1. Duplicate Your Image Layer

Select the image you want to apply the effect onto. Duplicate this layer by pressing Command + J (MAC) or Control + J (PC).

If you have made a series of previous adjustments in Photoshop, you’ll want to duplicate and merge everything onto a new layer. You can do this by pressing Command or Control + Shift + E. This will duplicate and merge all visible layers.

2. Add A Gaussian Blur To The Photo

Select your newly duplicated image layer and go up to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. A dialogue box will appear asking you to set the blur radius. There is no right or wrong for this, and it’s totally a subjective choice. A safe bet is a blur radius somewhere between 10 and 50. The stronger the blur, the stronger the effect will become.

Once happy with your blur, click OK and rename this image layer to blur.

3. Create A Curves Adjustment Layer And Add Contrast

Create a curves adjustment layer by clicking the half colored circle at the bottom of the Layers panel.


Create a clipping mask by clicking the box icon with an arrow beside it. This icon is found inside of the curves dialogue box. With a clipping mask added, the adjustment layer will only affect the blur layer.


Drag up the highlights and drag down the shadows. You want to go pretty heavy on the contrast with this one.


4. Change Blur Layer Blending Mode To Screen

Select the blur layer and change the layer blending mode from Normal to Screen. This gets rid of the dark areas of the blur layer and leaves behind a glow in the highlights and mid-tones.

5. Refine The Orton Effect

It’s likely that the effect may look too strong at first. With the blur layer selected, decrease the layer fill until the Orton Effect better suits your needs.


Additionally, you can add a layer mask to the blur layer to choose exactly where the Orton Effect is visible. To add a layer mask click the layer mask icon at the bottom of the layer panel. Invert your layer mask by pressing Command or Control + I to turn everything invisible. Now with a white brush, paint back in the areas you want the Orton Effect to be visible.


Above is the before and after of the Orton Effect created manually. It adds a subtle glow and really enhances the water!

Creating The Orton Effect In One Click: Method #2

orton effect photoshop action

If you have a lot of images to process or you just don’t like wasting time with manual steps, then perhaps the Orton Effect Photoshop Action is the answer for you. This Photoshop action creates the Orton Effect with the click of a button and drastically speeds up the entire process.

It comes with 8 different Orton Effect Photoshop Actions with preset Orton Effect strengths, and options to customize the effect yourself within the action. If you want to download the action for yourself, you can click here to get the Photoshop action.

Below are a few before and after examples of the Orton Effect, created using the Photoshop Action:

The Orton Effect is an easy way to put a little extra zest in your landscape photography, by adding a stunning whimsical glow to the photo. I find that this effect works best in the highlight areas such as the sky or to accentuate a light source. The Orton Effect also looks exceptionally good when added to water.

Keep in mind that this effect can be easy to go a little bit overboard with, so use it sparingly. Try to think of it as the cherry on top of your image, rather than becoming a major part of your ‘photo sundae’.

Happy Editing,

-Brendan 🙂