michael orton | photography

Orton Effect

One of my trademark techniques was originally referred to as “Orton Imagery” by Photo Life magazine. This technique originated years ago with my efforts to imitate watercolor paintings by simply placing the images out of focus and if you have seen pen and ink and watercolor combinations, you will understand where the inspiration to add detail comes from.

The original technique involved sandwiching two or three transparencies of the same composition together. One slide contains the detail component, in focus and overexposed, the second and /or the third is the color component, and is out of focus and overexposed.

A tripod is essential, as this technique involves manipulating focus and focal length without moving the camera. I used a 70 – 210mm or 28 – 70mm zoom at F4 or F 5.6, creating an image with shallow depth of field to make the first exposure. This image is a controlled amount out of focus (a variable) and exposed anywhere from correctly to two stops overexposed, depending on the image and my intent in the final sandwich. If you bracket the exposure, you will have other choices on the light table. Next, with my eye to the viewfinder, I slowly bring the image into focus. However, the image is getting smaller as it comes into focus. Therefore, as I sharpen the focus, I must also zoom to compensate for this. If care is not taken, the sandwich can be quite askew with the areas of color not properly indexed with the detail and lines.

The use of digital cameras and Photoshop has given rise to many variations of techniques that produce similar effects. The release of Adobe Photoshop Elements 10 in the fall of 2011, includes a guided action of the “Orton Effect”. Adding a softer more painterly effect to many types of images, including portraits, black and white images as well as videos has become very popular.

The video "Earth Symphony" is a collection of some of my most memorable photgraphic moments featuring the Orton Effect as it evolved.

Photography.ca - Orton Effect - Podcast/Interview #67 with Marko Kulik

(Direct link to Podcast MP3)