There are many ways to create soft focus Photoshop effect, but one of our favourite techniques is the Orton Effect.
It has a distinctive look and can really add character to your images. Plus, not many people seem to use it so it’s an opportunity to make your photos look a little different.
The basic concept has been around for years. The effect is named after photographer Michael Orton, who came up with a technique of sandwiching two over-exposed slides of the same subject in the same mount.
One slide was taken in sharp focus, and the other was taken with the subject out of focus. The resulting combination was a correctly exposed image with a unique soft-focus look created by the combination of sharp and out-of-focus exposures.
Like many other film techniques and processes, you can replicate the soft focus Orton effect in Photoshop.
One of the advantages of using Photoshop is that you can control the strength of the effect. It can be subtle, strong or anywhere in between. It’s up to you.
Another benefit is that there’s no need to take two photos of the same image and combine them. So you can go back over old photos and apply the technique to see if it improves the image – a fun rainy day exercise.
The key to using the Orton effect most productively is to use it with suitable images. Choose a strong photo to start with – one that will benefit from a dreamy post-processing treatment. Good potential subjects are softly-lit portraits, autumnal scenes and landscapes. It works well with black-and-white images, too.
The digital equivalent of the Orton effect works by splitting the image into two lightened layers. You then use the Gaussian Blur filter to apply a strong soft-focus effect to the top layer and finish by changing the layer Blend Mode to Multiply. This gives a strong soft-focus effect that’s probably a bit overpowering for most photos.
You can remedy this by duplicating the Background Layer before you start and working on the duplicate layer. You end up with three layers.
You then merge the top two and use the Opacity slider to reduce the strength of the soft-focus effect to taste. Alternatively, simply reduce the strength of the Gaussian blur. Below we’ll show you how to do it step-by-step.
How to create the soft-focus Orton Effect in Photoshop
01 Make a duplicate
Go to Layer>Duplicate Layer to copy the Background Layer. Then go to Image>Apply Image. Set Layer to Background Copy, Channel to RGB and Blend Mode to Screen. Hit OK.
02 Add Gaussian Blur
Go to Layer>Duplicate Layer again. This creates a third layer. Then go to Filter>Blur> Gaussian Blur. Set the Radius to around 25 pixels and hit OK.
03 Apply the Multiply Blend Mode
Set the Blend Mode of the top layer to Multiply. Select the top two layers and go to Layer>Merge Layers. Reduce the Opacity to suit your taste.
Top Photoshop Tip
Go one step further and use a mask to apply the Orton effect to the background only. This subtle technique works well with portraits by leaving your sitter sharp. After the last step, create a feathered selection around your subject, go to Select>Inverse and click the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers Panel.