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Create dreamy portraits with Photoshop CS6

Looking to add a new dimension to your portraits? Here we reveal how to master the 'Orton Effect' and add ethereal charm to your portrait images with Photoshop CS6.

Orton Effect in Photoshop CS6 before and after

In the traditional darkroom, the Orton Effect was created by sandwiching two transparencies together. One frame was sharp, the other out of focus, and both were slightly over-exposed. The result was an image with a lovely ethereal glow. We can tweak the focus and exposure in post-processing, so it’s very easy to apply the Orton Effect to a single image using Photoshop CS6. Here’s how...

And remember, you can use this image to practice with!

01. Duplicate the background

Orton effect with Photoshop CS6
Click image to enlarge

Grab the image above and press Cmd/Ctrl+J twice to make two duplicates of your Background Layer. Double-click the layer name on the middle layer and call it ‘Sharp’. Highlight the top layer, then go to the Blend Mode drop-down menu at the top of the Layers Panel and choose Screen.

02. Merge the layers

Orton effect step 2 Photoshop CS6
Click to enlarge

Right-click the top layer and then choose Merge Down from the list (or press Cmd/Ctrl+E). In effect, this applies the Screen Blend Mode so that it sits on one single layer. This represents the sharp, over-exposed frame you would use to create the effect using the traditional film method.

03. Add some blur

Orton effect grab 3 Photoshop CS6
Click to enlarge

Press Cmd/Ctrl+J to copy the sharp layer. Rename the new layer ‘Blur’, then right-click it and choose Convert to Smart Object. Next go to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur. Aim to blur the detail while keeping shapes recognisable. For this image, we’ve used a radius of 18 pixels.

04. Blend the layers

Orton effect step 4 Photoshop CS6
Click to enlarge

Go to the Blend Mode drop-down menu at the top of the Layers Panel and change the Blend Mode of the ‘Blur’ layer to Multiply. If you think the image looks too dark, you can lower the layer Opacity to lighten it. Here, we’ve set the Opacity to 70%.

And that's it - simple! This is a great way to transform portrait shots, and if you're looking for more inspiration then you need to check out Practical Photoshop magazine, where this tutorial was first published.

Now check out our massive list of 101 Photoshop tutorials!

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