There are countless techniques and tools to make your image stand out, but few have become as famous as the Orton Effect.

The Orton Effect is loved and hated but still applied to some degree by most landscape photographers. It’s not hard to understand why it’s become a popular post-processing technique when you see how big of an impact it can make on an image.

You might think this is an effect only those familiar and comfortable with advanced processing tools can create, but it’s one of the more straightforward techniques you can learn – though it’s still one of the most effective.

A soft Orton Effect was added to enhance the mood
A soft Orton Effect was added to enhance the mood

What is the Orton Effect?

The Orton Effect is a technique developed by Michael Orton in the 1980s and remains one of the most popular post-processing techniques for landscape photographers today. While the technique has evolved since its first appearance, the core concept remains: create a dreamlike glow to an image.

Michael Orton originally created the effect to imitate watercolor paintings. Since this was before the digital era, it was done by sandwiching two or three transparencies of the same composition where one slide is in focus and overexposed, and the second and/or third is out of focus and overexposed.

Today, the effect is easily made with most processing tools. Software such as Luminar Neo has a built-in slider, while Adobe Photoshop requires more steps to create a more advanced glow. 

There are many ways to achieve this effect, but most lead to similar results. Keep reading, and I’ll show you the best ways to make the Orton Effect in Photoshop, Lightroom, and Luminar Neo.

How to Make the Orton Effect in Photoshop

The biggest challenge with applying the Orton Effect is finding the balance between looking good and too much. This is where many fail, and the, at times, extreme results are the main reason why some photographers frown when the effect is mentioned.

There’s no blueprint for when you should add the Orton Effect to your image; not all images will benefit from it. Usually, I begin my processing by making slight RAW adjustments in Adobe Lightroom, then opening the file in Photoshop and doing some work with midtone contrast and colors before applying the Orton Effect.

However, as I said, this depends on the particular image, and sometimes it might be my first or last step.

Let’s look at two effective methods to add the Orton Effect in Photoshop:

Method #1 – Image Adjustments & High Pass Sharpening

Begin by opening your image in Adobe Photoshop and applying the adjustments you feel are necessary before adding the effect. Once the image is ready, create a merged layer (⌘ + Shift + M) and duplicate it (⌘ + J). We’re going to need both layers for this method.

Select the top layer (this should be the duplicate layer), and go to Filter -> Blur -> Gaussian Blur.

Orton Effect - Gaussian Blur

Select a radius in the box that appears; the ideal radius depends on the image and what camera it’s captured with.

I tend to use the same radius as the number of megapixels in my camera. Increasing the radius will result in a stronger glow and a more dreamlike effect, but I prefer using the layer opacity to adjust the strength.

Choose a radius between 20-50, depending on your camera, for the best results.

The Orton Effect Levels

After adding the Gaussian Blur, it’s time to introduce some contrast. This is done by going to Image -> Adjustments -> Levels. Again, since we will adjust the layer’s opacity, we will overdo the adjustment at this stage. Pull the highlight slider far left and the shadow slider far right until there’s a lot of contrast.

It can be hard to visualize what it will look like; the image looks horrible right now, but don’t be afraid to go extreme like I did in the example above.

Now, make the layer invisible by reducing its opacity to 0. Since our eyes are still going a bit crazy after watching the massive color and contrast bomb, look away from the monitor for a minute for your eyes to re-adjust.

Once your eyes return to normal, gradually increase the opacity until you’re satisfied with the look. I leave it somewhere between 8 and 12 percent.

What About Details?

The image will have a nice glow at this point, but some important details and textures have been lost. To get them back, you need to add a sharpening filter.

Take the original merged layer (located beneath the duplicate) and drag it on top of the duplicate. This will make the Orton Effect invisible for now. With the top layer selected, go to Filter -> Other -> High Pass.

The Orton Effect - Sharpening

Again, the radius depends on the camera used to capture the image, but I tend to use somewhere between 2.8 and 3.2. At this point, the image appears gray, and only some outlines are visible. To fix this, change the blending mode to Soft Light.

Blending Mode Photoshop

The image is now visible again, and you can see that you’ve recovered some details and textures in the image while maintaining the Orton Effect glow.

My final step is to select the two layers and add them to a group. This allows me to slightly adjust the group’s opacity until I’m satisfied with the effect.

Sometimes, I will add a layer mask and paint the effect into only certain areas of the image. I avoid applying the Orton Effect to the foreground as I find it more natural to have a subtle glow in the middle and background.

If you want extra control of the settings you apply to the layers, you can convert them to Smart Objects before adding the effects. This lets you go back and change the radius at any time.

Method #2 – Adjustment Layers

The second way of adding the Orton Effect in Photoshop is similar. I told you initially that there are many methods, but in the end, it comes down to what you prefer.

Start by creating a duplicate layer. Since we are adjusting the opacity, we don’t want to add blur directly on the background layer.

Select the duplicate layer and add Gaussian Blur to it as we did in the previous method. Next, create a Levels or Curves adjustment layer. There’s no significant difference between Levels and Curves; both will work fine. Which one you use depends on which one you prefer to use for other tasks as well.

I’ve always used curves even though I find Levels easier to use.

Orton Effect adjustment layer

With the adjustment layer selected, increase the contrast, similar to what we did in the previous example. Remember that you can go back and fine-tune it later on.

Before adjusting the opacity, we need to create a clipping mask. Right-click on the curves or levels layer and select Create Clipping Mask. This means that the adjustment layer will copy any changes made to the layer beneath, which, in this case, is the blurred layer.

The final step is to adjust the opacity. This time, we return to the blurred layer and slide the opacity back to 0. Let your eyes adjust before increasing the opacity until you’re happy with the effect.

Photoshop Plugins to Easily Make the Orton Effect

Even though the Orton Effect is relatively quick and easy to make, it’s always good to save time by simplifying the process. You can do this by creating a Photoshop Action of your preferred method. That will allow you to make the effect by simply clicking one button later.

If you choose to make an action, make sure that you convert the layers to Smart Object before adding the adjustments; that will let you fine-tune the settings to fit each particular image. Another way to simplify the process is to use third-party panels such as Raya Pro or Nik Color Efex. This is often easier and more professional than making your actions and will speed up your workflow.

How to Make the Orton Effect in Adobe Lightroom 

While most people consider Photoshop the go-to software for creating the Orton Effect, getting great results in Lightroom is surprisingly easy:

Step #1: Make a Mask

The first step isn’t critical, but it gives you greater control of how and where your glow effect is applied. Keep in mind that you don’t always want it applied globally.

Use the Linear Gradient tool to make a mask that selects the entire photo. You do this by simply dragging the gradient from below the image: 

Make the Orton Effect in Lightroom

The adjustments we’ll make in the next steps will be applied to this mask. However, we can refine it at a later moment. 

Step #2: Adjust Clarity and Texture

The second step is where the “magic” happens. This is where your glow effect is applied. All you need to do is decrease two sliders: 

  1. Clarity
  2. Texture

On occasion, you’ll also benefit from increasing the Whites slider. This can enhance the glow by brightening the brights. 

The exact values depend on how strong you want the effect to be. Texture affects more of the glow, while Clarity also affects the luminosity. 

How to Make the Orton Effect in Lightroom

Step #3: Refine the Mask

The third and final step to create the Orton Effect in Lightroom is to refine the mask. As mentioned, you don’t always want the adjustment to be applied to the entire photo. Quite often, you want it applied only to certain areas. 

Right-click on the mask and select Intersect Mask with from the dropdown menu to reveal a list of masks to use for this purpose. You can use a Brush, Radial Gradient, Luminance Range, or any other mask to remove the adjustment from certain areas. 

Luminosity Masks in Lightroom are quite good when it comes to this purpose. It allows you to, for example, remove the Orton Effect from shadow areas.

Make the Orton Effect in Lightroom

How to Make the Orton Effect in Luminar NEO

Making the Orton Effect in Luminar Neo is easy and can be done using one slider. Luminar is known for making beginner-friendly software where you can create professional-looking effects with minimal effort. 

This is the case for making glow effects, too. All you need to do is enter the Edit panel and locate the Glow filter under the Creative section.

Here, you are presented with four types: 

  1. Soft Focus
  2. Glow 
  3. Orton Effect
  4. Orton Effect Soft

There’s also an Amount slider that is used to adjust the intensity of the adjustment. Finally, for those wanting more control, an Advanced Settings section allows you to refine the Softness, Brightness, Contrast, and Warmth

Which of the four types do you choose? It is purely based on which look you prefer for your photo. I wouldn’t say that one is better than the other. The only thing I suggest is to take advantage of the advanced settings. Refining those settings makes a huge difference in creating your distinct style. 

How to Make the Orton Effect in Luminar Neo

The masking function is another feature to note when applying the Orton Effect in Luminar Neo. As mentioned before, this is an essential tool for applying the effect only to the areas where it is needed. 

Note: Save $10 off Luminar Neo using the code CAPTURELANDSCAPES at checkout.


The Orton Effect is a powerful post-processing technique that can add a beautiful glow to your images. It’s important to understand that it doesn’t need to, nor should it, be applied to every single image. It’s also important to understand that it can significantly impact your photography.

Being a fairly easy-to-apply adjustment, it has become a go-to technique for photographers of all levels to achieve a more dream-like look to their images.