Creative Edit #18 – Create Orton Effect and Directing Focus Using Lightroom

london tower bridge

Have you ever seen photographs (typically landscape images) where the subjects in the photo have a soft and glowing look to it?

The effect is deliberate rather than a technical error by the photographer. As the matter of fact, it’s called the Orton effect, named after the photographer who pioneered it. If you like to read more about the origin of the Orton effect, you can check out Michael Orton’s website here.

Ever since I started this blog, I have been sharing how I post-process my images. The aim of this is twofold: (1) To document my journey in photography style, and (2) To share my post-processing methods in hope some may find it useful in their development as a photographer.

At the beginning, I didn’t really know where I was going with this. But after publishing 17 posts, I thought I should continue and make these posts easier to identified. From now on, all such posts will have “Creative Edit #” at the front of the post title. I have also renamed older posts so you can trace back if you wish.

In this #18 post of the creative editing series, I’m going to show you how to create the Orton effect in Adobe Lightroom (in addition to a bunch of other tips too!).

Look Up and Look Back!

This image was taken together with others while I was taking a stroll in central London during a clear evening in autumn last year.

I was heading towards The Shard. I turned to look back and saw the line on the ground, coupled with the buildings on either side and the direct view on one of the towers of the Tower Bridge.

the shard london

The Shard

What drew my attention was the lines formed by the buildings and the ground. The view didn’t disappoint me when I looked through the viewfinder of my camera.

I positioned myself in the middle where the line was and took several vertical shots. The light wasn’t too extreme but I bracketed exposures anyway because part of the buildings were in shadow.

Looking at the histogram, I thought it would probably be ok without getting into HDR. There was some clumping of pixels in the highlights but not to the point of clipping. The midtones and shadows were fine otherwise.

Crop To Square For A Better Composition

Very often, the perception of an images changes when you see it on a different size. An image you think has a lot of potential could turned out to be ‘meh’ when you view it large on the computer screen. I often find this amusing but never found a logical reason to it.

During the process of culling, it didn’t occur to me that this image has much potential. So I left it at the bottom of the pile.

Weeks later, I came back to it and begun to experiment a few different things. As I cropped it to square, the composition instantly became more appealing compared to its ‘as shot’ portrait orientation.

Suddenly, I had a lot of ideas running through my head. I wanted to put more attention to the center of the image where there was more light. I also wanted the light to be more intense but softer at the same time.

Through experience, I’ve learned not to be afraid to crop my images. Cropping an image doesn’t mean you’re salvaging what could have been done better in camera. It’s great if you’ve already visualized a square composition during shooting. But if you haven’t, doing it in post-production is not a shameful thing to do!

Post-Processing Steps

straight out of camera

SOCC

The first step for me starts in Lightroom and is always (and always) corrective editing. This means lens profile correction and removal of chromatic aberration. This is often followed by adjusting color temperature, contrast, spot removal, straightening the horizon and perspective correction.

Content Aware Fill

after corrective adjustment

After applying corrective adjustments

Once the vertical perspective is corrected, I was left with an image that has empty pixels on either side. This is common with perspective correction and is easily fixed.

One option is to crop the image but this could make the composition too tight depending on how much space there is. Another option is to do some reconstruction to replace the pixels.

Don’t worry, it’s not technical at all!

I exported the image to Photoshop, used the Lasso tool to draw around the area of empty pixels. Then, press Shift + Backspace and select Content-Aware from the dropdown menu before hitting OK. Photoshop’s engine for content aware fill has improved significantly over the years and is something you can rely on for such job.

When To Edit In Lightroom or Photoshop?

When done, I saved the file back to Lightroom for further editing.

Some have asked: when should you edit in Lightroom and when in Photoshop?

Personally, I’d use Lightroom only if I knew I could get the results I want. But if I need more heavy or complex post-processing, Photoshop is a better tool for that. Also, if I’m in experimental mode, then Photoshop is definitely the software to use.

Directing Focus Towards The Center

If you look at the image closely, you can see crowd by the side near the center of the image. Together with the walkway on each side, these distracts the eyes from paying attention to the Tower Bridge in the middle, which is really the main subject of this image.

Below: Before and after adding graduated ND filter to each side.

So, to conceal these distractions, I used the Gradient Tool in Lightroom to add a “graduated neutral density” filter on each side. This darkens the periphery of the image and naturally highlights the subject in the center.

To further accentuate the effect, I used the Radial Tool to increase the brightness in the middle. I also used the same tool to add the Orton effect so the light looks soft and more pleasant.

Here’s how you do it:

Use the Radial Tool to create a large circle and place it where you want the Orton effect to be. In this case, the center of the image. Now, locate the Dehaze adjustment slider and move it to the left. This adds haze - the adjustment area will look brighter and softer to mimic the Orton effect.

Below: Before and after adding the Orton effect.

The Final Touch

Although this photo was taken in the evening near sunset, it didn’t have the feel of an evening. During sunset, the color of the sky often turns from orange to with a tinge of pink/magenta. I wanted to add that to the image so I color grade it by reducing the saturation of yellow/orange and added a tinge of magenta.

Below: Before and after color grading the image.

Image Proofing

I thought I was happy with how it looked at this point so I saved a copy on my desktop. I came back to it the next day and felt the colors were a bit too saturated.

Back in Lightroom, I reduced global saturation but increased the color temperature in the center of the image. At this point, I was really happy with how it looks so I uploaded it to my Instagram!

Below: Before and after final post-processing.

Want To Learn More About Photoshop?

Photographs don’t always need to be tack sharp. Also, getting out of your comfort zone often lead to unexpected surprises (the good one!). In a way, this also helps you to develop as a photographer and an artist!

If you have always wanted to learn how to edit your images in Photoshop but find the software too daunting, I have a free Photoshop video library designed especially for photographers like you.

The videos are byte-size so it doesn’t overwhelm you with information - which is what put off most people using the software.