The ‘Orton Effect’ in Lightroom

Hi Folks:

As with many photographers, almost from the time I started making photographs I also began playing with them.  For negatives this involved darkroom work, with slide film I would try mounting two images in the same frame, but all of this became a lot easier when I got into digital processing.

In Lightroom 2 (I think), Adobe introduced the ‘negative clarity’ slider, and while it was fun to use on its own, one day I wondered what would happen if I made a virtual copy of an image, overexposed both the original and the VC slightly (dual mounting slides in the same frame holder made the overall image darker), and applied negative clarity to one, then combined them using the LR/Enfuse plugin.  The result was this:


Not a great image all in all, but it worked well for what I wanted it to.  I never expected that I was the first or the only person to try something like this, and a year or two later I discovered that a similar technique had been attributed to photographer Michael Orton and was known as the ‘Orton Effect’.

The Orton Effect is pretty easy to duplicate using Photoshop or even Elements by utilizing layers and blend modes.  Helen Bradley has a blog post that covers that quite well here.  Lightroom, however, doesn’t have layers in the user interface.  On One software makes the ‘Perfect Layers‘ plugin for Lightroom, but it lacks the same blend mode sliders found in Photoshop/Elements.  However, if you have Lightroom and not Photoshop or Elements, all is not lost.  It is possible to recreate a similar effect in Lightroom using only one image.  If you’re using Lightroom 3, Helen Bradley even has a Develop preset that you can use; you can find it here.

NB: If you’re following Helen’s tutorial and want to make your own preset, a tip on the Graduated Filter tool.  If you place the mouse cursor at the edge of the image , hold down the Shift key and drag the mouse a little way away from the image, the entire image will be given the full effect of the filter.

With Lightroom 4 and the 2012 process version, the sliders in the basic panel and the graduated filter and brush tools have changed, so Helen’s preset won’t work properly in Lightroom 4 unless you revert to a previous process version.  Therefore, I’ve taken the liberty of approximating her preset for Lightroom 4; you can download it here: Orton Effect – Lightroom 4.  Feel free to adjust the sliders in the Graduated Filter tool to your taste for each image.  Although this preset works pretty well for a single image, if you have the LR/Enfuse plugin for Lightrom (it’s donationware) you can use the preset more effectively.  Begin by processing the image as you would normally, then create a virtual copy of the image and apply the Orton Effect preset to the VC.  Select both the original and the VC in the Library module and use the LR/Enfuse plugin to combine them into one image.  If you want a stronger effect, you can create two Virtual Copies, apply the preset to both of them and then combine all three using the plugin.  Play!  See what works for you.

Here are a few samples of images created using the ‘Orton Effect’:



Single image in Lightroom

Jaguar 340

PS Elements

Jaguar 340


Mute Swans


Mute Swans

Single image – adjusted sliders

Now go out and make some photographs!!


P.S. You can find more of our posts on photography and Lightroom tutorials here, and you can find links to over 200 other sites that have Lightroom tips, tutorials and videos here.

2 Replies to “The ‘Orton Effect’ in Lightroom”

    1. wolfnowl Post author

      Hi Monty, and thanks so much for dropping by! We have some sixty photography and Lightroom tutorial posts on our blog and you\’re welcome to all of them!! As for Bridge vs. Lightroom, it\’s not really a fair comparison because LR does so much more than Bridge. Bridge by itself is a glorified file browser, fancier than but similar to Windows Explorer or Mac Finder. Bridge works in synch with Adobe Camera Raw for raw file conversion and with Photoshop for image processing. LR is in essence a database program, so it can handle digital asset management (both keeping track of your image files and all of the metadata that goes with them) as well as using filters and/or standard or smart collections to organize your images into groups. Lightroom handles raw conversion and processing like ACR, and if you need features that LR itself can\’t handle, you can send images off to Photoshop (or Elements or…) for extra work and then bring them back into LR. LR also makes working on multiple images very easy. Lightroom also allows you to create photo books, keep track of your images\’ locations using the Map module, print images either singly or in groups, create slideshows and web galleries. PS was invented long before digital cameras were invented, but LR was designed specifically for photographers.

      Take care,


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