Ridgway, Colorado
May 15
A sometimes artist and photographer, sometimes I write too.  


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MARCH 14, 2009 7:52PM

photoshop portrait sandwich

Rate: 34 Flag


There's a technique we used back in the film days of sandwiching slides together to get an enhanced version of a photograph (the film days are still here of course, but digital is ubiquitous and inexorable in its encroachment). The process was one developed by that Vancouver Island photographer Michael Orton, thus dubbed the "Orton Technique."


The method for film consisted of taking at least two shots of the same subject, preferably with your cam on a tripod, with the exact same framing and the subject immobile. That's fine for a still life or landscape, but it's a bit harder to do with a live subject mostly because it requires you to change settings between the shots all the while your live portrait subject has to remain perfectly still or you risk ruining the ability to use the technique. The images must register perfectly for the process to work. 


One image was deliberately taken out of focus and overexposed by one stop, the other taken in sharp focus and overexposed by two full stops. When the slides were taken apart and the emulsions layered or sandwiched, the results were sometimes quite magical in its artistry and often had a surreal glow to it. It was hard to get the images to register just right for this to work out, but it was worth it when you nailed it.


That's why it's much easier to use the principles of the technique on your computer from a single image, even if you're convinced that images on Kodachrome are inherently better (they are, they still are).


So we're going to use the technique on a portrait—just for fun, but also to add some pop to the portrait. It's not difficult to do, and requires just a few steps in Photoshop (it should work in Gimp or Photoshop Elements if you don't have access to the enormously expensive full fledged real deal from Adobe, but since I don't have or use Gimp or PE, you'll have to figure out the conversion that will work on those programs...the principles should be the same or similar.)


Here's my friend Harold Bell—he's a great guy and has the best tuxedo rental business in this area. He has a small shop in the exclusive and expensive Park Cities Snider Plaza—he's a friendly welcoming guy and always ready with a story. I only rent a tux once a year to attend the Beat Leukemia Ball, and don't much dress up at all the rest of the year, so he makes getting into the monkey suit all that much easier. 



It's an ok portrait, a little off center, but that's ok. (A note on composition: You don't really need to get someone's shoes in a shot. I mean, if they have fabulous Manolo Blahniks or exquisite peek-a-boo popsicle toes, take a shot of them. When you're doing a portrait, take a step You want to get to the person's spirit by looking at their face. So, step closer—I know most cams have zooms, and people more often than not use zoom lenses on DSLRs as well. I think you get better results from prime lenses, in this case it's a 50mm 1.8 lens. The thing to remember when you use a prime lens instead of a zoom is that you frame the image with your feet. Yes, you have to walk closer or take a step back to frame your shot. But trust me, baby, trust me. Using a prime for portraits is way better than using a zoom—unless you're using a pro zoom lens, one that costs north of $1,700.00 or so—get a prime and use it.)


Here we go.


  • Ok, the first thing to do is to find the image you want to use and get it opened in Photoshop. (You can practice on mine if you want, download the larger version here. I use Aperture for my photo storage and work flow, but there are many programs you might use instead.






  • After getting it loaded into Photoshop duplicate the image. You'll work on the duplicate—it's always a good practice to do this, so make it a habit. Close the original.





  • Next, lighten the image as follows: Image→Apply Image. You'll get a dialog box to come up. Change the Blending Mode to Screen and the Opacity to 100%. This will make your image look way overexposed, don't worry.






  • Duplicate this overexposed image: Image→Duplicate




  • Apply a blur to this second image: Filter→Blur→Gaussian Blur. You'll want to play around with the radius slider setting—you'll need somewhere between 10 to 40 or so depending on the size of your image.




  • Select the Move Tool from the Toolbox (or press "V" on your keyboard—know your shortcuts!) Hold down the Shift key and drag the blurry image onto the sharp one. Keeping the shift key down assures that you will have the blurry image align perfectly when you drop it on the first image. 






  • With the now blurry original image active, go to the layers palette and change the Blending Mode from Normal to Multiply.






  • You can now close the second blurry image as we're done with that and will be working on the original.
  • You can do whatever you want now to the Ortonized image. For this one, I'm going to desaturate the red channel a bit and adjust the curves as shown in the four images below.










And I'm done. I hope you enjoyed the little tutorial. It's not nearly as complicated or as hard as I've made it sound. It might just add some pop to an image that you already enjoy.



You can see a larger version of the finished image here to check out the detail.


Here are the Ortonized and original side by side so you can more easily see the change:




You can see a larger version of the side by side comparison here.


A shout out to John/designanator for the instigation. He's recently founded the C. W. Post College of Long Island University in Brookville, New York as seen in his post here which is a continuation of his very informative OpenSalonExplorer (OSX) series. I think it goes a bit beyond meta and into the realm of parameta simply because of what is an exemplary service to the community. It's his way of giving back to Open Salon and I'm happy to play a small part in that.


If you're interested in seeing any more PS techniques or actions that I employ in my photography, please let me know in the comments. It's not for everyone, but I hope it's for you. And give John some props.


Another of Harold from the same photoshoot and using the same Orton Technique:


Harold Ortonized


You can see a larger version of this last one here.



Update notice: I've updated the post from its first upload to include the second image of Harold and added the side by side image with links to larger versions of those. 



all images copyright © 2009 by barry b. doyle • all rights reserved


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I am interested in reading more and am beginning with zero knowledge of photography but a real desire to learn.
Wow. That is totally cool.
Dorinda, we all start at the same point on our learning curve. I'm proof that if I can get some things done that others enjoy, anyone can.

Thanks Rob...I always love your comments.
Barry, I've seen a few different film techniques over the years, and I wasn't familiar the "Orton Technique" at all. This is another way we can be thankful for the power of current computers and the sophistication of programs like Photoshop that give us the kind of ability to retouch and alter photos that would have required a million dollar Scitex workstation back in the early '80s.

Your step by step tutorial is excellent and I'm going to try it on some of my photos that would be the perfect subject for the technique.

Little did I know when I posted my fun story on C.W. Post College did I know it would be followed by such a great tutorial that we can all use. I appreciate your kind mention of my OSX posts and how one of them became a catalyst for this superb Photoshop tutorial!


(thumbified for understanding things I don't)
Barry - thanks for this. A very interesting effect that I have not run across before (and I consistently read several photo magazines every month). Knew that the "multiply" was an option in the blending mode, but never experimented with it. I will have to give this a try. You should see about submitting this detailed tutorial to one of the photo magazines. I can imagine how difficult this would be comparatively in the film realm.
Wow. That is so cool. Another post for my new, "Tips from Barry" file. I really appreciate your teaching these techniques. Keep it up! It's going in your new book on Photography, right??? Thanks so much!
Damn, Barry. Pretty cool stuff. If I take the shots, can I send them to you to do the photoshopping?

Think I'll leave this one to you, Barry. :)
holy moly. what rob said.
This is quite impressive Barry. I know of no other technique that do closely resembles daguerreotypes. Chuck Close, the famous Hyper-Realist portrait artist was doing this old technique several years ago:

They are B & W, but similar in the look.
In credible post Barry. A great tech resource for all of us.
Thank you!
I want to see a fine Self portrait of you w this technique!
Nice effect! I will definitely try this out!
I'm going to study this. What I really want to do is take Photoshop lessons from you. No, what I really want to do is live inside your brain for as many hours/days as I could take it.
Barry - You are the master! Rated for manipulation, of the photoshop kind! Really nice new avatar!
dang, I thought you were going to tell us that film is coming back! Oh well.

The image you have created is awesome. The technique to create it incredibly imaginative.
Great technique! It does give a face a kind of spectral glow. Have you ever done this technique selecting just one area with a lasso set to a large feather, capturing, let's say, just the face of the focused image, and then putting that on top of the out of focus image, using mulitply?

thumbed for your excellent tutorial instincts
Very interesting! I thought the first portrait was great and was surprised that the final version is so much better. Thanks for the tutorial and I'll be trying this later today.
This is so cool. You give great instruction ;)
Thanks - I just dusted off my photoshop app and opened it up the other day...and am rusty...pointers and learning new things are great!
talk of layering and playing around with photos makes me miss the dark room in college.. some day ill be able to afford my own dark room and all the equipment.. course then you guys will never hear from me for months at a time.. lol
Wow Barry, thanks for the DIY guide. Great work.
Simply awesome information. Looking forward to many more ~ Peece!
This is the reason I bought "PS 4 Complete" way-back-when and performed all the manipulations on the sample cd-rom. When I got CS2, I sprang for the Classroom in a Book and performed many of those. You have the extraordinary advantage of having knowledge of the darkroom, so all the analogs for these digital effects are known to you as physical manipulations with a paddle or slipping a colored piece of glass in front of a light source, or a meter which measures the content of a negative or print, etc. After all my voyages of curiosity into the guts of Photoshop, you have made me realize once again that there are so many ways to get to the same place and features which I've still not tried. I just got several more really useful pointers to add to whatever proficiency I might have with image making. Both in taking the shot and processing it. Your generosity with your knowledge is very much appreciated.
Very interesting! (Miles and miles and MILES over my head, but still, very interesting!)
This is fabulous. As a renewing art student I love learning about how I can use technology. Very much appreciated.
Ms Fank! No, I really think it's not miles =) If you have PS or equivalent, then the steps are fairly basic, and I hope laid out in a way to hold your hand through the process. It really amounts to about 6 steps or on the scale of what most other PS renditions require, this one is on the easy side. I'm sure with your artistic sensibilities, you can work this quite well... let me know if you give it a try.
Thanks for the comments guys...I'd like to answer some of the comments.

First, I'd like to thank John again for the inspiration. If you haven't yet seen his OSX series, it's really worth a look. This is a guy who is a designer to the roots of his soul and hella smart too.

John, thanks for the comments. You're so right, technology is advancing so rapidly that we soon are relegated to processes that will be deemed quaint.

Thanks Jodi!

Steve, your kind words mean a lot to me. I know of your abilities and would be very curious to see some images of yours using this technique.

Ha is no "new" book, just the old one still in publishing limbo. But I did get the advance royalty check and the publisher is working on getting to book out.

Rich, no, you must do your own. I know you can since you're a digeratti. I mentioned above to Marple, this one is pretty easy step by step thing. If you have the software you should give it a try.

Thanks Lorraine!

Gary that link you provided leads to some exquisite images... I really loved them, thanks so much. I don't really have very good self portraits, but I'll try to think about doing some if I find a spot with good and forgiving light.

Ardee, I'd like to see what you do...thanks!

Julie, if you got in my head, you'd be terribly horribly bored I'm sure.

Thanks Cathy!

eP, I hope you try this out too. With your PS skills you could do some great portraits.

Steve, it's a technique that's been around for a long time and has seen lots of different takes on the process. This particular version is a combination of what I knew of it in the film era and from various online sources doing similar things. Thanks for your kind words.

Karin, what kind of cam did you get? Thanks for your lovely comments.

Brinna, thanks. Yes, actually I've done some selective Ortonizing, concentrating on parts of a foreground image and leaving the other parts as original. There's an Orton group on Flickr and includes a good but long winded tutorial on just that effect.

I was thinking about you Lonnie during this. Your current avatar looks a bit Ortonized. Thanks

Sanjuro, show us what you were able to do...I'm very curious.

Ha! Susan! You so bad.

Thanks Leonde, take a portrait of that beautiful dog and run it through the process. That would be fun.

Barbra, I miss those days too. The chemicals, the smell, the stains...all the hands on from beginning to end...but there is the downside too, the space, the cost, the chemicals, the smell, the stains...

Thanks for your comments EEP and for stopping by.

Thanks Jim, I have a few different things penciled develop further.

Stacey, the CIB series is a terrific resource, especially for those with the self discipline to go through it. They are wonderful books...expensive but worth every penny. Thanks for your lovely compliments.

Marcelle, I'd love to see some of your work. You should post some shots of your work. Thanks.
Thanks so much for posting this!

There's nothing I like better than an old skool film technique that you can apply in PS, (or more likely for me, in AfterEffects).

The "orton technique" is new to me, and I look forward to trying it.
Cool technique, Barry. I often use multiple duplicates to create an effect, but not being a photographer, it never occurred to me to mess with the exposure to facilitate blending.

When I worked through this, I used exposure adjustment layers to achieve Orton effect. That works nicely, too, and is probably a bit faster to implement.
Wow, very helpful...though of course, I'm going to have to read it all over again to understand. Just wrote a post loosely on the shots I take of myself. And SingPretty suggested your post. I have such an old Photoshop but I'll see if I can complete the steps you described.

Thanks and yes, please - continue to advise. These are very helpful. For me, it helps when its told in simple, easy steps.
Thanks Sheri. Welcome to OS. I wish I knew more about how to use AE, but it seems your talents are wonderful.

Friends, if you haven't seen Sheri's little video post, I really recommend it...a beautiful little gem.

Secular, yeah, that's the thing about PS in particular. There are a bazillion ways to do things to get similar results. This one works best for me, and I'd love to see your results.

Beth, your post was extraordinarily brave, the images are wonderful. I get that you're an artist. I'm a surfer from way back from my time in No. San Diego County, so your surfboard pic spoke to me =) Hope you try the technique out and thanks for the comment.
Very cool. I have used photoshop in the past - nothing too complicated, like getting rid of drool or runny noses in my kids' baby pics (I call it photosnot).

I was thinking about buying it again. It sounds like PS Elements is enough for what I want to do... and a lot cheaper than the whole deal. Any suggestions?
You are a wellspring, my friend. I'll have to try this out sometime. Well, once I figure out how to deliberately overexpose by both one and two full stops. :-D

Still learning my camera's settings (and foibles) after a whole year. Can you believe it?

Thumbed for amazingness.
Denise, I think PSE is incredibly powerful. Can you get some sort of discount via AIA? Or maybe a family member is in school ft for an eric discount?

Bill, rest easy. This tutorial is designed to use a single digital image so you don't have to mess with the cam settings.

I have to read more carefully. I missed where you were using a single photo in the demo.

I've got an old version of Photoshop Elements so I'll have to play with this. Added to the list of things I must learn to do in PS. :-D
awesomeNess. I am your supplicant, your humble student.

Now, if I could only hit the lottery, and Pursue Photography (and piano lessons, and learning Latin, and
moving to Italy...)!
this is really a cool technique! now, i need to start learning how to do stuff with photoshop besides cropping and levels.

rated and thanks for the email to alert me to this. :)
HA! I've done this a million times in Photoshop, I just had no idea the process had a name and history.