Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

Genesis Of An Image And The Three Layered Orton Effect

I find it interesting to see how an image evolves from starting concept to finished product. With some images, it is clear that they are keepers from the very start. However, with others, their potential might not be immediately obvious and they just sit somewhere (in the drawer, on your hard drive....wherever). Then, at some later point in time, the photograph gets 'rediscovered' and viewed in 'a new light' and with fresh ideas.

That is what happened with a shot that I have recently been working on. I initially posted this picture in my last blog entry entitled "I Like It", which was about Adobe Lightroom. The evolution of this image is, I think, interesting, and illustrates why I rarely delete images unless they are grossly out of focus or hopelesly incorrectly exposed.

I took this particular shot over a year ago at a nearby city park and remember thinking it was nice enough, but didn't really feel it was anything all that special. I do remember that there were kids running around the field and that I had to wait for moments when no one was in front of the tree. It remained on my hard drive until I 'rediscovered' it after having both purchased Adobe Lightroom and running across an interesting Color Infrared preset by Martin Evening, which is available here. As I mentioned in my last post, here is the original:

Lone Tree
Copyright Howard Grill

After seeing the image again, I thought it might be worth pursuing if I could somehow get it to express what I was thinking and feeling at the time I took it. The white tree appeared unique compared to the others in the background and had a large area where it was standing alone. It almost seemed as if the non-flowering trees were giving the 'queen' of the trees a wide berth. The color infrared treatment that I had found seemed to give it just what I felt it needed. The result was the image below, which, again, I posted in my last entry.

At this point, I thought I was done with the image. However, the more I looked at it, the more I was dissatisfied and felt that it still needed more to bring out everything I wanted it to convey. I wanted it to take on more of an ethereal, surrealistic feel to go along with the unusual color of the infrared effect.

I had recently been reading about digitally mimicking the so-called Orton effect. This effect was described by and named after photographer Michael Orton, who took two overexposed images of a scene, one in focus and one out of focus, and combined them together as a 'sandwich' in one slide mount in order to generate a soft, surreal, painterly effect. The basic technique used to generate the digital equivalent is described here. I had never tried this before, and this seemed like the perfect first image for me to experiment with.

I liked the result....but there was still something nagging at me. I felt that the 'queen', to maintain her regal feel, should not be as blurred as the other trees in the background and that more emphasis was needed on 'her'. The emphasis was easy to create with a gentle vignette. However, localizing control of the Orton effect seemed unattainable, with my only choice seemingly to increase or decrease the blur in a global fashion.

But then, while Googling the Orton effect to try to better learn how to control it, I ran across the 'three layered Orton technique', which offers the ability to do just what I wanted to. I rarely write about Photoshop tecniques in my blog, but I did want to share this video tutorial because it really is something fairly unique and quite easy to do while allowing very exacting control over the effect. Once I understood the approach, I was able to easily restore as much sharpness to the tree as I wanted. I found that a partial restoration of sharpness seemd to give the tree the regal feel I was after while still maintaining a dreamy effect. So here is the final image (with a bit of a further cropping from the left side and bottom):

The Guardian
Copyright Howard Grill

The effect is a bit difficult to appreciate with even the largest image size that Blogger allows, which is still quite small. If interested in seeing a larger version, I posted one on the Fred Miranda forum in order to receive some feedback. The larger version can be seen in that forum here, as it is not yet on my website.

Here is the excellent video tutorial by Bob Campbell that describes the three layered Orton technique. Give it time to takes a few minutes to load, but it is worth the wait.

I think the evolution of an image over time is interesting. In the digital age, one can always run into the problem of taking continued adjustment and manipulation too far. I hope I have not done that here, but, in my mind, this final version seems to express what I was after much better than the prior attempts.

In the end, I am quite happy that I had not deleted this last year.