Learning is finding out what you already know. Doing is demonstrating that you know it. Teaching is reminding others that they know just as well as you. You are all learners, doers, teachers.
~ Richard Bach
Recently, Carol mentioned in a comment that my photos are “always so smooth, yet sharp,” and asked how I do it. I promised a tutorial, something I’m not particularly good at because I don’t understand half of what I do, and I rarely write it down. I play and push buttons, but every now and then I do the same thing often enough that I can repeat it. If you are completely unfamiliar with how to use Photoshop, this tutorial is not for you. I honestly don’t know enough to teach it, but I can walk you through the steps I take. Make sure you save your image as a copy so you don’t mess up your original.
I use what is probably considered an ancient version of Photoshop (CS2). Newer versions might do with the click of one button what I do in several steps. I also use Picasa when I’m feeling lazy. Online editors such as Pixlr and PicMonkey are pretty handy, too, and you can get some spiffy effects using them. You can even pile on effects.
The effect that I most like to use with my photos, the one that makes them smooth and sharp or soft and sharp, is the Orton Effect. There are a lot of different ways to achieve the Orton Effect. I’ve combined different steps from a couple of methods in order to get the look that I prefer. I don’t use it all the time, but when I do, it’s usually with flowers. It is sometimes great for portraits of people, too, at it will smooth out skin tones (and wrinkles, if you’re worried about such things).
You should also know that you can almost achieve this effect in camera with the right lighting (usually the morning Golden Hour works best) and underexposing your images so you capture the light and shadows just right. Here’s an example:
Mist, fog, and humid air help to naturally tweak the effect. If you can’t get the right light, humidity, and exposure, you can take the following steps in Photoshop:
- Open your file (photo).
- Create a duplicate layer.
- If you want to crop your image, now is a good time to do it. You can also adjust the contrast if you like, or wait and do that at the end. If you do it now, you might find you want to do it again at the end. It depends on the image and the look you prefer.
- Press and hold Ctrl + Alt + Shift + n + e. This creates a new copy layer, whatever that means. (Don’t press the “+”. You do need to keep holding each key as you press the next. When you get to the “e,” let go. It’s a little awkward at first, but good exercise for your fingers.)
- Press Ctrl + j. This creates Layer Copy 1.
- Go to Filter -> Blur -> Gaussian Blur. Set the Radius until the image is blurred enough that you can’t make out the details, and click on OK. Usually I set it somewhere between 40 and 50. Once you’ve done the entire effect a few times, this is a good place to play around with the setting. You might like more or less blur than I like.
- Now you will set the Blending Mode. You have several options, and this is another good place to play around. Try Multiply to start. You can use pretty much any of the blending modes to get a different look. Lighten and Shade will significantly lighten your image and sometimes give you a sparkly effect. Multiply darkens the image, saturates the colors, and makes some of the highlights stand out. Soft Light and Hard Light will have less blur. If you don’t like the first blending mode you try, simply back up (Step Backward) and try another. You can also mess with the Opacity levels. Pick your Blending Mode and then slide the Opacity level around to see if that creates a better look for you.
- When you’re satisfied, Flatten Image.
- Create a duplicate layer.
- Sharpen your image. The Orton Effect creates a bloom around the edges of the objects in a photo. Sharpening can help you get rid of some of that bloom (or at least make it less obvious). If you use the Orton Effect in Picasa, it gives you a slider to use to lessen or enhance both the bloom and the brightness. Using this Photoshop method, you’ll have to fix it on your own. Using the Opacity level as suggested in Step 7 will help, too. Use whatever method you usually use to sharpen an image.
- If you need to tweak the contrast, brightness, or color saturation, do it now.
- If you’re resizing, do it now.
- Flatten Image, and Save As whatever you want to name your new and altered image.
Confused yet? Yeah, me too. Hopefully I didn’t miss a step or make a mess of things. There are simpler methods of achieving the Orton Effect in Photoshop, but I’ve found this gives the image more depth. Or something. I’m not sure what it is I like about this method over the others.
If you do a search for Orton Effect, you will probably find plenty of easier, and perhaps better, ways to go about it.
I think I’ve confused everyone enough for one day. Thank you so much for visiting. I hope that was helpful to someone. I know there are a few of you out there who are much more proficient with Photoshop and photo editing programs. Please feel free to step in and offer suggestions (and corrections!) in the comments section.
Be good, be kind, be loving. Just Be. 🙂
Today’s joys: Using my brain to figure out what I do by rote now; air conditioning to keep me cool on another hot day; time to play; cold soba noodle salad for lunch; sunflowers!