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Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Glowing Photos

You might not know his name, but you've almost certainly seen photos influenced by a technique he pioneered for film photography. I'm talking about Michael Orton, the creative force behind a breathtakingly gorgeous style. Here's his process, in a nutshell: Take two photos of the same scene (one in focus and the other out of focus, both somewhat overexposed) and combine them. The result is a photograph with a beautiful, almost eerie glow, like this.

Here's the rub: I only had a single shot to make that image, so I used a digital shortcut. It took me about a minute to do it, using Corel's Paint Shop Pro--though you can use almost any image editing program. This week I'll show you how.

Layer Your Photos

Let's start with a bland photo of my son sightseeing near a lighthouse (or substitute any photo of your own).

Open this photo in Paint Shop Pro and duplicate it in a second layer by choosing Layers, Duplicate from the menu bar. You won't see a difference in the photo itself, but you should see a second layer appear in the Layer Palette on the right side of the screen. (If the Layer Palette isn't visible, toggle it on by choosing View, Palettes, Layers.)

Next, make a second duplicate layer in the same way. You should now see three layers in the palette. To keep them all straight, right-click the first layer (the one called "Copy of Background") and choose Rename, then type in Sharp and press Enter. Then rename "Copy (2) of Background" to "Blurry."

Overexpose Your Shot

Next, we'll simulate overexposing the photo. Click on Sharp in the Layers Palette and change the blending mode from the default of Normal to Screen. You can find the blending mode in the Layers Palette menu, right above the three layers. Again, you won't see a difference, because you just screened the middle layer. Then right-click Sharp and choose Merge, Merge Down. The Sharp layer will disappear, having just been merged into the original background layer.

Add the Blur

Now it's time to make the top layer blurry. Click the layer you named Blurry to select it, then choose Adjust, Blur, Gaussian Blur. The amount of blur is controlled by the Radius setting and will depend upon the size of the photo. For the fairly small sample I provided, try a setting around 9. If you're working with a larger image, say 6 megapixels, I'd start around 14 or 15. The key is to add a significant amount of blur without completely obscuring the detail.

The final step? With Blurry still selected, change the blend mode from Normal to Multiply. You should get something like this.

Feel free to experiment with alternative blur levels and blending modes. You might also want to vary the opacity of the top layer to fine-tune the effect.

I've tried this working in GIMP with great results. It's a really nice effect in portraits. I've also gotten some interesting results with Hard Light blend mode. --tab

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