How to Add a Soft, Magic Glow to Your Photos in Photoshop

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Hey Photoshopers, in today’s tutorial I am going to show you how to add a soft, magic glow to your photos in Adobe Photoshop. This technique will allow you add more atmosphere and magical feeling to your image! This glow effect is also known as the Orton effect, which was found by Michael Orton. He got an idea to combine overexposed and out of focus image with properly exposed and sharp image to create this watercolour effect. In this tutorial we are going to learn how to do this, so let’s start and import the picture into Photoshop.

Logic Behind Orton’s Effect

By searching for the perfect way to emulate watercolor effect in photography, Michael Orton perfectioned a technique back at the 80s which involved the blending of two different images: a sharp and properly exposed image with a shot of the same scene, only out of focus. The result was a distinctive mix of high & low details for different areas of the same photo, quite like what a painter does when applying watercolors and playing with the amount of water added to the mix.

Tripod usage is required for altering the focus of the lens without moving the camera angle, thus one of the reasons why this kind of effect appeals to professionals mostly and is considered time-demanding. Fortunately for us, Photoshop can help us to emulate this effect without requiring much more than one clear, sharp image.

Photoshop’s Procedure

The first thing we are going to do is duplicate background layer by pressing Ctrl and a letter J.

Then let’s go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Set the amount radius to between 15-40 pixels. The amount will vary depending on how much detail you got in your image, resolution, how much glow you want to add etc. For this image of clovers, I’m choosing 19 pixels. Once you choose the amount you like hit OK.

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Next, we are going to add Curves layer. This is where the glow part of the effect comes in. Let’s do this weird S shape, which will affect mostly the Highlights giving it the glowing look.

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Now we need to clip the layers. To do that right click on the Curves layer and select Create Clipping Mask. What it does is makes sure that any adjustments we do to the blur layer, the curves layer will be affected the same.

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Now, all we have to do is reduce the opacity of the blur layer. Set the amount to around 15-30 percent. In this case, I chose 29 percent.

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We are pretty much done, the last thing I am going to do is add a little vignette (if you feel like you don’t want to add a vignette you can skip this step). To do that click Create a new layer; select Elliptical Marque tool ( M ), then create an oval by clicking and dragging the mouse.

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Now right click on the outside of the selection and click Select inverse. Then select the paint bucket tool ( G ), make sure that foreground colour is Black and apply it on the selection. Once you are done press Ctrl D.

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Then go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and select the Radius to your liking and press OK. You can also transform the vignette by clicking Ctrl and a letter T on our keyboard. Then hold the Alt key and stretch it out, this will make a Vignette less visible and more subtle.

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And that is it. We have added a soft, magic glow to the photos in Adobe Photoshop. As you can see in before and after pictures, we have created this glowing, magic feeling to it. The other cool thing about this technique is that it helps soften blown out highlights and increases colour saturation. This effect won’t work for every photo, it looks best on photos with bright highlights like these clover leaves. I recommend you to test this effect here and there and see if it works with your image.

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The endgame of Orton’s Effect

Though appreciated by many photographers worldwide, Orton’s effect doesn’t seem to have a big fanbase like what we can find over HDR effects and other kinds of manipulations performed in Landscape photography. What’s the reason for this?

First and foremost, landscape photographers take big pride in producing clear, sharp and breathtaking images of the scenarios they happen to be portraying. Hence, coming up with blurry, watercolor-like effects seems to be going far away from what’s expected, especially if the effect looks too obvious not due to lack of skills but because the scenario isn’t helping. For forest scenarios where mystic foggy light may be the key element to creating a convincing ambience, Orton’s Effect can have a word to say, although many photographers agree the sole disadvantage of this technique is directly linked to the abuse some photographers do to it.

After a while, all the images start looking the same, like what happen to double exposure effects; meaning your own style as a photographer is jeopardized just because you sought a way to craft a unique effect. Quite ironic, isn’t it?

If you liked this tutorial be sure to like it and share it with your friends! Have fun and see you in the next tutorial!

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