Image Overlay (Orton Technique)

Bleeding Hearts

Nikon D300 in-camera Image Overlay, 105mm macro, 1/200 sec, f/3.3


In the olden times (back in the days of film) slide shooters often used a technique known as the Orton technique (named after Michael Norton who first did this). In the day, with slide film, you made two shots –

  1. The first, a sharp image, over exposed by two stops and
  2. The second, an out of focus image, over exposed by one stop

You mounted the two images together in a single slide mount to obtain a dreamy, ethereal image. Andre Gallant, who later adopted this technique, named them Dreamscapes – an often appropriate label.

Now with digital, accomplishing the same effect is easy. Once the two images have been made in a manner similar to how slide shooters did it, you can combine them in Photoshop in layers and using an blending mode such as overlay. If you shoot with a Nikon (some, not all models) you have two in camera options –

  1. Shoot a two image in-camera multiple exposure (one sharp & one out of focus) and the camera will combine them for you
  2. Use the camera’s Image Overlay feature to do much the same as in the 2-exposure multiple described above. The advantage here is that you can specify the “strength” to be used for each of the two exposures in a wide variety of steps. This allows you to (de-)emphasize either of the two images as you desire. Since this is done after the two images have been made, and both images are retained individually as opposed to being “lost” when combined as a multiple exposure, you can experiment in-camera after the fact and|or combine them later in PS, as well.

One difference with digital is that the overexposure, needed with film to avoid the two combined slides becoming too dark when overlaid, isn’t as important. Post processing can take care of the brightness/darkness.


The next side-by-side screen shot shows from left to right – Sharp Image, Out-of-focus Image, Orton Result. Obviously, the result will look different depending on the degree of “out-of-focus”. Try it & experiment. Click to enlarge.


For the sharp image, give some consideration to how much of the scene you want sharp. For a floral like this, getting the background sharp – or even distinguishable – by stopping down your lens is not a good idea most of the time. The next side by side shows what happens as you go from f/13 to f/6.3 to f3.3 while maintaining focus on the front flower. I used the f/3.3 and consider the f/13 to be a poor image due to the background (and Orton won’t redeem it). Sharp doesn’t mean tack sharp throughout the entire image – just the subject. Of course this means a wide open lens which, in turn, means a shallow depth of field which means – you guessed it – A TRIPOD. 😉

Click to enlarge.


I mentioned that the image at the top of the post was done in-camera using the D300’s Image Overlay feature. I also mentioned that the images used for the overlay still exist, after overlaying, as individual images. This next image shows the result of combining those same two images – except this time in Photoshop using two layers. I made the effect more pronounced which is probably more typical of a slide film version.