How to Create a Dreamy Soft Focus Orton Effect in GIMP

Apply a surrealistic filter to your photos using GIMP

The Orton effect applied to an image of two green frogs hanging on a tree branch.

 Robert Cinega / Getty Images

The Orton effect is an old darkroom technique used to add a surrealistic soft focus filter to photos. It's possible to reproduce the Orton effect using GIMP by sandwiching together multiple versions of the same image in different layers.

Instructions in this article apply to GIMP version 2.10 for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

How to Create the Orton Effect in GIMP

To produce the Orton effect in GIMP:

  1. Open your photo in GIMP and select Layer > Duplicate Layer.

    Open your photo in GIMP and select Layer > Duplicate Layer.
  2. Make sure the top layer is selected in the Layers palette, and then go to Filters > Blur > Gaussian Blur.

    If the Layers palette isn't visible, go to Windows > Dockable Dialogs > Layers.

    Make sure the top layer is selected in the Layers palette, and then go to Filters > Blur > Gaussian Blur.
  3. Adjust the Size X and Size Y inputs to blur the image, then select OK when satisfied.

    If the chain next to the Size X and Size Y inputs is disconnected, click it to ensure that the blur is applied evenly in both the vertical and horizontal directions.

    Adjust the Size X and Size Y inputs to blur the image, then select OK when satisfied.
  4. Select Mode at the top of the Layers palette and select Screen from the drop-down menu.

    Select Mode at the top of the Layers palette and select Screen from the drop-down menu.
  5. If you feel that the image is too light or lacking in contrast, right click the top layer in the Layers palette (the one with the Gaussian Blur) and select Duplicate Layer.

    If you feel that the image is too light or lacking in contrast, right click the top layer in the Layers palette (the one with the Gaussian Blur) and select Duplicate Layer.
  6. Select the middle layer in the Layers palette, and then change the Mode to Soft Light.

    If the effect is too strong, move the Opacity slider to the left. To increase the contrast, duplicate the middle layer.

    Select the middle layer in the Layers palette, and then change the Mode to Soft Light.
  7. Once satisfied with the effect, go to File > Save As to save your image as an XCF file, or select File > Export As to save it as a JPEG.

    Once satisfied with the effect, go to File > Save As to save your image as an XCF file, or select File > Export As to save it as a JPEG.

Feel free to experiment by duplicating more layers and trying different layer modes and blur filters. These random experiments may result in interesting effects that you can apply to other photos.