My PPA affiliate, the Arizona Professional Photographers Association, has started a weekly photo challenge. This week the subject is flowers. It gave me an excuse to photography the bloom of a Christmas Cactus and do a little experimentation along the way.


The set was simple. There was window light coming from two sides. I moved the plant down off the back of the desk and added an LED light set to 5600K to fill and add some spark to the bloom. Working with LED lights allows for creativity in dialing in the color proper temperature or tweaking it to be something totally different. For this shoot I went with correct color.

LED lighting a flower
LED lighting mounted on a small Joby Gorillapod

Camera and lens

I used the Olympus OM-D E-M1X and a M. Zuiko 300mm f/4 PRO lens I have on loan. Settings were f/22 at 1/3s with ISO 200 and -2/3 exposure compensation. I recommend setting for a slight underexposure when creating focus stacks. Underexposure helps ensure enough contrast for software to blend together the sharp bits.

The bracketing setting was 25 images at a focus change interval of one. The camera making the incremental moves of focus keeps the camera still.

A simple set with Olympus E-M1X mounted on a tripod and flower pot on the desk.

Initial processing

Images made a stop in Photoshop’s Adobe Camera RAW to open up the shadows and tame the highlights. I also add some extra Clarity and Texture as well. I use the Done button verses opening the files.

With all images selected in Adobe Bridge go to Tools > Photoshop > Load Files into Photoshop Layers. All 25 files are stacked in a single file. You can check out more about this process here.

In Photoshop Select/highlight all Layers. Then choose Edit > Auto-Align-Layers, and select Auto.

After processing with all Layers still highlighted, choose Edit > Auto Blend Layers. Choose to Blend Images using Stack Images with Seamless Tones and Colors. You can also choose Content Aware Fill Transparent Areas if you choose.

Initial image following processing in ACR and blending the focus stack.

Check your files to see if there are any blurry areas where Photoshop might have missed. Check the masks and reveal more sharp parts.

Now that the image is assembled and sharp it’s time to get arty. I share that process in part two.

Yours in Creative Photography, Bob

By the way, if you are in Arizona and looking for photo education and a great group with which to network you can’t go wrong checking out AZPPA. If you are just passing through we usually meet on the first Tuesday of the month (check the website for current meeting details). I’d love to meet you there.