I find that applying focus stacking on a base image ultimately leads to a more interesting image. But that’s just the beginning. Here is the continuation of the making of the Christmas cactus bloom. If you haven’t already, be sure to read part one.

Start the art process

Until I know I am happy with the files I leave a saved layered file intact in Photoshop. The fastest way to work on a new file with all the layers merged is to go to the main menu bar, choose Image > Duplicate and tic the Duplicate Merged Layers Only box.

Working on copies of your layers ensures being able to adjust. The shortcut for making a copy of your layer is Cmd + J (Mac) or Ctrl + J (PC).

photoshop layer palette
Photoshop Layers palette screenshot.

Each time I get to a point in my process where I think, “That looks cool!” I save a version using Save As. After giving the versions a day or two to rest I’ll review, toss the less than stellar files and possibly blend parts of multiple versions together.

Continued processing

I use Luminar 4 as a plug-in for Photoshop. Select the top stack in your layers palette. We want to Merge Visible which will produce a flattened layer combining all layers into one. In the interest of keeping options open I like to keep the layered files as well.

The shortcut for that is to press Shift + Option + Cmd + – + E (Mac) or Shift + Alt + Ctrl + – + E (PC). All layers will be combined and the layer stack remains intact below.

Image after applying Sharpening, Mystical and Glow filers in Luminar 4

Once there’s a flattened layer convert it into a Smart Filter. To do this, choose Filter > Convert for Smart Filters. Doing this will create a Smart Object.

When filters are applied, in this case Luminar 4, the settings can be adjusted at any time. You can add a Look, use the Look as a starting point or play with the settings until you see what you enjoy.

One of my favorite settings is to sharpen the image quite heavily then add the Mystical and Glow filters. Adding the extra sharpening first keeps the blurring filters from degrading the subject.

Final touches

Final image after cloning, dodging and burning.

Once again I recommend creating a Merged Visible layer. To this I look for anything I’ve missed that takes attention away from my main subject. In this case there were some bright areas near the borders that need to attention. I used the Clone Tool to add detail to hot spots. Adding a final dodge and burn layer in Soft Light Mode finished the work.

Wanna share?

I’d love to see your work if you utilize some of the techniques I’ve shared here. Drop me an email with your image set to 1600 pixels on the long dimension. If I get enough to images I’ll do a post with a collection of these. Send to [email protected].

Yours in Creative Photography, Bob