Tag Archives: layer stack

A Photo Impressionistic Approach to the Cactus Garden at the Phoenician

Sometimes you just know how a picture is going to turn out; sometimes the joy is in the surprise. This image is a perfect example.

I saw this scene while walking through the cactus garden at the Phoenician Hotel in Scottsdale . What caught my attention was the repetition in the receding saguaro and the strong vertical elements. Creating depth in an impressionistic images has been a challenge for me.

photo impressionistic photograph of cactus
The cactus garden at the Phoenician. © Stephen D’Agostino

To create the photo impressionistic effect I used the high-speed montage approach I am developing. I shot a burst at 60 fps while panning,  The images were then brought  together in Photoshop using an opacity blend. I could have created the same effect using a dark neutral density filter and a slow shutter speed but composition would have been an issue for me. The high-speed montage approach is more suited for  photo impressionism on the fly.

The result was better than I had hoped. The vertical elements created a texture I had not seen in the viewfinder adding to the scene’s depth.

Flickr selected this image for its Explore page yesterday; about 9,500 views in 24 hours. Thanks to the curator at Flickr who championed this image.

Useful Photoshop Tools For Impressionistic Images


The big technical challenge in producing photo impressionistic images as a montage (as opposed to an in camera multiple exposure) is working with large numbers of images and huge file sizes. Some of my recent experiments (Washington Square in the round for example) have used close to 40 images, resulting in file sizes over Apple’s 2 gig file limit.

Even in camera multiple exposures have issues. I find then to be inherently soft and, depending on the camera, suffer from from a red cast.

Here are a couple of tools I have found to be useful time savers:

Creating A Layer Stack In Photoshop

Adobe Lightroom is my first choice to produce a layer stack in Photoshop because I already use it to manage my images. Select your images then right click for the menu choice.

Dr Brown’s Stackomatic. A great script you launch from Adobe Bridge to create a layer stack.

Opacity Control

Layer Stack Opacity Blending Script. A great script from Digital Outback Photography based on some thinking by Tony Sweet. The script calculates opacity and merges layers into a multiple exposure style image. There are no controls but the result is nice.

Mike Hale’s Stack Mode Panels. I use this panel often to test the effect of changing the blend mode.

File Size Reduction

Perfect Resize makes file sizing, in both directions, a snap. This is important for me because Adobe Lightroom is an important part of my workflow and it does not recognize files saved in large image format (.psb). Often my working files are much larger than Apple’s 2 gig file size limit.

Basic Digital Darkroom

In camera multiple exposures bring their own challenges. My fuji S2 adds a pronounced red shift which is significantly reduced in the S5. As well there is a softness associated with multiple exposures that may have to be addressed.

Vincent Versace has produced some great actions (associated with his books and DVD courses) for correcting white/black point and mid tone contouring.

NIK has a great tonal contrast filter.