1 Take a photo of some poppies, making sure they vary in size and shape and adjust the levels Adjustments>Levels (Ctrl+L) and colour saturation to get a picture with good colour impact.
2 Zoom in and fit the image to screen, then duplicate the background layer three times - Layer>Duplicate Layer.
3 We're now going to apply a different filter effect and reduce the opacity of each layer so the lower layers show through. The settings we'll use to blend the layers will just be slight because there are lots more adjustments to come and you really just want to get a feel of the picture coming together.
On the top layer go to Filter>Blur>Motion blur and set the angle to 90 degrees and a distance setting of around 150 - 200 pixels, set the opacity to around 70 and click ok. On the next layer down go to Filter>Distort>Glass and choose Frosted then play with the settings to get a delicate/frosty kind of effect. Set the opacity to around 75 and click ok. On the second to bottom layer go to Filter>Artistic>Watercolour to obtain a definite water coloured effect, set the opacity to around 80 and click ok.
4 Double click on each of the layers and rename them with the filter that you've applied to make things easier here.
5 Select the top layer and draw a free hand selection using the Lasso tool around a large central section of the image. Feather this to 70 pixels (Select>Feather or Alt+Ctrl+D). You then need to inverse this selection (Select>Inverse or Shift+Ctrl+I), which should look like something like the screengrab below.
6 Go to Filter>Blur>Gaussian blur and select a radius of around 40 pixels to obtain a softening of the outer edges of the picture, then deselect.
7 With the Brush tool and top layer selected I chose a Heavy Flow Scattered brush style (from the Wet Media Brush palette) with a size between 100 and 150 pixels and painted using a low flow and opacity setting in black on the dark areas and between some of the flower heads. I then used the same procedure with white paint in and around the petal edges. I then adjusted the blending modes to normal, dissolve and colour burn (top to bottom) it's down to personal taste, but this works ok.
8 The next step is to use the Eraser tool with a Stipple Dense brush (Natural Brushes palette) at a size of around 50 - 100 pixels and a low flow and opacity setting. You have to decide on each of the top three layers which areas look acceptable - the parts you are unhappy with can be erased to allow the effects below to work through - take care here and save the work beforehand. Levels adjustment layers can be added between layers to make it easier to alter the contrast and brightness of the image. It's a good idea to have one at the top of the layers' stack.
9 Once happy, you can tinker with each layer's opacity setting before going in on each layer with the dodge & burn and blur brush at a size, style and setting of your choice to highlight and darken areas and also to take away any distracting/hard edges.
Save again at this point under a different file name.
10 Use the Brush tool with around a 150 - 200 pixel sized brush and chose the Watercolour Heavy Pigment style brush from Wet Media brushes. Set to a low opacity and flow and paint with white and black over some of the remaining and prominent light and dark detailed areas of each layer. Readjust the opacity settings of each layer again too.
11 Chose the top layer and draw a selection area around the main detail. Feather this as before and inverse again before using the Blur filter to add some extra softening and deselect. On the watercolour layer draw around an area to the top and bottom of the image for selection and feather that the same way - then use the Gaussian blur filter for an extra dreamy effect, before deselecting.
12 The layers can be re-stacked and the blending modes altered to suit personal tastes. I then went in again, using all the previous tools, on all of the layers and adjusted the opacity settings and the levels adjustment layer one more time.
13 Add some text and a frame, before saving the final image under a new file name.
Words and pictures Caleb Daniels