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Photoshop Elements Tutorial: Flatten vs. Merge vs. Stamp Visible

by Erin Peloquin on March 17, 2011 · 4 comments

Wait a minute. I thought the beauty of Photoshop Elements is that you can save all your layers in a PSD file, and then go back and edit them at any point in the future.  Why would I ever want to flatten those layers?

I’m going to take you through my workflow on this image and concentrate on how and why I combine layers.  The picture above is where I started.  There is a funky glare on my baby’s eye, and the lighting isn’t great.  My first step in editing a photo is usually exposure fixing, but on this one, I wanted to clean the image up first because I wasn’t sure if it was salvageable.

To get rid of the sunspot on the bridge of her nose, as well as the scratch on her cheek, I used the spot healing brush tool.  Notice that I made a new blank layer for this clean up?  That’s Layer 1 in the screen shot below.  Next, I used the clone tool to get rid of that oval shaped glare on her eyelashes.  I finished by reducing the opacity of this layer to make the edits look more natural.

I’m happy with my clean up and decide that it’s worth it to fix the exposure on this image.  I’m going to run an action for this part of the edit and I know that it’s a wise idea to flatten images before running actions on them in Elements.  You’ll see why shortly.  I right click on Layer 1, and get this menu:

At the bottom of that menu, you have 3 choices:  Merge Down, Merge Visible, and Flatten.  We’re going to choose Flatten here.  I know that I have used Merge Down in the past, but can’t think of any great reasons to use it right now. It merges the active layer with the layer below it.  And I rarely use Merge Visible – it flattens your image, except for the layers that are turned off, in case you still want to mess with them.    Anyway, when I choose Flatten, my layers are all condensed into one Background layer, like this:

Next, I run One Click Workflow from MCP’s Fusion.  I love it because it brightens images beautifully, adds a subtle color pop and vignette, and gives me lots of options for adjusting.  In this case, I masked out the vignette over the left side of baby’s face, because it was dark enough already.  I also turned off a couple of layers that this image didn’t need.  Here are the layers, after my adjustments.

Now that you can see the layers, can you guess why I flattened before running the action?  Think about it…. I want you to figure it out before I tell you.  Still thinking?

See the 3 layers at the bottom, “Seek It,” Protect It,” and “Crisp It?”  Those are pixel layers, right?  Not adjustment layers.  Reread this post if you need a refresher on that. Being pixel layers, that means they had to be copied from another pixel layer.  The action would have copied either my Background layer, with sun glare and cheek scratches, or it would have copied Layer 1 from that first screen shot above.  If it had copied layer 1, the changes would barely be visible.  If it had copied the Background layer, it would have Seeked, Protected and Crisped the glare and scratches.  Not ideal.  I wanted the action to run on a combination of all my edits, so I flattened the image.

After selecting Flatten, Elements told me this:

 

That means that it is going to get rid of those layers that I turned off (the ones with no eyeball visible on the left).  The alternative would be that it would turn them back on and incorporate the changes into my flattened image.  That’s not what I wanted, so I’m ok with discarding those layers.

Got all that?  Ok, next step. I wanted to work on those beautiful brown eyes.  I flattened (same reasons as above) and ran MCP’s Eye Doctor.

I still wasn’t thrilled with the look of the image, so I decided to run Fusion’s Color Mix and Match.  I chose two “toppings” and adjusted the opacity until I was happy.    Here is my layers palette at this point:

 

Ok, we’re nearing the end here.  The picture looks great and I just need to sharpen.  My earlier post mentioned that sharpening is something that has to be done on a pixel layer.  Ok, then, I need a pixel layer.  How am I going to get it?

I could flatten.  If I flatten, I’m only going to have one layer, right?  I won’t be able to adjust the opacity of my sharpening or mask it out anywhere.  Instead, I’m going to Stamp Visible.  It will copy all my turned-on layers into one new layer at the top.  Layer 1 in this screen shot:

 

 

Stamp Visible is great, because if I decide that I want to go back and change one of my underlying layers, I can just delete my top pixel layer and adjust away.  Here’s the thing.  You can only access Stamp Visible through a keyboard shortcut – there are no menu commands to activate it.  So here goes:

  • On PCs, type control+alt+shift+e
  • On Macs, type command+option+shift+e

 

So there is my final image.  The before version is below again, for comparison:

And just to let you know, even though it took me like 47 hours to write this post, and I’m sure you feel like you’ve been reading that long, these edits took me less than 5 minutes in Photoshop Elements.  Even with all the flattening involved!

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

ingrid March 18, 2011 at 9:09 am

Niiiiice!

Thanks, I love learning something.
~ingrid

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Pamela March 18, 2011 at 9:41 am

WOW, beautiful little lady – beautiful techinque. Thanks for sharing and teaching.
XOXOX

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Taryn Pyle March 18, 2011 at 10:39 am

Great explanation and visuals. Thank you!

Reply

Cassie Sheridan March 18, 2011 at 11:56 pm

wonderful information. thanks so much.

Reply

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