If you ask my mother what her favorite color is, the answer is always, "Sparkles!" Yes, my mom's favorite color is sparkles. "Hey Robert, but that's not a color." You shut your mouth and let her have this! ... Anyway, the reason I bring up my mom and also sparkles is because that's exactly what my new image features. Well, those things, a flower, and some red fabric, but most importantly ... sparkles.
First, let's get the tedious part of the process out of the way. For the most part, I hand paint each little particle so they fall exactly where I want them to go. I use Photoshop's default brush with zero percent hardness and click around constantly tapping the bracket buttons (right next to the "P" key - they are quick commands for enlarging and shrinking your brush size). I try to make sure there's a somewhat natural flow to them and not to have all of them too perfectly spaced out. There is definitely an art to particle placement.
For this image I wanted it to appear as though the particles were slowly emanating from the flower. I started by clicking a few slightly larger particles very close to the petals. Then while gradually zig-zagging away from the flower in little lines I painted in more particles, continually shrinking my brush as I went. This way, the farther from the flower the smaller the particles; it makes it look as though they are dissipating.
After I'm happy with a once-over of spazzy-sparkle-hand-painting, I like to take the layer of all the particles, duplicate it, shrink it down, rotate it, and place it elsewhere. This is a great way to quickly and drastically increase the number of particles, and it also gives you some super tiny very detailed clusters. A fine mist of magic, if you will. I'll duplicate this layer a few more times flipping and rotating it a bit each time, and place the layers right around the object I want the particles to be flowing from. Having a higher concentration of particles right around the flower makes it appear as though they are getting more spread out the further they get from the flower, lending to the illusion that the particles are wafting off of the flower.
Often times (as I did while editing my mom's pic) after I'm happy with the particles, I will merge all those layers, duplicate this newly melded layer, and this time I stretch the particle layer to be much larger, blur the layer a little, and turn the opacity down to my liking. Again, this is a super quick easy way to make a TON more particles without having to actually hand paint in each one, and the larger, blurrier, more opaque particles add another nice layer of dimension and depth to the overall particle effect.
In addition to all the hand painted/duplicated sparkles, I'm kind of completely obsessed with this set of "Magic Brushes" from the RAWexchange Store. They seriously are like my favorite brush set ever and I always look forward to the later part of my edits when I find it's time to crack them out and see which ones are going to add just the right amount of magic to my image. I used some of the bokeh scattering brushes on this images and they added some more variation and detail to my sparkly particle-clustered flower.
While editing this image, I actually came up with what I've decided is a totally brilliant trick that I'll most definitely be employing in the future. I duplicated my layer of particles and then applied a slight motion blur filter to it so each particle was stretching out to either side a little. Then I went back to my original particle layer again, made another copy, and applied the motion blur but this time in the opposite direction so it would essentially make a "X" of light coming off of the particle. I did this two more times making a smaller "X" in between the larger one so I ended up with a tiny starburst on each individual particle. I decided to mask it away from some larger particles, and turned the opacity down, but I really like the sparkly look it added to the particles.
Ok before I go, I just want to take a second to congratulate my mother on being a total and utter badass. In case you haven't added this up by now, I did in fact take the flower photo underwater. Modeling beneath the surface is NOT as easy as you may think ... in fact it's not easy at all haha! However, my mother was a total natural at it immediately and she hates having her picture taken even when she can breathe! So a huge round of applause for my lovely, warm, wonderful, and talented mother. <3