Photo-Editing Tutorial: Focus Stacking

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If you've ever experienced the dilemma of not having enough depth of field, you should consider experimenting with a technique called "focus stacking." This process involves taking multiple photographs and blending them together, creating the illusion of a completely in-focus image. The major benefit of focus stacking is that you can use the sweet spots of both your lens and camera to produce a high-quality image. You can utilize an extremely low ISO, and the best aperture for your lens (usually 1-2 stops closed down). Thankfully, we have access to modern-day software like Photoshop, which makes this photographic technique relatively easy to accomplish.

Phase 1: Shooting

To start, you're going to need a few things: a camera, a tripod, and a purpose.

The sturdier the tripod, the better. Any changes in framing will make blending and aligning these images more difficult in post production, and potentially have a negative impact on the quality of your final image.

Make sure your subject is ready to be photographed, and that you're shooting in Manual mode, including manual focusing.

Depending on your initial depth of field, and how precise you want to be with this technique, you can shoot just three images or hundreds. Most situations likely won’t require hundreds of images, but extreme macro shots may call for it.

Focus from front to back (or vice versa), and take a picture at different points in the image. This will provide the set of images that you'll work with in post. Below are some sample images:

Phase 2: Editing

Note: this tutorial uses Adobe Photoshop CS6 for processing images.

  • Step 1: Open up all images that will be used in your preferred Raw converter. I use Adobe’s Camera Raw. Here you will perform base adjustments to things like exposure and color temperature, but you need to make sure that all edits are applied to each photo equally.

  

  • Step 2: Bring all of the images into Photoshop.

 

  • Step 3: Place each image as an individual layer within a single Photoshop document.

 

  • Step 4: Use the Auto-Align tool to ensure all the images are organized properly.

 

  • Step 5: Use the Auto-Blend tool to merge all the images into a single layer.

 

  • Step 6: Crop out sections on the corners that remain out of focus or didn’t blend properly.

 

  • Step 7: Perform final edits as you would a normal image.

 

  • Step 8: Export!

That's it. Now go try it out yourself.

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For some reason, both the Auto-Blend and Auto-Align tools are grayed out when I try to do this, so I can't use them. I used two images, processed both of them in ACR, then opened them in Photoshop CC. I've tried three different methods of opening them (once by opening them in ACR, then in Photoshop; once in Bridge, like the one in the example above; and once by opening them directly in Photoshop) and get the same result every time. What am I doing wrong?

Hello,

Sounds like you might be missing Step 3: "Place each image as an individual layer within a single Photoshop document."

I do alot of tone mapping and these functions require all the images to be on separate layers in 1 PS image document. I use in CS4 Image stacking and when I have trouble, it usually means there is only a single layer in the image I am editing. Hope this helps !

Great technics.  Thank you for sharing.

This is neat

Thanks! I am quite happy to have seen this blogs, thanks so much for all the great information, I will be pride to pass it onto fellow friends....

Thanks for the Tutorial......

It is great !

Shooting a lot of food at the moment. This is going to make my life so much easier in post production. Thanks heaps

Great piece. I've been using this technique a lot on model railroad subjects. I'd put in an example if I knew how to do it here.

Ed Merrin

Just save your images on the net somewhere. Then post the address here so others can see them there. There are many free image sites you can save them on including flickr, facebook, photobucket, google+, etc.

Ed Merrin wrote:

Great piece. I've been using this technique a lot on model railroad subjects. 

I did a stack of some Revel HO farm buildings I built 50 years ago (found when cleaning my mother's garage).

http://www.robincasady.com/images/HO_FarmYardCherryRailStack.jpg

This was an experiment done with a Nikon D800E, bellows, an El Nikkor enlarging lens, and a home built automated rail system. A threaded rod is turned by a stepper motor to change the distance between lens and camera body and fire each shot. It is controlled by an Arduino type circuit board that is programmed in C. Zerene Stacker was used to merge the stack. 

There are three methods for shooting images for stacks. 

1. Change the focus setting on the camera. This is best for subjects more than a few meters away, such as landscapes. It will work with closer subjects, but is not optimum for close-ups. 

2. Move the camera towards or away from the subject. This is good for close-up work. You can buy an automated rail system to do this (StackShot) for around $600. I built one for around $200 and a lot of time (which was fun). 

3. Keep the subject to lens distance constant and move the camera body (sensor) to change focus. This is optimum for macro and close-up work. 

http://www.robincasady.com/images/RutilQuartzMicroRailZSPMax.jpg

So much easier - and quicker - with Zerine Stacker!

Maybe,

But if you have Photoshop already, there's hardly a need to look elsewhere since it's not that hard to perform in Photoshop. Moreover, if you're on Mac OS X, I imagine you may as well create a folder action in Automator to look and process Step 3 to Photoshop once they're drop in a given folder.

Thanks to the OP for the tutorial :)

Thanks.  I learned something.  Not all of us are PROs.  : >

I've followed several tutorials, here, and from Youtube... and for some reason, I cannot get certain areas of my image to be in focus, despite there being a photo of the area I want in focus... I have all the focused frames I need, but for some reason not all of the areas I want in focus are showing up in focus.  I'm afraid I can't explain it better than that.  Maybe someone with a bit of experience can ask me some probing questions, to help me figure out what I'm not doing properly....?  

Fantastic.