September 30, 2023


How Art Works

The Final Information (With Step-By-Step Directions)

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A guide to focus stacking for tack-sharp images

Need each inch of your composition to look sharp? Uncover the right way to rework your photos utilizing a robust focus-stacking strategy.

Focus stacking is a way that takes images to a complete new stage; it helps you obtain an astounding depth of subject and breathtaking readability in your photographs. Whether or not you’re a seasoned professional or an enthusiastic newbie, focus stacking is a game-changer that may elevate your photos to new heights.

And whereas it’s a way that photographers typically discover intimidating, it’s really pretty simple – so long as you employ a tried-and-test strategy. That’s the place I are available. I’ve loads of expertise utilizing the picture stacking method to seize tack-sharp photographs of quite a lot of topics.

On this article, I draw on my background to clarify all the things you want to learn about focus stacking, together with:

  • What it’s and what the method affords for photographers
  • When it’s best to use focus stacking in your photographs (and when it’s best to keep away from it)
  • The straightforward, step-by-step course of to stack and merge your recordsdata
  • Superior ideas and methods to enhance your picture stacks

So get able to take your expertise to the following stage as we embark on an interesting journey into the world of focus stacking. Right here’s my assure: By the point you’re finished studying, you’ll have the ability to stack panorama photographs, macro photographs, and far more.

Let’s dive proper in, beginning with the fundamentals:

What’s focus stacking?

Focus stacking is a way designed to realize a deep depth of subject by mixing (or stacking) a number of photos collectively. Every stacked shot is concentrated in a special spot, so the mixed depth of subject is deeper than the depth of subject produced by any of the person photos.

Focus stacking in photography
If you wish to hold each the foreground components and the background components sharp, focus stacking is a viable choice.

Feeling confused? Don’t be. Whereas the ideas could sound tough, the essential course of may be very easy:

  1. You are taking a number of photos of a scene, ensuring to concentrate on every half (i.e., the foreground, the middleground, and the background).
  2. You mix the photographs to realize a remaining file that encompasses a sharp foreground, a pointy middleground, and a pointy background.

Word that focusing stacking doesn’t require fancy gear, both; you may focus stack with a regular digicam (even a smartphone digicam, the truth is), although I do advocate you’re employed with a tripod and a handbook focus lens for those who can, as I focus on in a second.

When must you focus stack your photographs?

Focus stacking in photography

Focus stacking is designed to beat the bounds of depth of subject. In different phrases, focus stacking is solely needed for those who’re confronted with a scene that may’t be effectively dealt with by your digicam setup’s present depth of subject capabilities.

Now, for those who’re accustomed to digicam optics, you’ll know that the depth of subject is affected by three key elements:

In order you zoom your lens, transfer nearer to your topic, or widen your lens aperture, the quantity of the scene that’s in focus will lower. However, as you widen your lens, transfer away out of your topic, or slim your lens aperture, the quantity of the scene that’s in focus will enhance.

In most conditions, you may deal with your depth of subject necessities with out focus stacking. In case you’re confronted by a sweeping panorama, you may select a wide-angle lens and you’ll slim your aperture; that method, you may seize your complete scene in focus utilizing a deep depth of subject. And for those who’re confronted by a regular close-up topic akin to a flower, you may again up barely out of your topic and slim your aperture to get your fascinating depth of subject.

However in just a few conditions, you received’t have the ability to obtain a deep sufficient depth of subject to maintain your complete shot sharp (from the closest foreground ingredient to essentially the most distant background ingredient).

Particularly, you’ll run into depth-of-field issues when working with:

  1. Very deep panorama scenes
  2. Extremely-close macro topics
  3. Deep constructing interiors

Your depth of subject simply received’t be deep sufficient, and solely elements of the shot will prove sharp (whereas different elements will flip blurry).

In fact, you may all the time attempt to again up or use a wider lens, however that isn’t all the time possible (particularly for those who’ve already chosen your composition). And you’ll slim your aperture, however at a sure level, you’ll begin to run into optical issues brought on by diffraction.

In such circumstances, you may have two choices:

You may take a single shot with a shallower depth of subject and attempt to make the impact work. (Shallow depth of subject photographs can look stunning when finished rigorously!)

Or you may focus stack.

Important focus-stacking gear

Focus stacking is a way that may be finished with only a smartphone digicam and nil fancy gear! Nevertheless, for those who’re severe about getting the most effective outcomes, there are just a few fundamental gadgets that I extremely advocate investing in. Right here’s what I like to recommend:

  • A tripod. A tripod is your steadfast companion in focus stacking. It retains your digicam regular and ensures constant composition as you seize a collection of photos. It’s a game-changer relating to attaining sharp, aligned photographs.
  • An interchangeable-lens digicam. To have full management over your digicam settings and the flexibleness to swap lenses for various compositions, an interchangeable-lens digicam is the way in which to go. Whether or not it’s a mirrorless digicam or a DSLR, any mannequin will do the job simply positive. Don’t fret an excessive amount of in regards to the particular digicam mannequin; concentrate on the options that fit your genres of curiosity.
  • A lens that gives handbook focusing. Relating to focus stacking, having a lens able to handbook focusing is essential. Guide focus means that you can exactly management the purpose of focus by rotating a hoop on the lens. Thankfully, most lenses provide a swap for toggling between handbook and autofocus, however earlier than you get began, it’s important to make sure you have at the least one lens that may be manually centered.
  • Focus-stacking software program. Whereas some cameras provide built-in automated focus stacking, I strongly advocate utilizing devoted stacking software program for extra management and optimum outcomes. Choices like Photoshop present strong stacking capabilities, however you may also need to contemplate specialised packages like Helicon Focus or Zerene Stacker for his or her highly effective stacking options.

Find out how to focus stack: step-by-step

Need to get began stacking your photos? Let’s check out how one can efficiently perform this system, from taking pictures within the subject to mixing the photographs on the pc.

Step 1: Decide your topic, select a composition, and set your publicity

Focus stacking begins by locking down a topic and a composition.

Mount your digicam on a tripod and punctiliously compose your picture. In case you don’t have a tripod, you are able to do handheld focus stacking, however you’ll want to take care of the composition as rigorously as potential.

(Fast apart: You’ll wrestle to focus stack scenes that characteristic transferring topics, which is a part of the rationale why portrait photographers, wildlife photographers, and road photographers not often use this system. Decide a scene that can stay regular for the jiffy it takes to arrange your shot.)

Subsequent, set your digicam to Guide mode, then dial in an publicity. It’s best to use the digicam’s publicity meter and histogram to information you, and notice that the publicity will stay fastened throughout all focus-stacked photographs. When you’ve set your publicity, you shouldn’t change it, or else you’ll must do further work standardizing the exposures when mixing your photographs later. (For a similar cause, I’d additionally advocate you choose a white stability preset and dial it in. It doesn’t should be good – you may all the time make modifications in post-processing – however for those who can hold the white stability constant, it’ll make your job a lot simpler down the road.)

And by the way in which: Earlier than you proceed with the remainder of the focus-stacking steps, ensure that your scene really requires focus stacking. In case you’re utilizing a wide-angle lens, you may most likely shoot most panorama scenes at f/16 or so and get a picture that’s sharp all through. It’s solely if you add in shut foreground objects – thus growing scene depth – that focus stacking turns into important.

Unsure whether or not focus stacking is critical? Take a check shot together with your lens centered about one-third of the way in which into the scene, then assessment it in your digicam LCD. Zoom in and examine each the foreground and background. If all the things turned out sharp, you then’re good to go – but when elements of the shot are blurry, you then’ll must proceed with the main target stacking method.

Step 2: Change your lens to handbook focus and take your first shot

Set your lens to handbook focus. (There’s normally a little bit AF/MF swap on the barrel.)

Then handbook concentrate on the nearest a part of the scene, such because the sand within the foreground (for those who’re taking pictures a seascape) or the tip of the flower petal (for those who’re taking pictures a close-up).

(In case you’re utilizing a digicam that doesn’t provide handbook focus, then you may autofocus on the closest a part of the scene. Simply just be sure you get the autofocus level precisely the place you need it.)

Take the primary shot, ensuring your publicity and composition stay locked in place.

Step 3: Take your remaining photos

At this level, you merely must take a collection of photos whereas slowly transferring the main target away from the foreground. Alter the main target, take a shot, modify once more, take one other shot, and so forth, till you’ve captured a pointy model of each a part of the scene.

What number of photos do you want? That basically is dependent upon your scene/topic. Most focus-stacked landscapes require simply two or three photographs (one for the foreground and one for the background, or one every for the foreground, middleground, and background). The exception is that if the foreground is unusually near your lens otherwise you’re utilizing a telephoto focal size, during which case you might want 4, 5, or extra photos.

focus-stacked building with fence and garden
To get this shot, I took three photographs. The primary was centered on the fence, the second was centered halfway into the scene, and the third was centered on the entrance of the home.

Macro focus stacking, then again, is extra time-consuming. You’ll typically must shoot 8+ photos (and typically upwards of 20, particularly for those who’re working at 1:1 magnifications or past). The picture on the left is a single shot, however the picture on the precise is a 12-image focus stack:

two versions of a flower image, one with focus stacking and one without

(In case you’re trying to get into severe macro focus stacking, I’d advocate you put money into a spotlight rail, which is able to enable you to modify your level of focus extra exactly.)

Over time, you’ll get a way of what number of photographs are required for a focus-stacked scene, however when doubtful, take too many photos, not too few. You may all the time discard related photographs later, however for those who fail to seize sufficient photographs, you’ll find yourself with a foul remaining consequence.

aster flowers focus stacked

Step 4: Mix the photographs in post-processing

Mixing a handful of recordsdata may sound tough, however it’s really fairly simple; varied packages, together with Photoshop, automate the method. The directions under reference Photoshop, however you may get related (or higher) outcomes with a program like Helicon Focus.

First, add your focus-stacking collection to your arduous drive. Open Photoshop, then choose File>Scripts>Load Information into Stack:

selecting the Load Files into Stack option in Photoshop

A Load Layers window will seem; click on Browse, then choose your recordsdata:

Clicking the Browse option in Photoshop

Test the Try to Robotically Align Supply Pictures field within the Load Layers window. Then hit OK.

Checking the Attempt to Automatically Align Source Images in Photoshop

Check out the Layers palette. It’s best to see all your recordsdata listed as separate layers. Choose each layer, then go to Edit>Auto-Mix Layers.

Be sure to examine the Stack Pictures choice, and make sure to examine the Seamless Tones and Colours checkbox:

Check the Seamless Tones and Colors box in Photoshop

Lastly, click on OK.

After just a few moments of processing, you’ll see your remaining stacked picture seem. Chances are you’ll discover points alongside the sides, which you’ll be able to merely crop away.

Lastly, choose Layer>Flatten Picture, and also you’re finished! Now you can edit the picture like every other file.

One suggestion:

Earlier than you export a stacked picture, zoom in to 100% and examine over the main points. Often, the software program will wrestle to mix the recordsdata, which is able to lead to just a few unusual artifacts. You may take away these fairly simply with the Therapeutic Brush, however for those who don’t examine, you might find yourself exporting an imperfect shot.

Suggestions and methods for enhancing your picture stacks

Focus stacking in photography cherries

When you perceive the focus-stacking fundamentals, you’ll have the ability to get strong outcomes by following the step-by-step directions I shared above. Nevertheless, if you wish to take your stacks above and past, listed below are a handful of further skilled ideas:

1. Be careful for transferring topics

Getting stunning focus-stacked photographs might be fairly simple, particularly if you’re photographing scenes with minimal motion, like still-life photos or desert landscapes. However as quickly as you add motion into the combination, issues get extra sophisticated. Let’s say your scene encompasses a tree waving within the wind. On this case, every file within the stack will seize the tree in a special place, making it very tough, and even unattainable, to mix successfully.

To beat this problem, it’s essential to shoot with out motion within the scene. In case you’re photographing a flower on a windy day, think about using a plamp to carry it in place and even use your physique to dam the wind. By making certain a stationary topic, you’ll have the ability to seize a collection of photos with constant focus factors for profitable stacking.

Alternatively, if capturing a transferring topic is crucial to your composition, you may take a special strategy. Seize a picture stack whereas making certain the transferring topic is captured with enough depth of subject in a single picture. Then, if wanted, you should utilize handbook masking methods to overlay the sharply centered transferring topic onto the scene.

With cautious masking, it’s also possible to take away any areas the place the transferring topic created a ghosting impact, leading to a seamless and putting focus-stacked picture.

2. Use a distant launch when stacking in low mild

Focus stacking in photography

Stacking might be finished in good mild, during which case your shutter velocity will typically be quick sufficient to forestall vibrations brought on by urgent the shutter button.

However for those who’re taking pictures indoors or after the solar has set, you might wrestle to get a shutter velocity above 1/60s or so. If that’s the case, your tripod will forestall extra common digicam shake, however a distant launch affords a helpful methodology of avoiding blur brought on by every press of the shutter button. This machine means that you can set off the digicam from a distance, making certain minimal vibrations and most sharpness all through your picture stack.

Right here’s the way it works in follow: After adjusting the main target, you may look ahead to any vibrations to settle, then set off the digicam utilizing the distant launch. As soon as the picture is captured, you may modify the main target once more, look ahead to stability, and repeat the method till you may have obtained the whole collection of photos in your focus stack.

3. Don’t be afraid to attempt handheld stacking

Whereas utilizing a tripod is very advisable for focus stacking, it’s not all the time possible or sensible in each scenario. Fortunately, there’s an alternate method referred to as handheld focus stacking that may produce spectacular outcomes with out the necessity for cumbersome help.

To carry out handheld focus stacking, you’ll must hold your framing constant as you seize a collection of photos. You may lean towards a sturdy object or discover a snug place to stabilize your self. The secret’s to reduce digicam motion between photographs.

Whereas handheld stacking could not yield the identical stage of precision as utilizing a tripod, the outcomes can nonetheless be fairly strong. It’s necessary to notice that you could be lose some content material alongside the sides of the body, requiring a crop throughout post-processing. To mitigate this, it’s advisable to intentionally compose a little bit wider than your required remaining composition, offering room for cropping in a while.

Remember that follow and experimentation will enable you to refine your handheld focus stacking method. With expertise, you’ll have the ability to seize a collection of photos with constant framing and obtain spectacular focus-stacked outcomes even with out a tripod!

4. Mix focus stacking and HDR images for excellent outcomes

Focus stacking in photography

HDR (excessive dynamic vary) methods are sometimes favored by panorama photographers, permitting them to seize scenes with a excessive dynamic vary (i.e., a scene with very vivid and really darkish areas, akin to a vibrant sundown). Trendy cameras typically wrestle to seize such scenes with out blowing out the highlights or underexposing the shadows.

The HDR method entails capturing a collection of photographs of the identical composition, every uncovered individually for the darkish parts, mild parts, and mid-toned parts. These photos are then blended collectively in post-processing to create a remaining consequence that retains element all through your complete dynamic vary.

Now, what if you wish to focus stack a scene with a excessive dynamic vary? The excellent news is that you just don’t have to decide on one method on the expense of the opposite. You may mix focus stacking and HDR for distinctive outcomes.

As a substitute of capturing only one picture every time you modify the lens focus, seize a number of photos for every focus level, making certain that you just additionally expose individually for the completely different tones within the picture. In post-processing, merge every set of bracketed photos within the stack, creating an HDR model of every file. Upon getting the HDR variations, proceed with the usual focus-stacking strategy.

By using this mixed method, you may obtain a remaining picture that not solely boasts unbelievable depth of subject by means of focus stacking but in addition maintains correct publicity throughout the scene’s whole dynamic vary. This highly effective mixture means that you can seize and showcase scenes with gorgeous element, even in difficult lighting situations.

5. Obtain exact macro stacking with a focusing rail

Focus stacking in photography

Once you’re working at ultra-high magnifications so as to seize an insect, a flower, or another tiny object in sharp focus, the depth of subject will typically be so tiny, and every motion of the main target ring so important, that you just wrestle to seize your collection of photos for stacking.

Thankfully, there’s a resolution: a focusing rail. This helpful device attaches to your tripod and helps your digicam, permitting you to make incremental changes within the focus place. As a substitute of manually adjusting the main target ring at ultra-high magnifications, you may set the concentrate on the entrance of your topic, take a shot, after which use the focusing rail to make refined and exact changes to the main target level for subsequent photographs.

By utilizing a focusing rail, you get rid of the necessity for delicate handbook changes, making the method of capturing a collection of photos for stacking far more manageable. It offers you with the management and precision wanted to realize optimum focus all through the topic, making certain every picture within the stack contributes to a remaining consequence with distinctive element and readability.

Whereas a focusing rail just isn’t a compulsory device for macro stacking, it considerably simplifies the method and improves the standard of your stacked photos. So for those who plan to do frequent close-up images with stacking, buying a focusing rail could make an enormous distinction!

Focus stacking in images: remaining phrases

Now that you recognize what focus stacking is and the way it works, you’re prepared to realize nice outcomes with nothing greater than a digicam, a tripod, and a little bit of Photoshop wizardry.

So go on the market, unleash your creativity, and experiment with focus stacking. Seize the fragile petals of a flower, the rugged textures of a panorama, or the mesmerizing particulars of a macro topic. Do some stacking, and watch as you produce a stunningly sharp picture!

Now over to you:

What do you propose to focus stack? Have you ever tried focus stacking earlier than? Share your ideas (and focus-stacked photos!) within the feedback under.

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