Focus Stacking - Chemistruck Photography

Focus Stacking

Focus Stacking

Taking close up pictures with a macro lens is a fine balance between using a wide aperture to capture the maximum amount of light, while having a deep enough depth of field to maintain clarity of the entire subject. Fortunately, there is a digital image processing technique called Focus Stacking (or Hyperfocus) that allows you to combine multiple images to create a single image with a greater depth of field than any of the individual source images.

Adobe Photoshop CS4 and beyond allows you to easily focus stack several images. (Gimp, which is free, also allows you to focus stack images.) To get started, open Photoshop and follow these steps:

  • Open all the images you want to focus stack
  • Select File > Automate > Photomerge
  • Use the Auto setting and click Add Open Files
    • This will insert all your images into one file and auto align the edges
  • Select Edit > Auto-Blend Layers
  • Use the Stack Images preset and click OK

That’s all! Photoshop automatically applies a layer mask to each layer, which you can then hide to see which portions of each image was selected.

For those of you that want to use Gimp to focus stack images, you can use the Depth Merge plugin to combine two images. However, if you want to combine more than two images, you must align the images manually and apply your own layer mask to each layer.

  • Click File and then select Open as Layers
  • Select the files you wish to open and press Open, repeat as necessary for any additional images
  • Select Filters > Combine > Depth Merge
  • Press OK

When capturing the source images there are several key factors to consider:

  • Use the manual mode on your camera body to ensure the exposure is consistent across each image
  • Use a tripod to maintain the perspective in all images
  • Use a focus slider to easily adjust the focal point of the image
  • The more source images, the greater depth of field you can create

Here’s a few images of an ice cube that I focus stacked using my Canon MP-E 65mm macro lens:

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