Focus Stacking: Increased Depth of Field by Combining Multiple Images

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Not Just For Macro Photography!

Humans can see with incredible “depth of field”. Cameras can do a pretty good job—especially if stopped down and when combined with short lenses. Telephoto lenses, on the other hand, often struggle with an extended depth of field. Likewise, macro photography can require numerous steps in micro fractions of an inch increments.

In reality, viewers of photographic images often “forgive” a little out of focus in the immediate foreground if major elements or subjects are sharp. And of course, we can blur or go out of focus in areas on purpose for a creative expression.

Luckily, Lightroom and Photoshop can team up to help us out on special shots. “Focus Stacking” allows a photographer to focus on two or more zones in multiple photos, then merge them into a single image. Best of all, it is relatively easy. Photoshop does all the work! Macro photographers sometimes shoot dozens or even 50 or more images to get one blended composite. If you are into this kind of photography, check out this site: How to Focus-Stack Macro Images using Photoshop.

This page at Best of the Tetons will illustrate how you can add this little trick to your skill set for landscapes. Similar to HDR sets, Focus Stack sets are easy enough to shoot in the field, even if you don’t end up needing the extra frames.

Two Zones

Two Zones: I typically set up and shoot with a tripod for my landscape images. It helps on a project like this one. In a nutshell, I focused on the fence for one shot and on the barn for the next one. To be specific, I set my camera to single point, single servo focusing, then did a quick composition in the viewfinder. I set the focus point on the barn, then temporarily recomposed so that focus point was on the green area of the scene (on the close fence). I pressed my Auto Focus lock button (or hold the shutter button down half way for most people) and recomposed to the original composition. With the AF Lock still pressed, I captured the first image with the sharp fence. I released the AF Lock and pressed the shutter again without moving the camera. For the second shot, the focus point was back on the barn. Click – Click! For some shots, it might be necessary to capture the scene with three or four images. I don’t think it was necessary for this image, but I could have made one more capture on the middle, barbed wire fence line. (Click on the image to see it a little larger)

Stacked

Stacked: Here’s the stacked image. These images were taken in 2013 with a Nikon D800 and a Nikon 70-200mm lens at 160mm. The aperture was set to F/8. This shot took only an extra minute or two at the time of capture, then roughly 10 minutes in LR and Photoshop. (Click on the image to see it a little larger)

If you are interested in the steps for actually creating the blended image…read on!

Beginning in Lightroom:

Two Images

In Lightroom, I selected the two images (Shift-Select), then did my normal adjustments to one of them. This image also had a bit of cropping to help cut down the size for the web pages.

SyncSettings

Synchronize Settings: In the lower right corner of the Develop tab, there’s a button labeled Sync Settings. Once clicked, this box comes up. Click the Check All button and then the Synchronize button. At this point, both images have the same treatments and adjustments applied to them.

Off to Photoshop!

Open as Layers in PS

While still in Lightroom and with both images still selected, click Photo>Edit In>Open as Layers in Photoshop.

Two Layers

In Photoshop, you will see the two images, each on a separate layer.

For this screen grab, I moved the Layers tab to the lower left corner of my screen so I could include the document size info. Each of these two images are 35 megs, creating a 70 meg file (this isn’t a big deal for a two image file, but it can be for someone building a 40 shot macro composite.) In this image, only the top layer is selected. I Shift-Clicked the second layer to select both for the next step.

Auto Align Layers

With both layers highlighted (selected), go to the Edit pull down and click Auto-Align Layers.

Auto Align Second Screen

This box will appear after clicking Auto-Align Layers. The default is Auto. Click OK. The computer will process for a few seconds. This step is usually necessary even if on a tripod.

Auto Blend Layers

Once the Auto-Align Layers step is completed, and with both layers still selected, click Edit> Auto-Blend Layers.

Auto Blend 2nd Screen

This box will appear. Make sure Stack Images is clicked and Seamless Tones and Colors are checked (this is usually set as default) and click OK.

Auto Blend Layers Tab

For my 5000 pixel, two frame image, it took my computer about 30 seconds to process the Auto-Blend step. Photoshop does all the work! It creates the layer masks as seen here. For most projects, all I have to do is flatten and save the image with a new file name.

Try one! While including a bunch of screen grabs might make this appear more complicated than it should, the steps are actually quick and straight forward. You’d only have to do a couple to get the hang of it. I should also mention you don’t really need to start in Lightroom. You can open two images and combine them into a two layer Photoshop document, then run the Auto-Align and Auto-Blend commands. I like the option of syncing the two images in Lightroom.

Focus Stack

Another Example of Focus Stacking: I took this image using a Nikon 200-400mm lens at a long distance from the subjects. Much like the earlier example, I focused on the fence in one image and the barn in the other.

Box L Ranch

Box L Ranch: Results of the two blended layers.

CamRanger

Focus Stack

A few weeks ago, I did a few test shots of objects in the kitchen so I could try out the Focus Stacking feature built into a CamRanger. For this shot, I focused on the closest part of the orange, then set the CamRanger to do a total of 10 shots. It automatically stepped the focus deeper into the scene—without needing to touch the camera again.

Focus Stack Flattened

I initially captured 10 images with the aid of the CamRanger, but for this example, I skipped every other one and let Lightroom and Photoshop build this image with only five of the images. The steps are the same as the barn examples above, but instead of just two layers in Photoshop, I had five. Macro photographers, as seen in the link, deal with much, much more controlled steps than I did here. Here’s the link again: How to Focus-Stack Macro Images using Photoshop. They did 46 shots to capture a single snowflake! For those kinds of shots, you may need the specialty rails and attachments found at Really Right Stuff.

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First Trailer for Reclaiming the Night Documentary

This is the first trailer for my upcoming feature-length documentary, Reclaiming the Night. Though I used the same name for the short film released last year, this will be more in-depth, more story driven, and will include plenty more detail and explanations of the impacts of light pollution.

The first participant featured in this trailer is Peter Lipscomb of Astronomy Adventures in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He’s a dark sky advocate for all of New Mexico and is working with Santa Fe to improve the lighting there. Bill Wren appears next, who is an astronomer at the McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis, Texas. – Read more

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The National Elk Refuge & Miller Butte:

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A Mecca for Winter Wildlife Photography.

Ram in the HeadlightsLocated on the north edge of the Town of Jackson, the National Elk Refuge offers unique wildlife viewing opportunities during the winter months. By almost all standards, visitor access to the refuge is very limited. Of the 24,700 acres, visitors are confined to 10 feet either side of roughly four miles of roadway during the winter. Visitors are asked to park only in designated pullouts, of which there are currently very few. Work on the roadway is scheduled for the summer of 2015, including adding additional pullouts and expanding the sizes of several of the existing pullouts. Along the highway, visitors are told to pull off the highway only in one of the three or four designated pullouts and are told NOT to cross the bike path and approach the fence. I guess I could identify the issues above as the “negatives” at the refuge. It’s a refuge, not a park!

The positives far outweigh the inconveniences of limited parking, limited access, and narrow (sometimes slick) roads. The positives, of course, are the animals you might see there. The short list would include elk, bighorn sheep, pronghorns, and bison for the prey animals. Predators and scavengers would include wolves, coyotes, mountain lions, foxes, and a variety of raptors and birds. You might not expect to see all of the animals in these lists on a single drive-thru, but you “could” see several of them. That’s the beauty! You simply never know what you might find there from hour to hour, day to day, week to week or month to month. I often go back two and three times in a day!

Summer and Winter: Two worlds.

National Elk Refuge

During the summer months, the National Elk Refuge could appear barren of animals. In a nutshell, you will likely travel “through” the Refuge on your way “to” something else. A few additional roads allow access to areas of the National Forest, such as Curtis Canyon and hiking trails to Goodwin Lake, Sheep Mountain, Mount Jackson and so forth. As in the winter, visitors are confined to a few feet either side of the roadways as they pass through the Refuge. Crews plant and irrigate fields on the refuge for forage for wintering elk, bison, and now pronghorns.

Flat Creek on the National Elk Refuge

Fly fishing is allowed in a section along the highway from August 1st to October 31st, but only fishermen with licenses and gear are permitted to be on the refuge. In the late fall, hunting is allowed for elk and bison in some areas. Otherwise, regular tourists cannot mingle off the roadways. Elk and most of the game animals will have moved off the refuge and into their summer ranges, leaving the range mostly uninhabited. Small critters like ground squirrels, voles, gophers, and chipmonks may be taken by Northern Harriers, Red-tailed hawks, Burrowing Owls, American Kestrels, Eagles and so forth.

National Elk Refuge

By late November, snows in the high country start pushing some of the large game animals to the Refuge. I start looking for Bighorn Sheep around Miller Butte on Thanksgiving. Elk start filtering in around the same time, but the big herds typically show up later. Predators and Scavengers follow the prey animals. I’ve seen wolves on the National Elk Refuge, but I’ve never seen them up close. Whether you see them or not, just know they are around! Wolves and other predators follow the prey animals out of the refuge in the Spring. Kills by the wolves, along with natural winter deaths, bring in the smaller scavengers of fur and feather. Mountain Lions have been observed on the Refuge over the years.

Bighorns and the Beginning of Winter

The Chase

Around Thanksgiving, I start cruising the Refuge watching for the first of the Bighorn Sheep. Early snows prod them to move out of the high country and onto the slopes of Miller Butte. By the first week of December, I expect to see reasonable numbers of both ewes and rams. The rut usually begins around the middle of December and continues until the middle of January. This page from Best of the Tetons contains quite a bit more information and lots of photos: Bighorns of Miller Butte. The page has a map showing the roads and pullouts along Miller Butte.

Elk

Mass of Elk

Elk migrate from long distances, including Yellowstone, to winter at the National Elk Refuge. I overheard a biologist say there are roughly 5,500 elk on the refuge with additional elk around the edges. You can check the refuge’s official site for more specifics: National Elk Refuge. When driving out onto the Refuge, expect to see mostly cows and calves. The big bulls seldom hang close to the roadways, but you still might see one mixed in. For the best view of wintering elk, consider taking the sleigh ride. Sleigh Ride on the National Elk Refuge: It might be the best deal in town! Bulls can occasionally be seen on the ridge line of Miller Butte. Wolves on the refuge can greatly impact where the elk and other animals are grazing on any particular day.

Bison

Bison Herd

Traditionally, the wintering bison hang in the northeast section of the Refuge and are not visible to the winter tourists. Occasionally, a heard will move to the southern section and even south of the road. Wildlife officials may haze them back off the road for the safety of tourists, hikers, bikers, and photographers. They are quick and dangerous! Watch for them in the last mile of the winter road section.

Pronghorns

Elk and Pronghorns

During the winter months, Pronghorns traditionally move from the Teton valley to areas south of here—such as Big Piney, Daniel, and Marbleton. Over the past few winters, a small herd began staying in the valley. Now that herd seems to be growing in size. I counted over 45 recently along the roadway near Miller Butte. They also appear to be becoming more tolerant of the passing vehicles, hikers, and bikers.

Mule Deer

Hillside Mule Deer

Hillside Mule Deer: I’ve seen a few mule deer actually inside the fence in the National Elk Refuge, but most are along the road and hillside West of the highway. Other than some of the commercial businesses along the road, the National Elk Refuge owns much of the land. Deer and Elk can be seen grazing along either side of the road early in the mornings and on the hillside after first light. You may also see some of them by making the drive up to the National Museum of Wildlife Art.

Wolves

Wolves

Recently, the newspaper reported two packs of wolves roaming the National Elk Refuge and making kills. I’ve seen them on the hillsides before and was able to hear them howl, but I’ve never been there as they chase game into close proximity to the roads. Maybe I will be in the right spot at the right time and capture some of it.

Coyotes

Coyote

Coyotes are more common on the National Elk Refuge. Most stay off the roads and scavenge on winter kills or feed on the leftovers from a wolf kill.

Foxes

Red Fox

Red Foxes aren’t that common on the Refuge, but I’ve seen them several times just south of the Miller House.

Otters

River Otter

River Otters occasionally cruise Flat Creek in search of small fish. I’ve photographed them on numerous occasions from the observation platform just north of the visitor’s center.

Swans

Squabble

Trumpeter Swans and an occasional Tundra Swan can often be seen along Flat Creek. Check out this Feature Post: Trumpeter Swans: A Family of Swans Along Flat Creek in the Summer of 2014. During the winter, much of Flat Creek can freeze over for short periods, but the Swans and other waterfowl quickly return when sections of the waterway open up again. Flat Creek runs through much of the National Elk Refuge.

Eagles

Golden Eagle

Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles can be seen on the National Elk Refuge at any time of the year, but are more plentiful during the winter months. Winter kills bring in the scavengers of all kinds. Watch for Ravens swarming, then look for nearby eagles, foxes, coyotes and magpies. During the winter months, watch for Rough-legged hawks hovering around the valley floor. In the summer, watch for Red-tailed Hawks and Northern Harriers. I’ve seen photos of Burrowing Owls taken on the Refuge.

Scenic Opportunities

Miller House with Fog Bank

The Historic old Miller House sits in the middle of the National Elk Refuge. It always makes a good subject for photography. The house and areas immediately surrounding it are closed to human activity during the winter months.

National Elk Refuge

Sleeping Indian (AKA Sheep Mountain) rests on the far east side of the valley. Check out this earlier Feature Post for more locations: Sleeping Indian: A Lesser Photographed JH Icon

Scenic Comments: I typically don’t go to the National Elk Refuge “thinking landscapes”. Wildlife is usually higher on my priorities. If the light is hitting the Miller House or Sleeping Indian in a special way, I will always stop to photograph it. Access is limited, as I mentioned earlier, so we must shoot only from the roadways. A couple of distracting power lines run through the refuge and the angles are just not designed for photographers, especially while on the Refuge Road. From the highway, many more possibilities are available to viewers and photographers. On the North side, the National Elk Refuge and Grand Teton National Park are separated by the Gros Ventre River. Visitors can roam the north side of the river, but cannot cross the river to the Refuge side.

Curtis Canyon

On May 1st, the roads into the interior of the Refuge open back up, allowing people to cross into the National Forests. On that morning, the road is packed with antler hunters heading into the wilds outside the refuge. Additional photographic opportunities can be found by driving up the Curtis Canyon Road.

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An Upcoming Year of Wishes

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Many people make a New Year’s Resolution. I’ve never been too driven to make them—much less keep them.

This page is dedicated to subjects maybe a bit off the beaten path—most of which are in the state of Wyoming.  Along with the standard area wildlife and landscapes, these are subjects I’d like to pursue more this year. Maybe you will also find some of these subjects of interest on your Wyoming visit. I included lots of links to help you with additional information.

Petroglyphs

Petroglyphs: There are several areas of the state with petroglyphs. This one was taken near the Boar’s Tusk in SW Wyoming called the White Mountain Petroglyphs. Castle Gardens are near Riverton and in the Wind River Mountains check out the petroglyphs at Dinwoody and Torrey basins near Dubois. Legend Rock State Petroglyph Site is located just outside Thermopolis. If you are heading into Wyoming from Utah or Nevada, do some searches online. Other states have even more. I’d like to try “light painting” some of the petroglyphs if I am ever there at the right time. Colored gels in conjunction with the lights might be even better. The closest petroglyphs are in the Torrey Basin near Dubois.

ShoBan Pow-Wow

Native American Pow-Wows: There are many Pow-Wows held all over the state during the summer months. I always have a great time there.

Ft Bridger

Mountain Man Rendezvous: This page contains information on many of the regional rendezvous. The biggest one is at Fort Bridger over Labor Day. Most of the people at these events are quite “colorful” and are usually more than willing to have their photos taken. I definitely need to go to more of them in 2015!

Eagle Days

Eagle Days: Farmington Bay, UT. Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area |Bald eagle viewing at Utah’s the Farmington Bay Waterfowl. For several years, my youngest son competed in ski competitions in Utah in February, so I happened to be in the area. I usually only had one day to spend there, and it was hit and miss from year to year. When it’s good, it can be really good! This area is reported to have the largest wintering population of eagles in the lower 48. Each year, the rangers poison the “trash fish” with a natural compound that suffocates them. The carp, perch, and sunfish float to the surface and become a feast for the waiting eagles. In February, the town of Farmington, UT hosts Eagle Days at the refuge, but that’s NOT the day to go! It is too busy and you are forced to ride in on a bus. The biologists poison some of the bays a few days before the event and fish are still floating by until the end of February when the roads close.

Rodeo

Rodeo: In Jackson, there’s a rodeo every Wednesday and Saturday throughout the summer at the Fairgrounds on Snow King Drive. Cody has a big rodeo nightly and there are a couple of rodeo grounds in and around West Yellowstone. I’d really like to go to more of them this year! Crews tore down the old chutes and announcer’s crow’s nest and are in the process of rebuilding them. The rodeo grounds will have a new face on the north side this year!

Western

Cowboys and Wranglers: These kind of shots take a little pre-planning and work, but I really need and want to do more this year. I didn’t take many of the at all in 2014. If you have a family and want a wonderful week at a Dude Ranch, check out Triangle X Dude Ranch,  Lost Creek Guest RanchMoose Head Guest Ranch, & Red Rock Ranch Dude Ranch. All are top notch! Some of the area ranches have calf roundups and brandings. I haven’t been to one in a while and it’d be fun to go again. I’d also love to be around the ranches near Kelly when the ranchers move the longhorns from pasture to pasture.

Wild Mustangs

Wild Mustangs: These are one of my favorite subjects, but I only managed to photograph them one time in 2014. That’s definitely not enough! Wyoming has 16 Horse Management Areas plus its half of the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center near, Lovell, Wyoming. Wyoming doesn’t have burros.  Wild Horse and Burro Quick Facts. There’s a lot of information in the provided links. I’d like to go to a few more of the state’s HMA’s. The closest two are in Rock Springs and Cody. May and June are usually the best two months. Mares often give birth at this time, prompting fights between stallions. Every few years, the BLM conducts a “gather” to reduce the population at each HMA to a required number, but the BLM is secretive about when a gather will occur. Wild Mustang Gather: Rock Springs, WY

Ghost Towns

Ghost Towns: There are quite a few old ghost towns and forts in Wyoming. The link has quite a few of them. The Lincoln Highway was the first transcontinental highway for automobiles across the United States of America. It runs more or less parallel with US Highway 80 across the southern portion of Wyoming. I’d like to check out more of the abandoned buildings, stations, and signs along it. The photo above was at Superior, WY. Along the route, I’d also be on the lookout for abandoned vehicles rusting away in the sagebrush. Someday, I’d love to follow the road on across Utah and Nevada and into Lincoln Park in San Francisco.

Yellowstone

Yellowstone: For a variety of reasons, including the cost of gasoline, I haven’t spent much time in Yellowstone over the past few years. I’d like to make a few trips this year. I still love the Tetons, but Yellowstone has some different looks and subjects. This place is definitely ON the beaten path, but I just haven’t been there much lately.

Fishing

Fishing: Whether they are self portraits or shots of other people fishing, I’d love to build a collection of fly fishing images at all of the valley’s spectacular locations. A few fly fishing shots in Yellowstone with steam and fog would also be high on my wish list. Remote Triggering: CamRanger and RFN-4s

Barns

Barns: There are quite a few old barns and structures in Jackson Hole. I’ve photographed a lot of them. Sometimes it takes me a long time to gain access to the property. Some are easily visible from the roadways. I like to find them, then keep going back until the light has a romantic glow.

…and More: This group came to mind as I built this post tonight. They are in no particular order.

I am sure there are lots of other opportunities and lots of events worth covering and if I think of a few, I’ll add them here. MJ

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