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: 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: 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:
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.
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!
While still in Lightroom and with both images still selected, click Photo>Edit In>Open as Layers in Photoshop.
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.
With both layers highlighted (selected), go to the Edit pull down and click Auto-Align Layers.
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.
Once the Auto-Align Layers step is completed, and with both layers still selected, click Edit> Auto-Blend Layers.
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.
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.
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: Results of the two blended layers.
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.
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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