Are you frustrated that you cannot get your images as sharp, front to back, as you would like them? Have you taken a picture of a flower only to find that only a small part is in focus, or shot a landscape image where the foreground and/or background is not sharp? This could be down to your lens, available light or just the law of physics. One way to overcome these is to use the Focus Stacking technique. This can be useful for macros/close-ups, landscapes or anything in between.
You will need a camera and lens set entirely to manual – focus, aperture, shutter speed – a tripod, a wireless or cable release (or you could use your camera’s self-timer) and some software to stitch the images together. Suitable software includes Photoshop, Helicon Focus, Zerene Stacker (there must be others) which will be used to combine your images.
Firstly, set your camera on your tripod in front of your subject – I will talk about some flowers in this example. Ensure the camera is set to manual. Determine your exposure, easy nowadays with digital as you can check immediately on the screen of the camera. I would suggest using an aperture of f8-f16 as somewhere between these tends to be the ‘sweet spot’ of the lens. You can use a low ISO and set your shutter speed to complete the triangle. Now frame your shot to how you would like it to look. Once this has been completed, neither the camera nor the subject should move!
Manually focus to the closest point – this can also be checked on the screen using Live View. Take the shot. Carefully adjust the focus a fraction into the scene. Take another shot. Move the focus ring a fraction further etc.. I tend to find between 4 and 10 images will be enough, but find that the more you take, the easier it is for the software to process.
Your workflow will be different, depending on what software you use, but this is what I currently do. Suppose I am working on eight images. I import into Lightroom and adjust the first to my liking. I copy and paste the settings to each of the others. I then save as TIFF files and import into Zerene Stacker (Photoshop will work with the RAW files which I may start to try next). When processed, I output the final compiled .jpg file and edit to taste.
This may seem like a lot of effort to ‘take a picture’, but I urge you to give it a try as the results you can achieve can be truly stunning.
Below are some images that I have created using Focus Stacking. None of these could have been created with just one image as they would never have the required depth of field.
My name is Steve Cooke (scdronemedia) and I have been taking photographs (on and off) for over 40 years. In the last year I have added a couple of drones to try to get a different perspective on the world. I served 22 years in the RAF and now work for the NHS. Even now I am still learning. Photography really is a hobby for life.