Focus stacking is the best-kept secret that photographers use to get sharp images. Although the name sounds complicated, the focus feature is quite simple. Your editing software — in our case Lightroom and Photoshop — does most of the work. All you need is practice to master it.
You’re probably familiar with HDR images, where you take three photos at different exposures (correct exposure, underexposed, and overexposed) and combine them to form an HDR image. You follow a similar technique to stack the focus. Take multiple images at different focus distances and combine them to form a single focus stacked image.
Step 1: Take a photo
You need multiple images of the same composition with different focus distances. For the sake of simplicity, let’s follow three images. Technically, you can superimpose any number of images — macro and product photographers stack multiple shots to get that sleek look.
Here are a few tips to get your photos right.
We strongly recommend switching to manual focus on your lens so you can choose exactly what to focus on. This way you can also ensure that you have all the essentials in mind. When you use autofocus, you cannot control where the camera focuses.
Using a tripod is important so that your composition stays the same in all your photos. If there are large differences, you will have a hard time aligning them.
If you’re shooting handheld, try to lean against something for stability and keep your hands close to your body. Hold your camera with one hand and use the other to adjust the lens’ focus ring. Click all three photos without changing position.
Try to keep the lighting and exposure settings consistent for all three photos. This will get you a seamless stacked image. And, if you’re working with natural light, be prepared to set up and snap three shots in quick succession. If you wait between shots, your lighting may change.
Test your ingredients
Also, remember not to fill your frame when taking a photo. This may contradict what you’ve heard, but we’re saying this for a good reason; when your images have space around them you have the option to cut out the unwanted bits after stacking the focus.
We recommend shooting RAW over JPG because you can fine-tune the white balance if needed. Here are some tips for perfecting your white balance.
For our example, we have some Lego Duplo figures to help us out. We created a scene with a child and a goat on a floral background. With an aperture of f/8, we took three shots with different focus distances. The first photo focuses on children, the second the goat and the third the flowers in the background.
Step 2: Edit in Lightroom
Import your images into Lightroom and perform basic edits like improving contrast, adjusting shadows and highlights, adjusting clarity and vibrance, etc. It’s better to edit your image first. , duplicate the settings and apply them to the other two images to maintain consistency. Read our guide on how to streamline your photo editing workflow to save time.
If you are cropping an image, don’t crop it too tightly. Leave space around the photos and don’t cut out the essentials of your scene in any of your three shots. When you’re satisfied with your edits, move on to the next step.
Step 3: Open as Layer in Photoshop
Go Develop, build and select all three photos. Then go to Photo > Edit in > Open as Layer in Photoshop. If your images are in RAW format, this step will convert them to a compatible format for Photoshop and open them as layers.
Step 4: Align Layers
In Photoshop, select three layers and go to Edit > Automatic Layer Alignment.
In the pop-up box, select Automatic Below Projection. In Lens Correction, leave Sharpen Uncheck the Remove and Distort Geometry boxes.
This step combines your images based on the content. Once done, you may see some artifacts around the edges of your image. However, you can ignore them and carefully cut them out of your photo.
Step 5: Mix the layers
Go Edit > Auto Blend Layer.
In the pop-up box, select Stacking images Below Mixing method. Test Seamless tones and colors and Content awareness fills transparent areas the boxes.
This step creates a layer mask and blends your images together. In the end you will get a superimposed image with all areas in focus. In our example, you can see that the child, the goat, and the flower are completely in focus.
If you don’t get a nice, clear image, that usually means there’s a mismatch in composition or exposure between the three photos. You can try to save the image by editing it. If you’re not satisfied with the results, you can retake the photo and start over.
Step 6: Save the file
Go File > Save.
After you save your photo in Photoshop, it opens as a TIFF file in Lightroom. You can further edit your image or export it as a JPEG image instantly. And, that’s it. You have completed your first focus stacked image.
Things need to notice
Using Lightroom to stack the focus is optional. If you’re a RAW shooter, you can seamlessly process your RAW files and focus on stacking your JPEGs with Lightroom and Photoshop. You can avoid the hassle of exporting JPEG images and then processing them in Photoshop.
If you use any other software for RAW processing or have JPEG images available, you can skip steps 1 and 2. You can do focus stacking in Photoshop and export it from there.
Photoshop takes up a lot of memory for focus stacking. So make sure your computer has enough memory, especially if you’re stacking more than a few images. You also should not use any other heavy software while you focus the stack.
Make your images stand out with focus stacking
Focus stacking is a powerful tool to carry in your arsenal. It will definitely make your images stand out and boost your confidence as a photographer. And it’s not even that hard, just keep practicing until you master it.
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About the author
https://www.makeuseof.com/how-to-focus-stack-lightroom-and-photoshop/ How to Focus Stack Using Lightroom and Photoshop: A Step-by-Step Guide