Last week I struggled with focus. This week I’m stacking it. I’m focus stacking!

Focus stacking (or focal plane mergingfocus blending, z-stacking etc.) is a digital image processing technique which combines multiple images taken at different focus distances to give a resulting image with a greater depth of field (DoF) than any of the original source images, but retaining the effects a shallow DoF gives.

I’ve always been intrigued by this technique. I love the effects a shallow DoF gives. But sometimes I wish more of my subject was in focus without losing any of those shallow DoF effects.

So, here’s what I learned and what I did…

Shoot

  1. Place the camera on a sturdy tripod – This is a must!
  2. Frame the subject and compose the shot.
  3. Set the camera to manual mode to ensure that the exposure remains constant for each image.
  4. Aim the focus point on the nearest object you want to be in focus.
  5. Take the first shot.
  6. Then, without moving the camera or adjusting any of the settings, move the focus point to a distance slightly farther away from the lens.
  7. Repeat step 6 as many times as needed to cover every aspect of the subject’s DoF, finishing at the furthest point of focus you want to capture.

The images above show the first shot, the 7th shot, and the last (14th) shot.

Stack

  1. Open Photoshop
  2. Get each image on a separate layer: Under File, choose Scripts and Load files into stack. Click Browse and select all the images. *
  3. Check the box for Attempts to Automatically Align Source Images.
  4. Click OK and each of the images will open into a new layer in Photoshop.
  5. Open the Layer palette and select All Layers.
  6. Under Edit, select Auto-Blend Layers.
  7. Check the box for Stack Images and Seamless Tones and Colours. Click OK
  8. Voila!

* If you’re using Lightroom and Photoshop, after importing your images into Lightroom, instead of steps 2-5, you can add all your images into Photoshop layers by selecting all your images, then Photo/Edit in/Open as Layer in Photoshop. This will open all the selected images as layers. Then you can align your images by selecting all the layers in the layer palette and selecting Edit/Auto Align Layers. Then continue at step 6.

Focus Stack: The complete blended image

Focus Stack: The complete blended image

Sum Up

I found the trick to this whole process is to take enough focused images, to create a final photo that is in focus from the desired foreground point to the desired background point.

A steady camera is a must! Sure, Photoshop can “Automatically Align Source Images”, but the less adjusting it needs to do, the better the end result. There’s no way I could’ve smoothly adjusted the focus distance without a tripod!

“Hey Brett, why don’t you just open up the DoF?”

Sure, I could, but where’s learning in that? Plus as Shelly mentioned way back in 2016, “If focus is critical, yet you like the effects created with a shallow DoF, try your hand at focus stacking.”

Now that I’ve got my head around focus stacking I’m ready to apply this technique to our latest LEGO photography project. But I’ll tell you all about that in another post!

– Brett

Do you use focus stacking for your toy photography? Or has this post inspired you to give it a go? If it has, or if you already do, we’d love to hear about your experiences.

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