Using focus stacking in Photoshop to sharpen images

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break wall light at dawn
WI Point break wall light at dawn with icicles. Photo taken by Gene Dianoski

Focusing stacking uses both the camera and post-processing software like Adobe Photoshop to create sharper images. Landscape and macro photographer employ the technique when shallower depth of fields makes it difficult to capture a entire scene or subject in complete detail. Focus stacking requires two or more frames focused at different points in a scene. Afterwards, Photoshop aligns and merges the two images to create a single sharp image.

Focus stacking requires a digital camera and editing software like Adobe Photoshop. Using a good weighted tripod and remote trigger keeps the scene aligned in-camera. When aligning hand held shots, Photoshop discards areas that do not overlap in the editing process. However, hand held images do work in some cases.

When to employ focus stacking

flower macro focus stacking
Flower macro created by using several images in focus stacking. Photo taken by Gene Dianoski

You might not use focus stacking much at all as it isn’t always necessary. In the lead image, the ultra-wide lens could not get the both the break wall light and the icicles in focus at the same time. So, I took one shot of the break wall light and one shot of the icicles and focus stacked the two frames in Photoshop for one sharp image.

When printing large images, it becomes obvious when parts of your subject are not entirely clear. Flowers are a beautiful subject but it is often difficult to get every detail sharply focused. Macro rails used between my camera and tripod allowed for finer control over the focus points. Taking shots at several points creates a crisp sharp image suitable for large printing.

In the field, with line up your shot and set your camera normally. Take your shots focused at multiple points. Make sure to capture a sharp foreground, middle and background. This could be two shots or a hundred depending on the subject and scene. Smaller macro subjects look better with multiple shots but simple landscapes generally only need two or three.

Focus stacking in Adobe Photoshop

load into layers for focus stacking
Load all the images into Photoshop layers for focus stacking. Image by Gene Dianoski.

Just like my previous article, How to simulate long exposure with Adobe Photoshop, my process is to open my image folder in Adobe Bridge and uses that to open my first frame in Adobe Camera RAW. Close that image and use then Bridge to copy the settings and paste them to all the other images.

Once you have that done. Select the images and “Load files into Photoshop layers”. After the photos are loaded select all the layers and align the images using Edit > Auto-Align.

auto-align layers for focus stacking
Auto-Align images in Photoshop for focus stacking. screen capture by Gene Dianoski

The more images used for stacking the longer this process takes. Camera shake from hand-held shots results in lost image area where layers do not overlap. As previously mentioned, use a tripod to limit the amount of image area loss.

auto-blend layers for focus stacking
Auto-Blend layers in Photoshop for focus stacking. Image by Gene Dianoski.

To do the actual focus stacking, keep the all the layers selected and click Edit > Auto-Blend. Again this may take some time if you have a lot of images in your stack. Once the process finishes, right click on the selected layers to merge layers and finish processing as normal.

Getting all the images is sometimes tricky, especially on a windy day and when subjects in the field of view are moving. It isn’t too difficult but it can take a few tries to get the desired results.

Will you try focus stacking? We’d love to see the results! Head on over to our community site to share and discuss them!

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