How to Focus Stack to Create Sharper Images

If you're shooting macro or landscape images and are looking for maximum sharpness across your entire image, focus stacking is one of the most useful techniques you can learn. This helpful video will show you how it's done using Photoshop.

Coming to you from Mike Perea Photography, this great video will show you how to create focus-stacked images using Photoshop. Focus stacking is the technique of blending multiple shots of the same subject taken at varying focal distances to create a greater depth of field and thus, increased sharpness across the image. The problem is that after a certain point, increasing the aperture introduces more and more diffraction into the image, which robs it of the sharpness you're looking for. For landscape photographers, another option might be to use the hyperfocal distance to achieve maximum depth of field. This can be a good compromise a lot of the time, but it can fall short if you have a prominent foreground element you'd like to show off or if you simply want maximum sharpness across the entire frame, in which case, focus stacking is the best solution. Check out the video above for the full rundown of the technique. 

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8 Comments

Robert Nurse's picture

Wouldn't using hyperfocal distances be a good alternative?

michael andrew's picture

“There is no possible way”...

Really? Perspective control lenses tilt for that very reason.

Dr Spain's picture

I'd say Mike Smith's video, 19 days earlier, says the same thing but conveys the concepts more clearly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BY6AAPr7PaE

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I've been doing it for the past year for closer up / scale model photography. If you go for smaller apertures to get the enter subject in focus, the background would be "too clear". If you go wider aperture for the bokeh the main subject might not be completely in focus (same problem as macro photography).

So I'd take anywhere from 10 to 80 shots at as wide as f2.8 depending on the scene or subject, then focus stack them. I get to choose which portion of the image to be in focus and completely sharp, and i can control the amount of bokeh in the background and foreground too at the same time.

Focus stacking is not that straightforward as what online tutorials tell you. Because focus breathing exists as you shift focus from minimum focusing distance to further back, the shot changes slightly. The stacking software aligns things for you but you still have some cleaning up with to be done, manually blending areas the software failed to blend properly, cleaning up artifacts, halos, etc and cloning certain parts. Also, you'll want to use high quality lenses. While stacking increases sharpness and details, it also makes lens flaws like chromatic aberration more obvious.

Giovanni Aprea's picture

Focus breathing being my point, in the video it seems the author has PhotoShop to manage it, does it work that well or are there other techniques to fix it?

Asking because there is a photo I have in my mind where the foreground object is very close to the lens (can't step back cause there is no space), I'd say in the 3' at the most; the different magnification is quite clear, shooting within a range from 20 to 35mm doesn't change things so the only solution would be the tool used in the above video (if that works to such an extent) but I am curious to read other workarounds which not include to buy a T/S lens (too expensive for a hobbyist).

Thanks

The software can manage it to an extent, but there are areas you may need to manually fix and blend. It really depends on the scene and the complexity/detail of the photo. There are occasions i nearly never needed to fix much, and also occasions where I spent several hours fixing the mistakes done by the software. For landscapes, you may want to compose a bit of extra "space" at the sides because you'll be cropping it off later if you plan to focus stack due to focus breathing.

Hans Hodes's picture

I use focus stacking in my product photography and due to the focus breathing the stacking process usually fails in Ps (product edges don't align). Now I use the awesome Ps plugin 'Helicon Focus' and the stacking score is 100%.