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The Auto-Blend and Auto-Align features in Photoshop CS4 are better than ever. Those features are the underlying technology behind some really amazing techniques. One of those techniques is the new ability to take photos, like these three, each of which has a separate point of focus, and put them together into a single blended image in which the focus is relatively equal throughout the photo. To do that I am starting here in Adobe Bridge, inside the Chapter 13 Exercise Files folder, and I am going to select these three images by clicking on the first, holding the Shift key, and clicking on the last.
I am going to take these three images into Photoshop and have Photoshop automatically stack them together as layers in a single file. I will do that using a script in Photoshop. To access the script from Bridge, I can go to the Tools menu, down to Photoshop, and then go over to Load Files into Photoshop Layers. That launches Photoshop, takes those three shots of coffee, and puts them into one new Photoshop file, each as a separate layer, which you can see over here in the Layers panel. Let's go through those three layers looking at where the point of focus is in each and where the blurry area is in each.
In this first layer, coffee1, the point of focus is towards the back and the front part of the glass is blurred. This is the shallow depth of field effect which is accomplished in a camera by setting the apparatus very wide to a small number so that only part of the field is in focus. Now I will show you the second layer here by during the eye icon on the top layer off, and we can see what's on the coffee2 layer. There is still a shallow depth of field. Only part of the coffee cup is in focus, but it's a different part than in the top layer. Now the front is in focus and the back is blurry.
And on the third layer, coffee3.psd, most of the coffee is in focus and there is just a slight blur in the front mostly on the front left. So each one is different in its point of focus but none of them have uniform focus throughout. The goal is going to be to take these three and have Photoshop blend them together, so that there is one composite image in which the entire top of this coffee glass is in focus or at least most of it is. So I am going to turn all three layers on again by clicking their eye icons and with the first layer selected, I am going to hold down the Shift key and click on the third layer to select them all.
Then I will go to the Edit menu and I will choose Auto-Align Layers. I have to have Photoshop align the layers for me because I took them by hand without a tripod. In the Auto-Align Layers dialog box, I am going to leave Auto selected. Leaving it to Photoshop to figure out the best method for aligning the images. And I will make sure everything else is unchecked and click OK. Photoshop has turned the three images this way and that with the goal of aligning their content, and so you see a few transparent pixels around the edges, which I will take care later after the composite image is made.
Now I am going to go back to the Edit menu and down to Auto-Blend Layers to ask Photoshop to blend these three images together and try to eliminate the blurry parts from the final. In the Auto-Blend Layers dialog box, I will leave Stack Images selected rather than Panorama. Panorama comes into play when you are stitching together a long succession of images. Instead we are blending together a stack of images. I am also going to leave Seamless Tones and Color selected to get a better blend, and I will click OK. The progress bar tells me what Photoshop is doing.
First it blends the selected layers based on their content. In other words, looking at the coffee cup in each layer. This may take a while, especially if you have large images or if you have a large number of images. Next, Photoshop creates layer masks, one on each layer. It's those layer masks that it uses for blending, and finally it creates a seamless composition, which you see here. If you look closely at this photo, you will notice that it no longer has a very blurry area as each of the individual photos did. Instead in the composite, almost the entire glass is in focus with the exception of just this area right here.
There are a couple of other imperfections that you will notice. There are some white lines here and here and here, which I will try to clean up later with one of the healing tools. But for now, all I will do to the photo is take the Crop tool and click-and-drag to eliminate those transparent pixels at the edges and then I will click the checkmark in the Options bar to complete the composite photo. If you take a look over in the Layers panel, you can see that the way that Photoshop did this is by creating a separate layer mask on each one of the layers and doing some intricate masking on each mask. I am going to Option+Click one of those masks, that's Alt+Click on a PC, to show you the masking on that layer mask.
I will Option or Alt+Click again to go back to the photo and that's just one of the remarkable things that you can do with the improved Auto-Blending and Auto-Aligning features in Photoshop CS4. Give it a try in your own photos the next time you have a series of images each with a different focus point, and you want to have one image that's focused throughout.
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