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Creating a simple manual focus stack

From: Foundations of Photography: Macro and Close-Up

Video: Creating a simple manual focus stack

By this point, you should have enough macro shooting experience to know that shallow depth of field is often an obstacle to getting the macro shots that you want. The problem is simply that, at macro distances, depth of field is extremely thin, so thin that a detail that you really like on the flower may end up rendered out of focus when you've focused on something else that you won't see on the flower, or whatever your subject is. As you've seen with tiny camera movements, which are effectively tiny changes in focus, we can alter what part of our subject is sharp.

Creating a simple manual focus stack

By this point, you should have enough macro shooting experience to know that shallow depth of field is often an obstacle to getting the macro shots that you want. The problem is simply that, at macro distances, depth of field is extremely thin, so thin that a detail that you really like on the flower may end up rendered out of focus when you've focused on something else that you won't see on the flower, or whatever your subject is. As you've seen with tiny camera movements, which are effectively tiny changes in focus, we can alter what part of our subject is sharp.

If you've got much image editing experience, then you might have already thought, "What if I shot a few frames, each with a different part of my subject in focus, and then combined them somehow?" That's what focus stacking is. It's called focus stacking, because we're going to take a stack of images, each with focus at a different depth, and then we're going to combine them. As we move through this chapter, you're going to see a very elaborate focus stacking procedure that can yield have very dramatic results. First, though, we're going to start with a very simple version to give you an overview of the concepts involved. So, I have this orchid here, and I'm really liking this stuff in here, and I want to get a shot. I've got my 100 millimeter macro on. It's not super bright in here, and that's going to impact how small an aperture I can use, so I'm kind of inherently facing a shallow depth of field problem.

Now, there's some really cool features inside there, so I'm just going to frame up a shot. At this distance, I have no trouble autofocusing. And, I'm going to go to a smaller aperture, and see what I can get here at f/5 at ISO 1600. I'm at a hundredth of a second. I don't really want to go to a shutter speed that's any slower than that, because I'm hand-held shooting, even though I'm propped up on this table. At this distance, that could be risky. So f/5 is as deep a depth of field as I can get. So, if I focus on that detail way in the back of the flower that I want, here's what I get.

And, notice the stuff at the front of the flower that lit there. And, those little tendrils are out of focus. My depth of field is too shallow at f/5. I could go to a smaller aperture and deeper depth of field, but my shutter speed is going to go down. I don't have a tripod with me. Maybe I'm out in the field. So, I'm kind of stuck with that depth of field, and even at f/16, it still might not be enough. So, what I am going to do is I am going to take two shots, one focused on that back part of the flower, and one focused on the front. I don't know if that's enough depth of field to cover the whole thing, but I think it's probably going to be okay.

There are some things to consider. What I'm going to do is I'm going to take those two images, and put them in Photoshop, and blend them together, just using some simple layer masking. I want to be sure, though, that my exposure is identical on both, because I don't want there to be a brightness difference between the two. So, I'm going in the Manual Mode, so that I can ensure that my shutter speed and aperture do not change as I refocus. And, sometimes that will happen, because as you refocus, you'll reveal another part of the flower that might be brighter, or something like that.

Of course, this doesn't just have to work with flowers. This will work with any subject matter. So, I'm going to stay locked in there at the hundredth of a second at f/5, focusing on the back of the flower. And then, without trying to move too much, I'm going to focus on the front of the flower, and take my other shot. I'm going to actually take a few of those. Now, as you refocus, you may find that your framing changes.

A change in focus is actually a change in focal length. That's true for everyday shooting, but in everyday shooting, the changes are so slight, we don't really see them at macro distances. We really see, as I focus in or out, my image gets cropped differently. So, for a lot of focus stacking exercises -- there are a lot of focus stacking situations, -- you need to pad your scene with a little bit of extra space. I should probably step back, and shoot this a little wider. So, I'm going to try that now, and I'm just experimenting here with finding a place where I have both my focus points, the entire structure is in the frame, and it is.

So, there is my first shot; there is my second. So, I'm good to go. I'm now ready to merge those. We're going to do that in the next movie. I can do more than two images. Also, I could shoot a range of images. This technique is best when, at least if you're working hand-held, this technique is best when there are plainly-visible planes of focus. If you're dealing with a curved shape, where you would want everything visible along that curve, that's a very difficult thing to do hand-held. We'll look at some other techniques for that later. For now, let's get these images into Photoshop, and see how they go together.

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This video is part of

Image for Foundations of Photography: Macro and Close-Up
Foundations of Photography: Macro and Close-Up

47 video lessons · 15645 viewers

Ben Long
Author

 
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  1. 3m 54s
    1. Welcome
      2m 17s
    2. What you need to know for this course
      1m 37s
  2. 20m 33s
    1. What is close up?
      2m 21s
    2. Understanding minimum focus distance
      3m 55s
    3. Comparing wide lens and telephoto
      1m 55s
    4. Understanding depth of field and focus
      2m 11s
    5. Working with extension tubes
      4m 30s
    6. Working with close-up lenses
      5m 41s
  3. 28m 7s
    1. What is a macro photo?
      4m 15s
    2. Understanding how to shoot macro with a reversed lens
      5m 37s
    3. Using a point-and-shoot camera for macro
      1m 55s
    4. Working with backdrops for macro
      3m 45s
    5. Practicing macro by shooting in the kitchen
      12m 35s
  4. 58m 38s
    1. Choosing a macro lens
      2m 4s
    2. Exploring macro lens features: Focal length
      3m 16s
    3. Understanding macro lens shutter speed
      7m 6s
    4. Shooting basics with a macro lens
      8m 24s
    5. Getting closer with macro lenses and extension tubes
      11m 13s
    6. Working with depth of field and macro
      5m 1s
    7. Understanding depth and composition in macro
      6m 43s
    8. Working with subject holders and support
      6m 36s
    9. Shooting with the Canon 65 mm
      8m 15s
  5. 13m 12s
    1. Working with macro stabilizing options
      5m 45s
    2. Working with sliders for macro
      2m 44s
    3. Working with a bellows
      1m 55s
    4. Working with viewfinders in macro
      2m 48s
  6. 52m 59s
    1. Working with direct light
      6m 13s
    2. Macro and the angle of light
      2m 24s
    3. Augmenting direct light with reflectors
      6m 42s
    4. Continuous lighting to add fill to a macro shot
      5m 55s
    5. Lighting your macro scene with continuous light
      4m 50s
    6. Lighting the macro scene with strobes
      4m 59s
    7. Setting up a macro-specific flash unit
      3m 21s
    8. Shooting with the Canon Macro Twin Lite
      7m 56s
    9. Shooting macro in a light tent
      3m 31s
    10. Shooting macro on a light table
      7m 8s
  7. 19m 44s
    1. Field shooting for macro, starting at home
      7m 5s
    2. Managing backgrounds in the field
      7m 39s
    3. Shooting macro water droplets
      5m 0s
  8. 56m 19s
    1. Creating a simple manual focus stack
      4m 40s
    2. Creating a focus stacked image with manual merge
      6m 17s
    3. Creating a focus stacked image using Helicon Remote
      11m 6s
    4. Working with a StackShot rail for focus stacking
      11m 46s
    5. Merging a focus stack with Photoshop
      11m 12s
    6. Merging photo stacks with Helicon
      6m 53s
    7. Understanding the aesthetics of depth of field
      4m 25s
  9. 1m 5s
    1. Next steps
      1m 5s

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