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Merging photo stacks with Helicon

From: Foundations of Photography: Macro and Close-Up

Video: Merging photo stacks with Helicon

In the last movie, you saw me merge my bee stack with Adobe Photoshop. This time, I am going to use Helicon Focus. I'd like you to see the difference between both. Helicon is very reasonably priced. If you do a lot of focus stacking, it's something you may want to consider, because it can sometimes work a lot faster than Photoshop. It very typically can handle a large data set more easily than Photoshop can to break things into batches, and do as many intermediate steps. And also, it can run a little more unattended. You start it up, and you just let it go.

Merging photo stacks with Helicon

In the last movie, you saw me merge my bee stack with Adobe Photoshop. This time, I am going to use Helicon Focus. I'd like you to see the difference between both. Helicon is very reasonably priced. If you do a lot of focus stacking, it's something you may want to consider, because it can sometimes work a lot faster than Photoshop. It very typically can handle a large data set more easily than Photoshop can to break things into batches, and do as many intermediate steps. And also, it can run a little more unattended. You start it up, and you just let it go.

With Photoshop, you've got these three different steps that can each take some time. So, I'm going to go ahead, and just merge my RAW files, so that you can see the final, finished image there. I am going to switch over to Helicon Focus. It's a pretty simple interface. I want to start by choosing some Source Images. So, I am going to hit the plus (+) button, and I am going to just navigate to my RAW files, and select them all, and hit Open, and you are going to see them come pouring in. You've got to be careful in Helicon that you don't tell it to just take the contents of a folder, if there is something in that folder besides just the images you want.

For example, I have that folder full of JPEGs. It would have tried to have loaded those also, and it would have gotten confused. As you saw earlier, when we used Helicon Focus, when we're running Helicon Remote, I have a few different methods for doing the stack. The default is Method B (Depth Map), and I am just going to stick with that. Sometimes a different method can get you around a brightness differential. There are finicky, technical reasons used one over the other. I find that, for the most part, they all work just fine, so I am going to go ahead, and choose Render.

And, it's going to start loading the things. And, it's going to start merging them. And, we are going to see the image build up. And, it's going to take a while. There is a progress bar down here that shows its progress as it barrels along here. So, you see it loading them. After awhile, like we saw earlier, we are going to see an image begin to appear. Again, the reason that I would choose to use Helicon over Photoshop is if I have shot with controlled lighting, it's just going to be faster and easier. But I am very often not shooting with controlled lighting, just because of the nature of where I shoot. At home, I am using window light a lot, and it almost never works with Helicon Focus, because there is too much brightness differential, in which case I will switch back to merging in Photoshop.

The other big advantage of Helicon Focus is this Retouching tab here, which lets you do cloning. In the last movie, you saw that there can be areas that are a little bit blurry, a little . . . that haven't been merged with actual detail. It's much easier to fix those in Helicon Focus than it is in Photoshop. So, this is barreling along, and while it's doing that, I am going to switch back over to Bridge to show you something else. If you have sensor dust on your image, you may see something like this. This is earlier. I mentioned that when I was in the kitchen, I tried shooting some orange peel, and it turned out to be kind of a boring image. This is it.

It kind of looks like a close-up of a Cheez-It to me, actually, but maybe I am just hungry. Notice these weird little patterns, repeating patterns of black dots. That's sensor dust. And, the reason it's repeating is because, as I pushed in, the position of the sensor dust on the image got moved, so I am getting these perfectly-replicated patterns of sensor dust marching across my image. Took me a while to figure that's what it was. I then went and cleaned my sensor, and everything was okay.

So, if you see this kind of thing, that's what it is. You can clone this out of the image, and I had no trouble doing that. It's just a whole lot of extra work, so there is no reason not to clean the sensor, and try it again. Here you see these defocused bits, like you often see in focus stacked merges. This, I believe, was just a merging error. This was not a function of having a bad interval defined. So, if you see these sorts of things, head off, and clean your sensor. And, here we go. Helicon has finished.

As you can see, that was much faster than using Photoshop. I've got decent depth of field all the way through. But check this out. The antenna is not as sharply rendered as it was in Photoshop. In Photoshop, I had a little more detail in here. So, what I am going to do here is use Helicon's Retouching tab to fix that blurry problem. What's curious about it is that I know there was a source image where that part of the antenna was in focus. It's one of the first images that I shot. In fact, it's how I established my start point.

I am going to click on the Retouch tab, and what happens here is I go into a split screen view of my image. On the right, I am going to see my final output image, and over here, on the left, I see the currently-selected source image. So, let me zoom in. And, I am using Command+Plus (+) to do that, just like I would in Photoshop. I'll make my window a little bit bigger, and that will give me the opportunity to zoom a little bit more. So, what I'm seeing here on the left side is image 8964. What I am seeing on the right is my final composite.

Watch what happens if I come down here farther in the stack. We will see the foreground go out of focus on the source image, and our focus, our area of focus has moved back here to further on the bee's back. So, I am definitely in the right zone with my source image. I am going to just click on that. And now, you see that I've got identical cursors in both windows tracking the exact same piece of geometry. This is basically a clone. If I now click and paint along the sharp part of this antenna, it's copying that data into my final image.

So, this is a way that I can go back to specific images -- I think I am going to grab this stuff also, -- and just cherry-pick data, pull areas of focus into my final image. So, it's a really nice, easy tool for doing retouching, and this is very often a way of fixing those strange little areas, like we've seen, that can be out of focus. So, and I think this is interesting, in the Photoshop version, we were out of focus here, and here. Helicon computed that better, but it may have its own little areas that it messed up, such as the antenna.

This maybe looks a little weird to me. I don't know what that stuff is, so I think I'll clone that out. So, I can really go through here, and easily touch up the image by pulling data from specific images into the final. This is one of the great advantages of Helicon. You also saw that it chomped through those 27, or whatever it was, RAW files, and merged them very, very quickly. So, if you're serious about focus stacking, you are going to want to take a look at this. One of the nice things about their pricing structure is you can buy a license that lasts a year, or you can buy a license that lasts forever.

And so, if you're finding that you just have a focus stacking project that you need to work on, and then you're maybe not going to go back to it for a couple of years, you don't have to spend a whole bunch of money. So, an excellent focus stacking alternative that's well worth the time to look into.

Show transcript

This video is part of

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

47 video lessons · 15177 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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