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Practicing Some Focus Stacking Techniques II

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Earlier this week I experimented with a technique I use with some regularity called “focus stacking.”  Today I decided to try another experiment which would allow me to better use Photoshop CS5′s tools which are designed to facilitate focus stacking.  In the past, automated tools have not worked well for me in the watch photography that I do, because the position of the watch hands changes from frame to frame, which tends to muck up the results you get from automated focus stacking tools.  So in this experiment, I decided to compose a photograph which does not have a watch present.  Here’s the photograph – just click on it to see it full-size:

Pictured:  The Ruger SR9c handgun, Spyderco Dragonfly 2 knife, and the Fenix TK-12 flashlight

I was actually surprised (pleasantly so) as to how well this photograph came out.  Here’s how I did I did it:  The photo was taken with my Canon 5D Mark II in RAW file format, but this time I had to use my 24-105L series lens – the 100 macro I used in the previous article would not allow me to fit the entire composition “in frame.”  I took a total of five photographs, each time focusing on a different part of the photo (the writing on the slide, the Ruger logo on the handle, the logo on the knife handle, and knife blade, and the writing on the head of the flashlight).  Once again, I loaded up the five exposures in the Photoshop Camera RAW editor, and batch applied the exact same changes (very few) and opened them in Photoshop as different layers in the same image file.  The big difference with this image and the last was using CS5′s tools to accomplish the focus stack.  First, I selected each of the layers and did Edit>Auto Align.  Next, I selected Edit>>Auto Blend.  After a few seconds of processing, Photoshop CS5 magically combined the sharpest, most in-focus aspect of each photo layer into a single image!  From there I did a little dust clean up on the image, some tone mapping in PhotoEngine, and applied a lighting filter to give it a darker, “mysterious” feel.  :)

Having successfully done a software assisted focus stack (as opposed to the manual way I usually do), I think I have an idea on how I can better make the technique work with a watch photograph – so look for Part III coming soon!

About John B. Holbrook, II
John B. Holbrook, II is a freelance writer, photographer, and author of ThruMyLens.org, as well as LuxuryTyme.com and TheSeamasterReferencePage.com. *All text and images contained in this web site are the original work of the author, John B. Holbrook, II and are copyright protected. Use of any of the information or images without the permission of the author is prohibited.

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  1. if you are clicking wathches.. he best way what si taht you stop the watch by taking out the Pin and click as many photos as you like and time would just stay still. :)

  2. Hacking to movement (pulling out the crown) is certainly an option, which may well play into my next experiment. :)

  3. the idea of focus stacking is interesting, but isn’t it more effective to stop down to an f-22, expand the depth of field and go from there?

    doing that, you don’t need to go thru all the steps of post processing.

    i dont have CS5- but I am thinking about buying it. It’s pricey, and I am on a MAC using Aperture and I-photo to organize and manipulate images.

    are you familiar with those tools, and why is CS5 even needed after that?

  4. HI Bob – yes, stepping down will help, but even at f22, some areas of the photo will be sharper than others. The other problem is that (particularly with macro) you may not have enough available light to support a fast shutter speed. For the work I do, I can rarely step down below f10. Focus stacking really does provide the sharpest, most consistent focus throughout the frame.

    Now, as to your second question: iPhoto (which I have) and Aperture (I don’t have) are nice tools, but most serious and professional photographers prefer the extended capabilities of Photoshop. :)

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