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Practicing Some Focus Stacking Techniques


Believe or not, I worked a couple of hours on this photograph – just click on the image to see the full-size version:

Pictured: Montblanc Cool Blue Pen, Rolex GMT Master II, and Spyderco Kopa Pacific Blue

The set up wasn’t terribly difficult or time consuming.  It was shot using my Canon 100mm macro lens, mounted to my Canon 5D Mark II (RAW file format), and the shot was taken in my home made light box at f10.  For a background, I used my black leather jacket.

The challenge when shooting multiple objects in macro photography is that invariably areas you would like to be sharp and in-focus aren’t as sharp as the primary area of focus, due to the shallow depth of field (DOF) inherent to macro photography.  To overcome this problem, I tried incorporating a technique called focus stacking.  The idea behind focus stacking is that you take multiple photographs of the same object/setting.  The only change in each of the photos is where you focus.  In my first photo, I focused on the watch dial, in the second I focused on the word “Spyderco” in the knife, and in the third, I focused on the writing on the cap of the Montblanc pen.  I was very careful to make sure aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and my lighting were very consistent throughout the three photos.  That way, when the photos are combined in to a single photo there won’t be any obvious variations .

The next step was to combine the photos in Photoshop.  This can be a tricky proposition because changing the focus area makes minor but significant changes in size/position of other objects in the photo.  There is software which exists that can aid in this task, including some features in Photoshop.   However I’ve always had the best luck doing the focus stacking “manually” in Photoshop, layering one photo on top of the area, and using the eraser tool to “erase” areas with weak DOF, exposing the are of the photo layer beneath which has optimum DOF for that area.  It takes some trial and error (and more than a little bit of application of the cloning and healing brush) to make edges line up, but the end result is worth it.  The final photo has some tone-mapping applied using PhotoEngine, and a modest lighting filter applied in Photoshop.

What do you think?

About John B. Holbrook, II
John B. Holbrook, II is a freelance writer, photographer, and author of, as well as and *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.

  1. I think it looks good.
    The background is well chosen.

  2. Brilliant work. This is something that stumps me often when i try to go very very close to the subject. Wonderful tutorial too, so I will give this a shot on my next free weekend. And I promise to share the result. Thank you, and TFS!


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