A Crash Course on Focus Stacking

Taking pictures of a model can be pretty straight forward but the difficulty arrives when you have a model with a lot of depth. Take for example the zombie nun I used for the last article.

Standard Photo Before.jpg

I know I spent lot of time working on the blends of her habit, hand, and other details on her but the focus of the actual picture (no pun intended) is on her face. This is fine for everyday photos, but for miniature photography you want your audience to be able to examine all of the details of the model that you’ve worked so hard on.

Enter the world of focus stacking! Focus stacking is the technique of taking several photos from the same angle, but each photo has a different focus point. In this article, I will walk you through the process of producing a focus stacked image that will accurately portray your work online by allowing viewers to see beyond one focal point.

Forward: You will need software to stack the different images. For this article, I will be using Adobe’s Photoshop. Numerous programs exist to do the same function I’ll be showing you. Choose one that fits yours needs and your budget!

The first place to start in this process is taking the images themselves.

1. I start by setting my focus to manual and locating my first focal point, typically in the foreground of the model or diorama I’m shooting.

2. Once I’m satisfied with the focus, I trigger my remote and take the exposure with my camera.

3. With the shot taken, I stop and double check the sharpness of the specific focal point. If I’m happy with the shot, I move onto the next focal point further back from the lens.

4. I repeat step 5 as many times as needed. I typically do 4 or 5 shots as taking too many can actually be a point of diminishing returns.

5. I now have a set of images of the same scene, but each image is focused at a different DOF.

With my shots taken and transferred from my camera to my computer, I load up Photoshop. Once Photoshop open and ready to go, I click on File > Scripts > Load Files into Stack.

Step 1

Select your photos the folder you saved them in and they’ll appear listed in the dialogue box. Check the box for “Attempts to Automatically Align Source Images. Click “OK”, the program will place all of your align your images and place them in layers.

Step 2

With the aligned and stacked for your, click on the top layer and select the rest by holding the shift key, and then selecting the bottom layer. Once you have all of the layers selected, click on “Edit” up on the taskbar and select “Auto-Blend Layers”.

Step 3

Step 4

A prompt box will appear showing different blending options. Select “Stack Images” and check the box for “Stack Images and Seamless Tones and Colors”. Click OK.

Step 5

Photoshop will then take your images and merge them together into a single image for you. Be patient as the process can take a bit. After the process is completed, Photoshop will give you a final focus-stacked image.

Step 6

If everything looks great, select Layer > Flatten Image from the taskbar. The image is now fully stacked and ready for any final edits you may feel necessary to complete the image.

Step 7

Here is the finished image of the nun in all of her gory glory:

Nun Final

That’s the crash course for image stacking. There are a few more nuances and techniques that can be employed, but more often than not, this quick and easy way of doing it provides some pretty good results. That’s all for this time. Take care!

Jake

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