Focus Stacking For Extreme Depth Of Field

It is getting much colder outside lately and not too many interesting subjects to photograph and post. But during some of our walks I collected a few leaves to photograph in my home studio for showing Focus Stacking for sharp detail (sharp focus) across the whole subject from front to back. There are specialized programs for this but I rely on Photoshop & Bridge for most of my workflow. The newest Bridge version (2019) seems to have some problems with Focus Stacking, so I used the 2018 version of Bridge for these. I had done a Macro Workshop at my local Camera Group, so I had a few printed backgrounds to use for backgrounds for my test images here. Even at f/32 with a 100mm macro lens, I could not get my subject Oak Leaf all in focus in one shot. I also did not want to use a 50mm macro because it would distort the shape of the leaf because of the shorter focal length. I purposely chose a large long 11 inch leaf for this to demonstrate the technique. Using Studio Flash for my tests allowed me to select f/stops that I wanted to use for my test images. The featured image I started with is 15 images @ f/8.  Shooting a series of focused areas from the tip of the stem to the top tip. Even at f/8, 15 images was more than I needed.

Oak Leaf_f32_test_76A1118

Single Shot Image @ f/32 – Stem is soft

FS_f8_8img Prestack

Start of a Series of 8 images @ f/8

The above is the start of an 8 image series shot @ f/8.  Turned down power on the studio flash for shooting @ f/8

8img stk bridge

Here is a series of 15 images shot, but only selected every other one for a 8 shot series (shot f/8) for this grouping.

FS_f8_8img Prestack

The 8 selected images from above series, showing image alignment in a layered Photoshop file before blending. You can see “edge” banding on the edges from the alignment process of image shift from different focus spots on each of the different images. (In Photoshop – Edit -Auto Align). Then once the “layers” are aligned, Go to Edit, Blend to merge the images into a final image. Once Blended the gradation banding Disappears and for the final image you can “Flatten” all the layers into 1 layer.

Final 8img stack

Final 8 Image Blend – leaf sharp from top to stem.   Leaf Images shot @ f/8

Oak_Leaf_8img stk_f8

Oak Leaf 8 Image Stack @ f8

Oak_Leaf_10ing stk f8 v3

Oak Leaf 10 img Stack @ f8 – On Green Background

Oak_Leaf_3img stk_f32_v1

Oak Leaf 3 Image Stack @ f/32 – the smaller the f/stop you use the fewer focus points you need.

It takes some practice to get used to what f/stop to use and how many focus points to have along your stack. The f/stop also varies on how much light you have. Using studio flash you have more control of your power settings to make choices, but out in the field you have to work with the light you have and your chosen ISO. Once you get used to doing them you are more confident in the final image. With practice you can also get good results when just hand holding the camera for image stacking, not requiring a tripod. In future posts I will work on showing making Panoramas in Photoshop. Panoramas are more forgiving than Stacking when when shooting handheld.


8 Comments on “Focus Stacking For Extreme Depth Of Field

    • Thanks! They are fun to do! Plus in my Commercial work it is a necessary way to shoot some product shots to retain the detail over a wide range. In the old days of 4×5 & 8×10 view cameras you could control depth of field with tilt and swing adjustments on the camera. Also you can go the reverse way to purposely soften and blur areas and use soft edge masks to achieve the effect you want.

    • Hi Steve! Yes, These were 13″ x 19″ prints I made for backgrounds for a macro workshop I was presenting. Throughout my commercial career in my studio we used a lot of either hand painted backgrounds, photos or display prints for backgrounds. This way we had images that did not have similar looks to other studios. Back in the day we used a Fuji Pictography printer for backgrounds for macro work because of a finer dot pattern than inkjet. In my old studio we had 5 wide format printers and could print up to 5 ft wide x however long. Towards the end we did more display printing than photography. Even though I am retired, a friend let me keep a 60″ HP and a 44″ Epson printer at his studio. At home I use a Epson P800.

    • Yes, plus once you do a few and get used to it, they work very well. Plus it gives you more control and depth of field where you want it. Also works pretty good, if careful, hand held out in the field. Just another tool to take advantage of for your photography. And they are fun to do!

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