Have you struggled to get a macro photo that’s sharp on both the insect and flower petals? Was it too dark to use f/15, so used f/5, and the depth of field is too shallow? Did you know that with a bunch of photos with a shallow depth of field you can get a photo that’s completely sharp? With Adobe Photoshop’s focus stacking feature you can focus stack multiple photos with shallow depth to get one photo that has every sharp spot of all your photos combined. If this sounds unreal to you, then keep reading and learn how to achieve a focus stacked photo yourself.
Photographing the subject
There is one rule of how you need to take your photos for Photoshop to understand them and be able to focus stack them. You need to focus once, and while maintaining that focus (and without moving left, right, up or down) – shoot multiple photos while slowly moving outwards of or towards your subject. Your goal is to take photos so that every bit of the subject has been captured sharp in some of your photos. Don’t re-focus for each photo, because then this might not work, and Photoshop won’t be able to do the focus stacking.
You might need to repeat this multiple times if you feel that you moved too much in between the shots, or you accidentally refocused on a different spot of the subject. Take your time to perfect the set of photos.
I suggest starting with something that doesn’t move – a flower in a wind-less day perhaps. I haven’t captured insects yet, since they move a lot, and it’s challenging on getting them not to move while I take the shot. You can’t just tell them not to move, can you? If you can, message me and teach me, please, I promise not to tell anyone.
There are two ways you can go with capturing photos. If the lighting allows – choose a larger f/ number and take less shots to combine. If not – go low and shoot lots and lots of photos. The most I have done is a bit over twenty shots. I know that others do it with a couple of hundred photos too.
Focus stacking the photos
Once you think you have the photos ready to be focus stacked in Photoshop, do the following steps:
- Open Adobe Photoshop
- File -> Scripts -> Load files into Stack…
- Click Browse and choose all the photos that you want Photoshop to focus stack
- Check Attempt to Automatically Align Source Images and click OK
- The Photoshop now will load all your photos into layers and attempt to align them. This might take a while depending on your computer’s speed
- When the Photoshop has finished working – select all your layers (select the first one and use shift while clicking on the last one to select them all easily)
- Edit -> Auto-Blend Layers and choose Stack Images (it should be selected as default) and click OK
- This action can take a while even on fast computers if you have a lot of photos imported, so you can take a break and get yourself a cup of coffee or tea while you’re waiting
- When the action is finished – you should have a sharp photo. You can hide a layer to see which part of the sharp image was taken from that layer if you’re curious
- You will need to crop the photo to remove the empty corners by using Crop tool (C on your keyboard)
- Save your photo by choosing File->Save As… and choosing .JPG file extension
- Edit the stacked photo how you like.
In case the photos didn’t get stacked properly
There could be three reasons behind it. Whether you forgot to align the layers, or the photos weren’t captured properly. Or both of those succeeded, but you had some spots of the subject that you didn’t capture in focus.
If you forgot to align the layers
You can select all the layers and choose Edit -> Auto Align Layers…, leave the Auto mode and click OK. Afterwards carry on with the step 6 and all the next ones.
If the photos weren’t captured properly
You can do nothing about it except go out and try to take the set of photos again. With time you will get better, the same way I do.
If there are blurred places in the stacked photo
This means that either you didn’t capture the place that’s blurred in-focus in any of your photos, or Photoshop made a mistake. If it’s the latter one, you can correct it by altering the mask of some of the layers. Since working with masks is quite complicated to teach for a Photoshop beginner, it would be better to learn this from other articles online.
I will show you some of my focus stacking results.
Here’s an easy one. I had two photos of a flower (which I actually didn’t take with an intent to focus stack), and they were perfect for a focus stack example. One has focus on an insect, and the other one – on the middle of the flower.
Here’s another focus stack example. This time it’s 11 photos:
This comparison of a single photo and a stacked photo shows you exactly how useful is this tool. Though I have made some mistakes in this photo, since there are places where the photo is blurred. I still have a lot to learn as well.
A quite useful tool if you are struggling on getting your photos perfectly focused out of the camera. I myself tried focus stacking only a few months ago, and I’m surprised I didn’t try this sooner. I hadn’t tried focus stacking yet when I wrote my Top 10 favorites in Instagram: Macro February blog post. I’m mentioning this, because there is a focus stacked photo of an insect in between the top 10. Check the blog post out if you still haven’t.
Good luck on your first focus stacking experience in Photoshop. Don’t forget to show me your results, because I’m excited in seeing what you came up with from this tutorial! 🙂