Focus Stacking a landscape

July 23, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

I have written before about using a wide-angle lens, not to get more into the image, but to change perspective. Our position can change the position and perspective of things in relation to each other in the image. For example, by going really close to something with a wide-angle lens we magnify that object's size in relation to what is in the background. Here is an example:

The flowers are given prominence. Their size are larger than the main mountain peaks in the image. The closer we get to the flowers the larger they will appear in relation to the mountains. As is often the case, solving one problem creates another. By going in close to the flowers we solve the composition problem and we create a beautiful image. BUT, the closer we get to the flowers the more we shrink the depth of field. If we get the flowers in focus then the mountains are out of focus. If we get the mountains in focus then the flowers are blurred. How do we solve this problem?

          This is where focus stacking comes in. We photograph the same scene multiple times with the same settings, but we change the focus distance for each shot. So we focus on the flowers and take an image. Then we focus a little further into the scene and take another shot. So we continue to take more images, each focused a litter further into the image, until we reach infinity focus. Many modern cameras will calculate how many images you need from your closest point to infinity, and shoot them for you, changing focus automatically between exposures. This is great, because then you don't have to touch the camera to change focus, thereby accidentally moving the camera slightly. The wider your lens, the fewer images you will need. The longer your lens, the more images will be required. For this scene I took four images all focused on different spots.

          Now you have a series of images. When you process them, please make sure that your White Balance and Tint are set the same for each image, as you are going to blend them together and don't want different color casts. The idea is to take the in-focus parts of each image and stitch them together, to make a blended image that is sharp, front to back. To blend the images together, you are going to need software to do it for you, OR, if you are skilled, you can do it manually with layers and masks in Photoshop. Photoshop can do it automatically but I am not impressed with their results (for focus stacking). There are other alternatives to use. Helicon Focus is a good one. More recently, Luminar Neo released a focus stacking extension too.

          In Luminar Neo you just grab your series of image and drag them into the focus stacking extension and click on stack. It is literally that simple. In my testing, I compared Photoshop's auto focus stacking feature against the images stacked by Helicon Focus and Luminar. Photoshop came dead last. Helicon Focus and Luminar Neo came out on top, with a very, very similar result.

          Why don't you give focus stacking a try? It is easy and it solves a major focusing problem. If you click on Affiliate Links you can get Luminar Neo and the extensions for a discount.

          Disclaimer: I am an affiliate of Luminar and get a small commission if you buy software with my link. My commission comes at no cost to you, in fact, you get a discount. I will never sell you something I do not personally use and believe in.


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