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The Wonders Of Focus Stacking

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Aug 07

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At the Phlearn studio we love to Photoshop.
At the Phlearn studio we ESPECIALLY love to Photoshop when a unicorn is involved.

A couple of days ago at the studio we did a quick photoshoot where the final result would be a composite of the people in the studio that day. The final image was of Ralph the unicorn, and Angela, Aaron, and Kate composited in the photograph. Kate was riding the unicorn, Angela was petting the unicorn, and Aaron was lying down in front of the unicorn (like a boss).
You’d think you would only need 4 photographs for this kind of composite, but why do that when you can do something much better with a technique called focus stacking? Focus stacking is when you take multiple photographs of something (in this case, Ralph the unicorn) at the same focal length, but with a different focus each time. What we mean by this is you put the focus on manual focus, and then you shoot a picture, you move the focal ring a bit, then you take another picture, you move the focal ring again, then you take another picture, etc.. You should do multiple times, we ended up with 13 different photos.
We shot the photo of the unicorn with the Canon 5D Mark II, and a 24-105mm Macro lens.
Why does focus stacking benefit the photograph? Well because when you’re photographing an object so close up that needs to fill an entire frame it is going to be near impossible to get the entire object in focus even at a f8. This is a problem when compositing because the people you are photoshopping in the image will not look right with the unicorn. You want to make it look as realistic as possible and focus stacking definitely is a very large factor of making that happen.

We get Ralph (the unicorn) completely in focus by bringing all of the images into Photoshop and merging them with a tool called “Auto-Blend Layers” which is really one of the best tools in Photoshop.

Here is the final image. Also, Phlearn Poots Rainbows? Inspired by one of the Phamily’s comments on Facebook.

  • Canan

    awesome episode!thank you very much!!!!

  • Darrell Moore


  • Tsaqib Al-Hasawi

    Can you make another tutorials on composite on how did three of you end up sitting beside the unicorn!? Pleaseee…

  • Sebastian Ortiz

    HA!!! VERY COOL!!!! 

  • Felix

    Hi Aaron,  can  you let  us know  how  you  made the final composite, please.

  • Kennethcop

    Auto blend layers doesn’t do a great job for me, i always get some kind of weird blur and edges are not really sharp.  Also some weirdness with the colors .

  • Swaterson

     You might want to try Helicon Focus MAC and PC (

  • Kennethcop

    Thanks, will definately have a look at it !

  • Allan Nielsen

    Thought I’d give that a go too, but something a little more close to my heart…

  • Waseef Akhtar

    hahah the ending of your videos are perfect :p

  • Brad Kaiser

    Great lesson!  I have been trying a few shots, and feel like I have a good understanding.  If you see the area above the knife was not able to draw into focus.  Do you think that is from not having enough focus points, or just the software not able to be perfect.  Shot with a Nikon D5100.  I see now that I shot with ISO 1600, which may be part of the problem?   See the photo.

  • Aaron Harrison

    Aaron i must say, you work with some beautiful women… and im not talking about the models Phlearn employees. Stunning Phlearn-ettes :P

  • Joshua Kendell Martin

    What was the lighting set up?? o.0

  • Pingback: focus stacking ‹ r25 productions

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