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May 07, 2015

How To Do Focus Stacking in Photoshop

In today’s episode, we show you how to do Focus Stacking in Photoshop.  We also give you some pointers on how actually shoot the images you’d need in order for Focus Stacking to work.  We even briefly jump into Lightroom to show you how to prep your images.  With a little help from our Game of Thrones figurines, we are ready to deliver an awesome episode!

What is Focus Stacking?

Focus Stacking is a technique where you can combine many different photos taken at various focal points.  It’s commonly used in macro photography where you have a very shallow depth of field.  By combining multiple photos together you are able to extend your depth of field and get more in focus within a small frame.  Focus Stacking is a great way to control what’s in focus in your image.

Capturing Images for Focus Stacking

Focus Stacking is done in Photoshop, but in order for Focus Stacking to work you need to know how to shoot the images.  So in today’s episode, we give you a brief rundown of how we captured the images we used.  With the help of some Game of Thrones characters we were able to create a little scene perfect for an example.  We definitely encourage our Phamily members to get out there and have some fun with Focus Stacking.  Not just in Photoshop but also in the Photoshoot process.

Here are some things you’ll need in order to capture footage for your Focus Stacking:

  • A sturdy tripod (You’ll need your scene to be relatively still in order to really achieve this effect.  A sturdy tripod is one of the best ways to ensure your framing is consistent.)
  • A couple pocket wizards (This is totally option, but it was another way for us to get our hands off the camera, ensuring that the camera is shifting positions.  We connected the pocket wizard with a shutter release cable and we were good to go!)
  • Shoot in “MF” also known as “Manual Focus” (Shooting in Manual Focus will allow us to move the focal ring of the lens while taking the pictures.  The reason that we aren’t shooting in Auto Focus is because Auto Focus would override what we are trying to accomplish by slightly moving the focal ring.  Manual Focus gives us complete control of our depth of field.)
  • Capture images for Focus Stacking (There is a technique when it comes to Focus Stacking.  Our advice is to choose your earliest stacking point, take a picture, rotate the focus ring a little bit, take another picture and repeat this process.)

Bringing Your Images into Lightroom

So now that we have our images for our Focus Stack, it’s time to prepare them for photoshop.  Our first stop is Lightroom, not only are you able to get an idea of the images you want to use for your Focus Stack, but you can also select the exact images you want to export to photoshop.  We export and resize our images and now we are ready to rock in Photoshop.

Stacking Files in Photoshop

Now in Photoshop, we are ready to load all our images together.  If we go to File > Script > Load Files Into Stack.  This allows us to load all our images into one big stack instead of loading them individually.  From there you can browse your files and choose the folder with the images you selected from Lightroom.  There is an option in the Load Files Into Stack dialog box that says “Attempt to Automatically Align Source Images.”  We do recommend having that box checked.  Once you hit OK, Photoshop loads all of those images into one stack.  Now that we have the images loaded, we need to combine them all into one image.

Focus Stacking in Photoshop

The first thing we do is select all our files.  We click on the first, hold down Shift, and then click the last to select all our images.  Next we go to Edit > Auto Blend Layers.  The two options that are now available to us our Panorama and Focus Stacking.  We check the option “Seamless Tones and Colors” and hit OK.  Now Photoshop goes to work, it takes the parts of each image that is in focus, then it creates a Layer Mask only revealing the part of the image that is in focus.  Photoshop will use this technique on every photo in your Focus Stack.  This automated process would be nearly impossible for us to do on our own.  At the end of the process, we have our very own Focus Stacked image!

47 Comments


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    Oliver

    Great tutorial, all shiney and new for me, stupid question tho, any way to remotely manually focus, sounds silly I know, be useful tho!

    Thnx!

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        charles sweigart

        Controlmynikon and controlmycanon allow remote focus for stacking with tethering as well as smartphone controls.

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      Dawn

      Some cameras have built-in wi-fi which you can access with an external app or browser. On the Nikon D4 I was able to add a WT-5 controller (which really should have been built-in considering the camera’s web server capabilities, but what can you do?) and then use any browser to control camera settings, including the focal point. There’s a “nudge” option so you gradually focus deeper and deeper into the scene. Very cool! And if you aren’t in an area with an existing wi-fi network, it doesn’t matter. You can create one ad hoc.

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    cory barnes

    great tutorial!!! I really enjoyed it. Can’t wait to try it.

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    Trevor

    Why export from Lightroom, then open in Photoshop separately, rather than just “open as layers in Photoshop” directly from LR? You’re adding an extra step.

    (Apart from that, great stuff as always.)

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    Agnieszka

    thank you for this tutorial Aaron !
    Very helpful : )

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    Tope

    Aaron and PHamly, keep up the AMAZING work. Best website on the net PERIOD!

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    Manny

    What were you guys burning to create the smoke effect? This is cool. Thanks for sharing.

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      Phlearn

      We actually have some very nice small pieces of palo santo (wood) that we charred for the smoke.

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    Geof

    Thanks. I never knew……I thought we had to have plugins to do this.

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    Norberto

    Hi Aaron! As usual, thanks for sharing your knowledge, this tutorial was awesome as usual!
    I have a couple of questions regarding focus stacking.
    The first one, which basics adjustments do you do in Lr?
    Second, why are you exporting from Lightroom to jpg and then opening in Photoshop separately? Why don’t you just “open as layers in Photoshop” directly from LR? Is this way “lighter” to manage in Ps?
    Thanks in advance.
    Nor.

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      Phlearn

      That way works fine also, but a while back there was a problem with LR where the “open in” links were broken and we just adopted a manual workflow to ensure we got things right the first time 🙂

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    Donna

    Great tutorial and I think I can begin to play with this but, as in almost every tutorial out there, you didn’t follow through to the last step. Did you merge visible, flatten the image or say abracadabra and the finished product just appeared? Not everyone who is trying to learn new techniques is completely Photoshop savvy. Some of us still have the training wheels on but are really close to graduating to the Big Kid editing… As long as we get ALL the steps. Just something to think about when you make these great tutorials.

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    Patrick Waugh

    Aaron, another awesome job. Great idea for a subject, and love the bloopers haha.

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    Steve

    So, why wouldn’t you shoot at say F22 and increase the depth of field.

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    Philip

    Great tutorial !
    This will be great for my little diarama/ illustrations & animations I have been doing in Photoshop

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    Bill Bentley

    DSLR Controller app is also great for capturing images through tablet or phone for focus stacking. You can select the start and finish points. Other features too. Well worth the $10.

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    Sudipta

    Hi, this is a very helpful tutorial, and the way you make it more interactive is really good. Thanks for sharing with us the detailed procedure. Really inspire me. Also I would like to appreciate the little scene on the table… pretty cool. Hope to see more good tutorials sooner. Keep up the good work.

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    Marian

    Amazing tutorial. I just bought the same macro and immediately got a very interesting lesson.
    Thank you very much for wanting to share this with us.

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    Mike

    You didn’t comment on the aperture that you used when capturing the initial images. Can you provide some suggestions or guidelines? Did you simply use f8, which is often the sharpest for a given lens or wide open or even f16 or smaller. Thanks for an excellent tutorial on a reasonable complex subject.

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    Dennis

    Aaron, great job as always.

    I recommend that your followers turn off image stabilization on their lenses when locked down on a tripod. The image stabilizer is always looking for something to stabilize, and it seems that when there is nothing, the hunt itself can become an issue with image sharpness.

    Cheers,
    Dennis

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      Patricia

      Awesome tutorial! This will be so helpful for my macro photography, I wish I would have known this a few years ago.

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    Shanna

    This was super helpful–THANK YOU! I tried focus stacking in PS before but found the program wasn’t very accurate with the masks so have been doing it manually for years (which is painfully time consuming). Time to try again. It was also interesting to see that you don’t use rails. Thanks for the great tutorial.

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    Sharon Horn

    Great tutorial. I can’t wait to try it. I did think, however, that it was you, Aaron, and not John Snow.

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    Shanna

    Maybe you could do a part 2 to explain the right process for fixing the automatically generated masks if photoshop doesn’t get it right? I just tried this technique and ended up with strange artifacts and random areas left out of focus.

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    SoBePhoto

    You use the focusing ring to change focus. Do you prefer this method to changing focus by using a focusing rail? From my view camera experience, both methods introduce different distortions. Using the focusing ring changes the effective focal length and moving the camera changes the perspective. Which technique does Photoshop handle better? I know that I get background artifacts in some images because of these distortions.

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    Patrick

    Thanks for the demo. I stepped into the world of image stacking after you showed us how easy it was. I did find the process of image stacking was a memory hog for Photoshop because it kept terminating with a program error. It wasn’t until I cut back from 13 images to 4 images that it worked without errors. Perhaps I could have processed all 13 images if I selected the smallest JPG size. I know you have a powerful computer with lots of memory but most of us do not.

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    Dawn

    This is awesome! I didn’t realize it was so easy (well, the post-processing at least). It’s been on my photography “to do list” for some time, so thanks for great info! I’ll give it a try this week.

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    John

    Very cool tutorial Aaron. Thanks! I’ve wanted to try this for some time but thought it was more complicated.

    I have a side question for you if I may, what tripod and head were you using in this sequence (09:25)? The set-up looks rock solid and very easy to use one handed. Not looking for a product endorsement here just curious…

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    Alex

    It’s very reassuring to know I have the same method for this!

    Great tutorial, thanks .

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    Mirsine

    Thank you.Its sounds easy.I have a macro 100mm and I can get a sharp image and someone told me about stackin and Am glad I found out how to do it.

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    Sherry L.

    Bloopers. You guys are silly and amazing. Aaron, you make learning fun. This is a great tutorial. Can’t wait to try it out. Would a basic cable release work okay?

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    Thom

    Thanks for the tip! Much quicker than stacking and erasing.

    Cheers Aaron!

    Canon 6d 90mn Tiltshift lens

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    thomvenier

    Thanks for the tip!
    This is much easier than stacking the layers and masking!

    Cheers Aaron!

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    Patricia

    Awesome tutorial, Thank you so much! This will be so helpful for my macro photography, I wish I would have known this a few years ago.

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    ArtistX

    Could we get that in Hi-Res for use as desktop wallpaper, as that is a dame fine image!!! 🙂

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    Denis Galipeau

    Awesome, I do a lot of macro photography and didn’t know Photoshop could help me with having all elements in focus within a one unique frame…. Tanks a million Aaron for your amazing teaching methodology.