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What is Focus Stacking?

“Focus stacking (also known as focal plane merging and z-stacking or focus blending) is a digital image processing technique which combines multiple images taken at different focus distances to give a resulting image with a greater depth of field than any of the individual source images.”

Simply put, focus stacking is a technique that makes it possible to create images that are sharp and in focus from the very front and to the very back of said image. The technique requires the use of both a camera and image post-processing software such as Adobe Photoshop or Gimp. This tutorial uses both Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom.

 

macro close up of clear thc diamond concentrate on metal dab stick
Focus Stacked Concentrate Image
dried trimmed green cannabis flower
Focus Stacked Cannabis Image

Setup and Shoot Images

Set up camera on a tripod. It is important that the camera remains stable and in the same position for the multiple shots you need to take of your subject.

Set aperture to a minimum of f16.

Set up an external trigger with either a phone or laptop – connect to your camera via bluetooth or a direct wired connection. Triggering the camera remotely is required in order to avoid any shaking or movement during capture.

Start with a focus point closest to camera and capture the first photo. Very gently pull focus away from camera in tiny increments taking photos at desired intervals.

The amount of photos you take will depend on your subject but a minimum of 10 shots is required.

Pre-Stack Processing in Lightroom

Load your captured images onto a hard drive or directly on to your computer.

Import all images into Lightroom.

Perform basic editing on image that is in focus.

Select all images from the sequence and hit “Synchronize.” Confirm all your edit settings are applied to all images in the sequence.

Select all images and then right click → Edit it → Open as Layers in Photoshop.

Your images will now all open up in Photoshop as separate layers.

Adobe Lightroom - Open As Layers in Photoshop

Focus Stack Images in Photoshop

Now in Photoshop select all layers and click Edit → Auto-Align Layers

Adobe Photoshop - Auto-Align Layers Context Menu
Adobe Photoshop - Auto-Align Layers

Make sure all images are still selected and click → Edit → Auto-Blend Layers.

Adobe Photoshop - Auto-Blend Layers
Adobe Photoshop - Auto-Blend Layers

After processing is complete the full subject should stacked and in focus.

Select all layers again and right click → Merge Layers

Adobe Photoshop - Merge Layers

Duplicate the the now single merged layer – select it and hit (command + J).

Clean up any sensor dust using the healing brush tool.

Finish any other required editing of the image.

Save the .psd file and export your stacked image as a .jpeg.

Finished Stacked Concentrate Image
Vince Eger

Author Vince Eger

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Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • James says:

    I was having trouble with stacking until I read this blog. This really helped fill in the gaps from other articles I read. Thanks Sessions! I can’t wait for more info.

  • Matt says:

    I’m stoked to try this out! Good tutorial dudes!

  • Jason Reschka says:

    Do you turn steady shot off for these photos?
    Do you use a manual shutter or eshutter/shutter lock for this?
    About how many images for an average shoot?
    Do you use manual focus?

    • Avatar photo Jared Kyllo says:

      Yes, turning steady shot off on your lens will help the stack’s accuracy, especially for macros.
      Full manual mode is key, so make sure you are using manual focus and exposure settings so your exposure stays consistent throughout the stack.
      An average for macro stacks would be around 70-100 images, the more the better. But it all depends on your aperture settings and subject.

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