Understanding Focus Stacking and How to Use It for Maximum Depth of Field (VIDEO)

Minnesota-based photo instructor Vincent Ledvina has a unique ability to simplify confusing photography concepts and illustrate how to use them with unique animated graphics he creates himself. In this quick tutorial, he explains how to employ a powerful technique to create images with maximum depth of field.

Focus stacking involves shooting multiple photos of the same scene, each with a different zone of sharpness, and then combining them in Photoshop or another editing app to create a single image with almost limitless depth of field. This method is a valuable one to learn, as it can be used for macro, landscape, and other types of scenes in which it’s impossible to capture a wide range of focus in just one shot.

As complicated as this may sound, Ledvina uses his teaching skills to demonstrate everything you need to know in just two minutes. He explains that you’ll need a camera with manual focus and manual exposure capabilities, and a sturdy tripod to eliminate camera movement between shots.

Ledvina walks you through the necessary camera settings, describes the proper way to focus each of several images, and explains how many shots are necessary. The final step is to edit and merge the images, and Ledvina shows you how.

There are more interesting videos on Ledvina’s YouTube channel. You may also want to look at the earlier tutorial we posted, with what he says are the five biggest misconceptions about photography.

tnp651's picture

Having focus-stacked a few thousand images in the past couple of months, I can offer some advice:

1. A blurry object is wider than an in-focus one. With big changes of focus (a window and the view outside, for instance) you will unavoidably have a window-frame-colored halo around the window. You can ignore it or retouch, your choice.

2. Photoshop does a mediocre job of finding the in-focus parts of a scene. Tree branches go in and out of focus in your blended image. Even a high-contrast object like a door frame is not completely found. The worst is patterns of overlapping lines like tree branches or reeds. PS leaves large patches of space inside these lines out of focus.

3. Focus stacking works best on highly-detailed images that are in a continuous plane, like a wall or a lawn. You must give PS enough images that everything is in focus somewhere or you'll get confusing results that wander in and out of focus.

4. If you have a bunch of focus stacked images to do, set up a keyboard shortcut for Edit > Auto-Blend Layers. Start in Bridge. Select Tools > Photoshop > Load Files into Photoshop Layers. Bridge stacks the layers in a single new document for you, with no Background layer. That last is important. The next keyboard shortcut won't work on the background layer. Command-option-A selects all layers (except the background). Now use your new keyboard shortcut to auto-blend and wait for the magic to happen. Then curse, or retouch.