What is Focus Stacking ?
Focus Stacking is the layering / merging of many frames, with a slightly different focal point, on top of each other by using photo editing software. When photographing a subject from very close you get a very shallow dept of field. Parts of your subject are in a different focal plane – in other words parts of the subject are out of focus.
Only a small area remains in focus. When you digitally combine the images together, you get a lot more areas that are in focus. You get what seems to be a wider DOF and a lot more details. The subject in the frames must look identical – any difference between the frames, no matter how minor it seems, could mess up everything.
The number of image you will need will vary depending on the subject you photograph. Also the method may vary slightly.
For flatter subjects/ surfaces you won’t need as many shots.
What kind of equipment is needed for Focus Stacking Macro photography?
Generally speaking there are two options when it comes to choosing your equipment – the super expensive sets or the super affordable sets. Here are the basic things you need either way:
- Macro Lens ( extension tubes / reverse rings )
- Lights – powerful lights
- Rail – digital or manual
Here is the first set up I used for focus stacking – my Setup (2016).
How is it possible to take so many clear shots if the subject is moving ?
As I mentioned above – the images captured in the frames must be matching exactly. I use anything between 100 and 300 frames. Focus stacking doesn’t work with a constantly moving subject.
Some people say that when photographing insects they freeze them to slow down their metabolism for few minutes and when done photographing, they set them free.
Others claim to be using hair spray ( I definitely do not recommend this). I have tried those options but never found them to work. For the time being I do not use live subjects for focus stacking. I pick up already dead insects and I photograph them.
If you want to avoid killing the insects – like I do – you can visit my post on places to find insects for macro photography.
Does Focus Staking work only for insects ?
No, you can use this method on any inanimate objects. I mentioned insects first because when working with inanimate objects it is actually a lot easier. You are relieved from the moral dilemma of how to most adequately “prepare your subject for the photoshoot” since they do not move. Insects are fascinating subjects and many photographers choose them because of the great amount of details they have.
But if you are not into that, don’t feel restricted – you can have a look at my gallery HERE for examples of several different subjects that are also great for focus stacking.
Does Focus Staking work only for Macro Photography ?
No, the focus stacking technique can be used whenever there is a shallow DOF. The closer you are when you are photographing your subject, the shallower the DOF becomes. This makes it suitable for closeup, macro and micro photography.
How are the frames Stacked ?
The frames are stacked by a photo editing software such as Affinity Photo, Zerene Stacker, Helicon Focus, Photoshop and other programs… It takes a while – the more images you are stacking the longer it takes. 300+ images may take like hour and a half to stack in Zerene Stacker (depending on the machine you are using) so be patient.
If you have more questions please let me know and I will do my best to include them in this post.