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The Art of Focus Stacking (2nd Edition)

The Art of Focus Stacking (2nd Edition)

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Published by Michael Erlewine
The Art of Focus Stacking: A Primer
by Michael Erlewine

120 pages, over 100 photos, PDF

An introduction to macro and close-up photography including focus stacking, the technique, equipment involved, examples of stacked photos, problems encountered in focus stacking, processing, and more. This 2nd edition includes a large section on macro terms, techniques, equipment, etc., answers to some of the questions many of you have been writing me with who would like to learn more about nature close-up and macro photography.
The Art of Focus Stacking: A Primer
by Michael Erlewine

120 pages, over 100 photos, PDF

An introduction to macro and close-up photography including focus stacking, the technique, equipment involved, examples of stacked photos, problems encountered in focus stacking, processing, and more. This 2nd edition includes a large section on macro terms, techniques, equipment, etc., answers to some of the questions many of you have been writing me with who would like to learn more about nature close-up and macro photography.

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Published by: Michael Erlewine on Mar 20, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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05/02/2013

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1
The Artof FocusStacking
Text and Photos by Michael Erlewine
A Primer
Macro and Close-up Photography
 
2
Heart Center Publications315 Marion AvenueBig Rapids, Michigan 49307Michael@Erlewine.netFirst Published 2010 © Michael Erlewine2010ISBN 9781450526258All rights reserved. No part of this publica-tion may be reproduced, stored in a retrievalsystem, or transmitted, in any form or by anymeans, electronic, mechanical, photocopy-ing, recording, or otherwise, without the priorwritten permission of the publisher. Thisphoto book may be shared provided no feeis charged.All photos taken by Michael Erlewine, © 2007-2011 Michael ErlewineCover, format, and graphic design by Mi-chael Erlewine
Photo: The Earthwork Farm in Lake City, Michigan 
Table of Contents
1st Edition Introduction Page 32nd Edition Notes Page 6General Introduction Page 8Focus Stacking Software Page 15Additional Considerations Page 63Equipment Page 74Challenges Page 79Focus Stacking Processing Page 89Example Photos Page 95How I got Into Photography Page 115Unsolicited Advice Page 115Key to My Photography Page 120About the Authore Page 123
 
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Focus Stacking
Interest in ‘focus stacking’ is increasing rapidly. In thisshort article, I would like to suggest some reasons whythis might be. For those of you unfamiliar with focusstacking, let’s make clear what it is.Just as exposure bracketing and HDR (High DynamicRange) techniques, where a number of photos aretaken at different exposures and then seamlessly
combined into a nal photograph are popular, so focus
stacking takes a series of single photos of an objecteach taken at a slightly different focus points and
combines these photos seamlessly into a nal photo
that represents the object with everything in focus,
as if it naturally had greater depth of eld (DOF). This
requires special software to align the series of photo-graphs and merge them into a single resulting image.Focus Stacking is essentially ‘focus bracketing’ andthe result is a photo where everything (or more thanyou might expect) appears to be in focus as opposedto the traditional photograph where there is only asingle plane of focus and anything not on the planeis to some degree out of focus, however slightly. Theresulting stacked photo (from combining the images atdifferent focal distances) can be remarkable, and ad-vances in focus-stacking software like Zerene Stacker,Helicon Focus, Adobe’s Photoshop CS4 are perfectingthis technique.
Two Types of Focus Stacking
There are two general types of focus stacking beingused today, with perhaps the most common idea ofthis technique including a camera mounted on a fo-cusing rail (or a lens with bellows attached) and thephotographer taking many dozens (sometimes up to150-200) photographs, each one just a few millimeters
apart from one another. This rst technique is usedmostly for scientic, product photography, and by a
few naturalists who carefully create deep stacks, usu-ally in a studio, like the one on the left, which is verylovely.And while this more elaborate form of focus stackingis wonderful in its own way, it requires more special-ized equipment and does not readily lend itself to
being used outside in the elds and woods or at leastis more difcult to take outside. There are many tutori
-als on the web for this type of more-technical style offocus stacking available, so I refer you to Google to
nd those. For myself, I am not much interested in that
method because I don’t want to haul all that equip-ment around and prefer being outside to being in astudio.It is also possible to stack photos and get excellentresults armed with just a camera and a tripod. Thiswill be the method presented here. I will present someguidelines to what I call “Short-Stacking,” where in-stead of 100 layers painstakingly shot to achieve per-fect incremental focus (a science in itself), we shootjust a few (let’s say from two to a dozen) photos andcombine those to achieve the effect of seeming great-
Introduction
er focus and depth of eld (DOF). This less technicalapproach is (by denition) somewhat more impres
-
sionistic than the rst method I described because no
attempt is made to get every possible micro layer-stepphotographed. Focus stacking requires that nothing
moves. In nature (as we know) this is very difcult due
to wind, changing light, moving creatures, and so on.With short-stacking we shoot fewer photos, choos-ing which layers in the scene we want to capture andhave in focus that represent our impression of what iskey or beautiful about the particular shot. To my mind,although less demanding, there is somewhat moreart in this method, but that is just my opinion. I like itbecause I can be out in the wilds of nature withouta lot of equipment and still produce photos with an
apparent greater focus and depth of eld, thus: focus
stacking.
The Equipment Needed
While theoretically you can stack focus with any digitalcamera, in reality the process quickly sorts itself outin favor of better cameras and (for sure) sharp lenses.After all, the ‘focus’ in focus stacking means trying toget things sharply in focus and that requires a lensthat is actually sharp and a camera that can process
the light from the lens efciently. In practice any de
-cent digital camera with a sharp lens will work, butlike everything else, it is easy to fall into the pattern ofwanting a better camera and (in particular) better andsharper lenses. And let’s not forget about tripods.While some few photographers who focus stack makea virtue out of hand-holding their shots (Look mom,
no tripod!), the rest of us will nd that we want our 
camera and lens mounted on a stable tripod. With allof the other variables in this technique, trying to hand-hold the camera is not something I would choose todo. In this presentation good focus stacking requiresa tripod. After all, we want the scene to hold perfectlystill while we sample shots at different focal distances.Having the camera also shake and move aroundsimply because I am holding it does not interest me.Therefore I suggest one needs a camera, a goodlens, and both of those mounted on a sturdy tripod.
The Actual Technique
Given that you have the camera securely mounted ona tripod, the technique is pretty straight forward. Youaim the camera at a scene you like (whether close-upas in macro photography or farther away as with land-scape) and proceed to take several carefully-focusedphotos at various focal distances. You will need to de-cide what part of the scene you want to have in focus,which for a landscape shot may be the whole thing,
but for a close-up shot it could be just a ower. Let’suse a ower or a leaf as an example.Starting at the very front-most part of the ower, care
-fully focus at that front edge and take a shot. Next,using the focusing ring on your camera, move it justenough to focus a little deeper into the subject and
take a second shot, and so on, until your nal shot is
one of the far (rear) edge of the subject.

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