Focus Stacking

Author:  Megan P Galope

A few weeks ago I spent a weekend learning more about macro photography. There is so much to learn! One thing that was completely new to me was focus stacking. I had heard of it and understood the basic concept, but never actually tried it myself. First it required a sturdy tripod and a subject that did not move. I used a 100mm macro lens on my Canon DSLR. I set the focus to manual and focused on the closest part of the object to me. I moved the focus ring just slightly to start my images with nothing in focus (this is to make sure you didn’t miss anything that might end up in focus). Using a shutter release, I took a photo, manually moved the focus ring ever so slightly, and took another photo. I continued to do this until I took a photo that was slightly past focus of the farthest part of the object from me. I ended up with anywhere between 8 and 114 images, depending on what I was photographing. Note: if you plan to take more than one stack of the same object, make sure you take a bookmark photo (say, of your hand) that will separate the stack images when you work with them on your computer.

Once I uploaded the images to my computer, I looked through them all and removed any photos where none of the object was in focus. I then used the software Helicon Focus from HeliconSoft to automatically stack the photos. You can try the software free for 30 days, or if you take one of the Macro classes from Arizona Highways Photo Workshops, you will receive a discount code for the software as part of the class. The software is incredibly easy to use for basic stacking. Here are a couple of images that I stacked (but did not touch up using the software):


There are ways to touch up the photos even more using the software to remove any parts that aren’t totally in focus, but I haven’t looked into how to do that yet.

Here you can see the difference between a single image and focus stacking (look especially at the butt of the tarantula):


Focus stacking does not have to be complicated and you can end up with some amazing images!

You can find upcoming Macro Techniques classes with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops here:

Megan  is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops
Twitter = @megangalope