Stacking focus

It’s coming up on the 2nd anniversary of this addictive photography hobby of mine, and, not coincidentally, of this blog.  During these 2 years, I’ve blogged pretty much every week – and just about every blog post represented some small success, either something I had learned or some shot I wanted to share. Every week for 2 years is a pretty good run!

successSo having 3 weeks since the last post is pretty telling. It turns out that while I’ve learned a couple things, the feeling of success (however small) has been elusive. I think the problem is that I’ve been trying to accomplish two very specific tasks, and haven’t had luck with either of them. If I ever manage to work through them, they’ll be the subject of future posts.

In the meantime, I’ll share what I’ve learned.

A problem that I had noticed on occasion when working with the macro lens was that it was difficult to have, say, an entire flower in focus without also giving shape to the background. For example, if the flower was up close, and there was a building way off in the background, I couldn’t get the whole flower in focus without also showing the building.

The solution to the problem is focus stacking. A while ago I had read about focus stacking here and here, but frankly it sounded like a lot of work, so I avoided spending time on it. But, I since  it was required in order to accomplish one of my recent problem tasks, I finally gave it a go.

While it’s a little time consuming, it turned out  not to be so hard. The tools that I used were a macro focusing rail ($60) and a copy of Zerene Stacker (I’m on the 30 day trial, but it’s $89 to buy).  Photoshop CS4 and newer are supposed to do this too. The steps:

  1. The setup is: the camera, on top of the focusing rail, on top of a very steady tripod
  2. Set the macro lens to a very wide aperture – I chose f/2.8 – with manual focus. Focus it to the nearest point of the subject.
  3. Take a shot. Move the focusing rail forward a fraction of an inch.
  4. Repeat step 3 as many times as necessary until the back of the subject is in focus.
  5. Load the pictures up to the computer and make any highlight / shadow / etc. adjustments. This is easy in Lightroom, where you can copy your develop settings from one picture to all of the others.
  6. Export the photos, then drag and drop them into Zerene Stacker.
  7. Choose “Align and Stack All” – and watch as the subject slowly comes into focus!

Here’s the result:

Yellow Rose

A focus-stacked rose

… and a couple of the component shots. 26 shots were taken and stacked, but that’s probably way overkill:

Focused to the closest petal

Focused to the closest petal

Focused to the farthest petal

Focused to the farthest petal

If the term “blog therapy” doesn’t already exist, I’ll coin it here. Just writing this out has helped me to feel a little more successful.



    • It *was* pretty cool watching Zerene in action. As it turned out, the focusing rail was optional, but it will be good for times when the distances have to be specific… more in the next post.

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