How to Use Focus Stacking for Sharper Macro Photography

If you’ve tried macro photography, you know how challenging it is to get things in focus. Even when the aperture is narrowed, the depth of field is very shallow with macro lenses. This is because a lens has a shallower depth of field when the subject is near to its “closest focusing distance.” Photographer David Bergman from Adorama demonstrates how you can get everything in focus in macro photography using focus stacking:

What is Focus Stacking?

Focus stacking is a technique where you shoot multiple images of the subject with different areas of the subject in focus and then later stack them up in post to get an image that’s sharp overall.

macro withoug focus stacking

Macro image of a watch with shallow depth of field

Things to Consider When Focus Stacking

  • Use a tripod. Since you will need to take multiple images of the same subject, it’s important that you do not move the camera. Keep a consistent composition. A tripod is essential for this reason. Uusing a tripod will also allow you to use slower shutter speeds at lower ISOs for cleaner images.
  • Use manual mode. Auto or semi-auto modes can cause the exposure to change with every shot. This can cause issues while stacking. To ensure that all of your images are exposed evenly, shoot in manual mode.
  • Use the lens’ sweet spot. Typically, lenses deliver the sharpest results at around 2 to 3 stops below their widest value. So if you have a f/2.8 lens, shooting in between f/5.6 and f/8 should give you the sharpest result.

Once you have all these things set up and are ready to go, start by taking a picture with the focus point at the front. Then gradually move it farther back and repeat the process until you have covered the subject.

Processing Images for Focus Stacking

Once you’re done taking the images, load them up in Photoshop. Here is what you can do:

  1. Put all the images in separate layers of the same document.
  2. Go to Edit > Auto Align Layers to make sure all the images are lined up.
  3. Then head over to Edit > Auto Blend Layers and choose Stack Images.

Photoshop will then automatically blend the images for you so that you get a sharper image.

macro after focus stacking

The watch looks sharper from front to back after focus stacking.

These simple steps should help you in achieving macro shots that are in sharp focus from front to back. So the next time you find yourself struggling to get sharper macro images, be sure to try it out!

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2 responses to “How to Use Focus Stacking for Sharper Macro Photography”

  1. Paul Moertl says:

    Helicon Focus is excellent, too.

  2. Saaz Zan says:

    Thank your for the great work done.

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