The technique of the Focus Stacking consists in taking a series of pictures gradually changing the focus between the one and the other; being processed will join the shots, taking advantage of each image only those parts that appear to be in focus. In landscape photography the main rule is to focus all the elements of the foreground and take some exposure for the sky or highlights.
When i was at the lake in Campo Imperatore I shot a large number of exposures to focus on all the rocks it was, sky and mountain. When I go home indeed I realized that I really need only one of the exposures for the foreground, and only one of exposures for the mountain, focus stack all the rocks one by one in this case was not so necessary, cause the focus was pratically the same for each rock. I did not think about it 🙂
So in this tutorial I will show you how to apply focus stacking in a foregrounded landscape using Bracketing mode and how I use other exposures for my final image.
Shooting and preparing the images
I took a series of exposures bracketed images ( -1 , 0, +1 ) for the rocks in the foreground and an additional bracketed series of shots focusing the mountain set on ∞ ( -1 , 0 + 1 ).
Added to this, there is another shot that I took in the late evening to replace the mountain covered by clouds. For a total of 7 exposures.
I take all the shots using tripod, ISO 100 and f/11
Below all the steps I do that show you how to focus stack and how to make a blend with additional exposure
Stacking and Auto Blending
1. Launch Lightroom and select all the stack images.
2. Right Click on the images selected. Develop settings>Sync Settings
3. Adjust for all the stacked images, distortion, white balance, contrast ecc…
4. Right Click again and select Edit In > Open as Layers in Photoshop
5. Select all the layers and Go to Edit>Auto-Align Layers, with settings as follow:
6. Regroup layers by exposure.
For a 2 series of bracketing (-1; 0 +1) x 2 I had 2 overexposed, 2 correct and 2 underexposed images.
7. Highlight images by group and blend them, Edit>Auto-Blend Layer like below:
Photoshop will blend the highlighted images creating a layer mask for each image, to show in white the sharp and in black the hidden areas. Select this layers and merge them.
Theese three images are now a “Bracketed Focus Stacked Series”, you can now edit them with Photoshop as you do with a normal bracketing series. I usually edit theese shots using Luminance Masks to select all the brights and shadows I need without affecting the entire picture in order to create a final quality image.
Remember the seventh exposure that I said at the beginning? I’ve taken it just before leaving the location, cause I had seen that the mountain began to discover from the clouds. In that picture I had masked only this part of the mountain without affecting the sky.
1. Put the new layer at the top, and auto align again with Edit>Auto-Align Layers
2. Create layer mask and click (Ctrl+I; PC) or (Cmd+I MAC) to invert it
3. Select now a white brush and paint in the areas of the sky that you want to blend in
4. Press( Ctrl+E; PC) or (Cmd+E; MAC) to merge layers
The final question is “How many images do I need, and where should they be focused?”
The answer depends on what your scene looks like and what effect you’re trying to achieve.
At a minimum, you need to have each scene element you need be sharp, at least one (or a series of bracketing shots)
Sometimes you can do that by focusing specifically on each element you care about. For example in presence of many close-up elements in the foreground, ( leafs, flowers and other things that wind can move). In this case take many exposure as for the element you need.