Macro Stacking 101 aka Focus Stacking

I have been experimenting with some macro photography. Experimentation is often helped by a new toy, in this instance a Cowboystudio Macro Focusing Rail Set with 4 Way Fine Control.  The rail sits beneath the camera and lets me make small movements both forward and backward and even right to left.  Usually the right to left movement is to frame the photograph without moving the tripod.  Back and forth is another matter and what makes it perfect for the technique of focus stacking.

Focus stacking is taking multiple photographs in a macro format and moving the plane of focus in multiple images to get more depth of field(DoF) through combining of the images.  Since most macro lenses give you less DoF the closer you are to the subject this can be helpful in the three dimensional world.  By focusing through the frame on different areas of a photograph using multiple shots then aligning the photos and then using some photoshop wizardry you can get more or total depth of field.

The focusing rail (see above) puts your camera on a rail and has two knobs per rail, one to move and one to lock on the rail.  By making small turns to the movement wheel, you bring pieces of the photograph in focus.

Check out the images below, 2 shots each focused slightly differently.


If you look closely they are focused differently and because we have moved the camera slightly they are somewhat different sized in the frames.  I tooke a total of 5 photos like this and opened the photos up as different layers in Photoshop 6.  You can select all the layers and go into the edit menu and select Auto Align layers (this only shows up if you have multiple layers selected.)  The command under Auto Align layers is the next step Auto Blend layers.  When you do execute the blend command photoshop masks the blurry parts of each layer to give you the most in focus part of each.  If you merge the layers down you get…


I created this from five separate images, I only showed you two of the five as an example.  I also did not focus through the entire photo, I admit I prefer some elements of the image to remain blurred.  I could take more photos and focus in small increments all the way through the image.  This would make one single “in focus” photograph of a flower.  (I brightened and sharpened the finish product as well)

The slider I used I purchased on Amazon, I used my Lensbaby Composer with the Macro Kit on a Nikon D90.  Lighting was natural from a Window using some heavy drapes for bounce.

Because the head on my tripod is smallish, I taped the flowers to a piece of paper then taped the paper to the wall next to the window.  That way the rail is balanced on top of the tripod and the camera is positioned atop of the tripod shooting at 90 degrees at the wall.