Looking around in different photo communities, one increasingly comes across terms such as "The photo is stacked, stacked, stacked, etc.". But what is this so-called focus stacking? Basically, it's quite simple...
As an example, you can imagine a fly on whose eyes you set the focus of your camera. The eyes are sharp on the photo, the abdomen disappears in blurriness. Now you focus on the abdomen and take a photo. Now the eyes are blurred, but the abdomen is sharp. These two photos will now be combined to a picture on the eyes and abdomen are sharp! Ready!
Example of a stack: From 9 individual photos, a photo with consistent sharpness is created.
Now you're probably asking yourself the question: Why not just fade out without an end, then the sharpness range will get bigger? The thought is not wrong, but in macro photography, especially with high image scales, the diffraction blur comes into play when the aperture becomes smaller. The photo will no longer be sharper, but blurred after a certain aperture.
No professional equipment necessary!
You don't necessarily need expensive equipment such as a tripod or a macro sled for the Focus Stacking. These can be advantageous for static motifs such as plants etc., but at least with not too high reproduction scales you can achieve great results even without these aids!
How does it work?
I recommend two basic approaches to focus stacking (note that both of these are set to manual focus):
- Stacking by shifting the focus at the focus ring
This method allows you to slowly rotate the focus ring to change the position of the focus plane on the subject while taking photos. That means to stay with the fly as an example, you focus the fly's eyes, take a photo, turn a bit further and take another picture, etc. At the end of the process, the individual images are joined together by means of software.
- Stacking through body movement to the subject or away
The focus plane can also be moved through the subject using another method. To do this, you focus the subject on a photo and then move a little bit towards the subject by slightly bending over, take a photo again, etc. until you have covered the area that you want to have completely sharp later on
Animation of the different focus planes. The focus was first set on the front foot, a photo was taken and a bit further back focused and a photo was taken again. This is repeated until you have photographed all the parts of the subject that you want to focus on later.
Which software is required?
There is now a wide range of software that can be used for focus stacking. It is not easy to make a recommendation. In any case, there are Adobe Photoshop, Helicon Focus, Zerene Stacker and Combine ZP (Freeware). All programs deliver good results! I recommend to have a look at the corresponding test versions and then decide which software is best for you.
Problems with Focus Stacking
When stacking without tripod and macro slide, small camera shake and shifts cannot be avoided. This can lead to errors, so called "halos", when calculating the individual photos by the software. These are bright blurred veils or outlines that appear especially at the transitions of the various levels of sharpness or fine structures such as hair.
To avoid halos, you should make sure that the transitions between the individual photos are as smooth as possible and that you always let the individual levels of sharpness overlap a little bit. Furthermore, the subject should not move during the shooting of the stack row if possible (attention wind!). Another important point is a constant exposure of the individual photos. However, you can still adjust the settings in postprocessing.
Less is more! The more photos you take per stack row, the more likely you are to make mistakes when assembling. Often it is sufficient to take only 2-3 photos, especially for larger subjects. My stack photos usually consist of about 10-20 single images. To make it easier to have it in the post-processing it is recommended to take a black photo before and after a stack row (hand in front of the lens) so that you always know where your stack row stops!
Focus Stacking Video - Stacking example with Photoshop and Zerene Stacker
Valentin Gutekunst ist der Gründer von Makrotreff und Herausgeber von Makrofoto und selbst ein ambitionierter Makrofotograf. Mit seinen Fotos möchte er den Menschen die Faszination und Schönheit der Natur und deren Geschöpfe wieder näher bringen. Und damit das Bewusstsein schaffen, dass es gilt diese Artenvielfalt zu bewahren! Neben der Aufklärungsarbeit rund um die biologische Vielfalt, gibt er sein Wissen und seine Erfahrung mit viel Freude und Engagement weiter und auch aus seinen Makrotricks macht er kein großes Geheimnis.