Craggy Gardens - Blue Ridge Parkway, June 2017Craggy Gardens - Blue Ridge Parkway, June 2017

Goal for 2020 - Focus Stacking

March 13, 2020  •  2 Comments

It's been a while since my last post.  The weather has not been conducive for photography to a large extent.  Here in western North Carolina, we had a very mild winter - unusually wet and warm.  Waterfalls have been running much too hard.  Those warm temperatures are meaning a very early start to spring.  Pear trees are in full bloom as are the daffodils.  Tulips won't be far behind.

As I review my photos from last year I'm satisfied to a large extent.  But I do see a certain lack of sharpness in some of my photos.  So for 2020, my goal is to work on having sharper photos. One of the main ways I was to reach my goal is increasing my use of focus stacking.

Focus stacking is the process of taking a series of photographs and, using a post processing tool such as Photoshop, blending the best of each of those images to nail really sharp photos.  So, for example, in a typical (if there is such a thing) landscape scene with a waterfall the background with some interesting foreground (hopefully), you might take three photos.  One for the foreground, one for the middle and the last of the background.  In each of those compositions you would need to ensure you are focusing on something in each of those areas.

Another challenge for me in doing this is stopping my tendency of use small apertures like f/16 - f/22 rather than using one with more sharpness like f/8 or so.  Since my primary interest are waterfalls or cascading streams, I want to get a shutter speed of between 1-4 seconds to bring out that lovely dreamy silky water. But if I use f/10, the typical lighting conditions would not allow me to get those slow speeds even with, perhaps, a 3-stop ND filter.  The answer then becomes a stronger ND filter such as a 6-stop one.  Given that it's difficult to auto focus with this dark of a filter, my workflow will become slower.  Focusing would need to be set before the ND filter is on the lens and then there is a need to compute the shutter speed using various phone apps. Using these longer shutter times take longer.  So if conditions are changing rapidly you may miss an opportunity.  My nature is not one of having a ton of patience so it will take some work to slow down.

If you enjoy flower photography, focus stacking is nearly a must to use if you want sharpness throughout your main flower. This is especially so if you are using a macro lens.  There is definitely a bit of a learning curve here as it is very easy to miss a focus point and get a small area of blur in the final image.  Depending on the type of flower, it can many "focal planes".  This winter I've tried my luck at it and haven't faired too badly.  Luckily, I shoot with a Nikon D850 with the focus peaking feature.  Using Live-View, focus peaking outlines areas of focus in red.  So starting at the closest focus area you slowly focus at each further focus point until you hopefully hit each one.  Then you use Photoshop to auto stack focus layers into a single photo.  Pretty easy to do.

The Nikon D850 also has an auto stacking feature but I haven't really used it much.  I do need to spend a bit of time learning about it as that may smooth out my in-the-field workflow a bit.

Another method I need to use is setting focus at the "hyper-focal" distance.  But this is a subject I will cover in a future post.

Thanks for reading.




It is very lovely and informative article so thank you for sharing it.
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