Focus stacking is a technique typically used in macro shots to achieve a large depth of field. It’s a relatively simple concept: take many images focused at slightly different distances and combine the sharp portions to a single image in post. This 6-minute video from landscape photographer Mark Denney will show you how to utilise the technique in landscape photography.
Focus stacking in the landscape world is useful for images where there are foreground objects that should be in focus. In Denney’s example image, a railroad track runs from the front of the image right through to the horizon. Even with a tiny aperture, it would be impossible to get the entire image tack-sharp. This is the perfect opportunity to focus stack.
The process is essentially the same as for macro photography, but far fewer images are needed. Denney suggests using at least 4 shots, as he did with his example image. This ensures sharp coverage from the front to the back of the image.
When it comes to processing the RAWs, process the first to achieve the look that you want for the entire image. You should then sync those edits across all of your images, so the final image is consistent. Then bring the 4 images in to your focus stacking software to combine. Denney uses Photoshop, which is already a tool in many photographer’s arsenal, but there are plenty of other options out there.
From 3:55 Denney shows the process in Photoshop. First, auto-align the images to ensure they line up correctly. There shouldn’t be any movement if you’ve shot with a tripod, which is definitely recommended. You can then go to Edit>Auto Blend Layers, select Auto stack and watch Photoshop do its magic. It will determine the out of focus areas of each image and mask them out, resulting in a merged image at the top of your layer stack followed by 4 layers with the masks that Photoshop generated.
The result is an image with a depth of field normally impossible, which is quite impressive considering how simple the workflow is. It’s a similar process to creating HDR or panorama images, and another great technique to have in the back pocket.
Watch Denney’s video above for a step-by-step look at how this technique is done. You can also watch more of his helpful photography videos by subscribing to his YouTube channel.