Tips and Tricks

Focus Shift Ⅱ: Focus Stacking

Narration: YAMANO Yasuteru

Other Settings for Focus Shift Photography

You’ll want to disable any features that could interfere with the many operations the camera must perform during focus shift photography. If focus shift options are greyed out, or the camera says shooting can’t begin when you go to start focus shift, check the following settings. Focus shift settings will also be greyed out and unavailable when no memory card is inserted, so insert a memory card before adjusting settings.

Movie live view Switch to live view photography
HDR Turn HDR off
Focus mode Select AF
Interval timer shooting End interval timer shooting
Auto bracketing Disable auto bracketing
Multiple exposure End multiple exposure shooting

Figure 1
Figure 2

Figure 1: Select the photos you’ll use for focus stacking from the many shots you took at different focus positions, starting with the closest and ending with the farthest.

Figure 2: You can see that each photo has an extremely shallow depth of field (AF‑S Micro NIKKOR 60​mm f/2.8G ED; aperture f/4.8).

Figure 3
Figure 4

Figure 3: Use focus stacking software to create an image in which the entire nameplate is in focus.

Figure 4: If the focus step width is too wide, the image will be made up of alternating strips of in-focus and out-of-focus areas. These however will be largely invisible except when the image is zoomed in (f/4.9 with a focus step width of 10).

Figure 5

Figure 5: The strips of in- and out-of-focus areas are visible at four- or eight-hundred percent zoom (f/4.8 with a focus step width of 10).

Focus Stacking

The focus-stacking process begins post-shooting with image selection. Each sequence will no doubt contain extra photos you took just in case but that were not shot at focus distances needed for focus stacking. Use software such as ViewNX-i to view the photos and select the files you want from each sequence.

Focus stacking is generally performed using Adobe Photoshop or other generic image-processing software or such dedicated applications as Helicon Focus from Helicon Soft or Zerene Stacker or Combine ZM from Zerene Systems. To the best of my knowledge, Combine ZM is currently free while Helicon Focus and Zerene Stacker offer 30-day trial periods, so feel free to give them a try. The main differences between the applications seem to be largely processing speed and the accuracy of their focus stacking. Given that there also seem to be differences in how they handle changes in picture angle during focus shift photography, or in other words how they handle unwanted areas at the edges of the images, you may want to check upgrade information and Internet reviews before choosing a software package.

This tutorial video uses Helicon Focus for focus stacking. The procedure consists only of selecting files for import and rendering a focus-stacked image, but depending on the shape of the subject and other factors the desired results may sometimes not be achieved, in which case you can see if you can get better results using one of the other rendering methods (A through C).

The Helicon Focus rendering display
Focus step width: 2; number of shots stacked: 100 (taken with the D850)

Tips and Tricks > Focus Shift Ⅰ, the Basics: Stacking Focus

Profile of YAMANO Yasuteru

Photographer and researcher of photographic techniques. Born in 1954 in Kagawa. Has been publishing photos and articles in astronomical journals since the 1970s. Has published many digital photos and articles relating to digital astronomical photography since the year 2000. Member of the Society of Photography and Imaging of Japan (SPIJ).

Model cooperation: KATO Co., Ltd. 
Diorama cooperation: atorie-minamo
Equipment cooperation: Kenko Tokina Co., Ltd. SLIK Light carbon E83 FA

Functions Used for Focus Shift Ⅱ: Focus Stacking
View detailed information on the settings and procedures used.

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