Step 4 -- FIELD WORK for Landscape Photography: Focus Stacking

Focus Stacking

Focus stacking is one way to ensure that your landscape image has excellent deep depth of field (sharp focus from near to far). One of the worst things that can happen after a photo trip is to come home and open up your files and then realize that your images are not in focus. They are blurry or too soft. After studying the info on this page, you will be more likely to capture your images in sharp focus.

When should you use this technique?focus stacking

I suggest you use it when doing a near/far composition. Like the photo to the right. The yellow flowering bush is in the foreground within 2-3 feet and the background is over a mile away. This way, all elements of the scene are captured in sharp focus.

What is an alternative to focus stacking?

Traditionally, landscape photographers have sought to use the highest f-stop to obtain deep depth of field that covers from near to far. Depending on the lens this aperture setting may be f/22, or f/32, f/45, or f/64. The downside is using such a small aperture will actually result in softer images due to an effect known as diffraction.

How to use this technique?

When using this technique I set the aperature for the highest level of sharpness. The sweet spot for most lenses is about 3 stops down from wide open aperature. For a f/4 maximum aperture lens the sweet spot is between f/8 and f/11. Then, focus on the foreground and capture an image. Take another one focused on the middle ground, and another focused on the background. The next step is to combine the images in photoshop.

Thomas Heaton describes this technique of stacking the focus in the two YouTube videos below...

I found this other video to be helpful in understanding focus by Thomas Heaton. He uses three methods of finding focus with f/11: 1) hyperfocal distance with a tape measure, 2) focusing to infinity, and 3) hyperfocal depth of field preview.

Max Foster has a free tuturial on focus stacking for landscape photography. He displays a lovely example which is shown below.

Max states:

One of the most appealing attributes of landscape photographs is sharpness from front to back. Everything is in sharp focus in the foreground, middle and background, allowing the viewer to be pulled into the image as if they were standing right there.

The majority of the instructional books I read stated that this could be accomplished rather easily by stopping down to a very small aperture, such as f/22. Once stopped down, you then had a couple of options; you could either focus at a spot about 1/3 of the way into the scene, or you could determine your hyperfocal distance and focus at that spot. However, using a small aperture can decrease image quality due to diffraction while concurrently limiting depth of field. Even so, at the peak of film camera usage, these techniques were often the best options for maximizing sharpness throughout the frame. With today’s digital advances, we have additional and better options.

In this tutorial, I will show you how to use a technique called “Focus Stacking.” Although it can be utilized in several genres of photography, this tutorial will outline its usage in landscape photography.

To go through his tutorial, click here!

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