Focus Stacking



3 Days to Better Live Bug Photos

Hand Held Focus Stacking

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The above shot was hand held between 2-3X magnification. Click here to see actual image.

A Focus Stacked Photograph is one that is a combination of 2 or more images that were focused at different points and combined with software that keeps the sharp parts of the image. The goal of focus stacking is to acquire more depth of field.

The images below are stacked from two or more images, just click on the file to open it.  (Please be patient as some of the files are quite large).


Example 2 focus Stacked Macro Shot

Example 3 focus Stacked Macro Shot

Example 4 focus Stacked Macro Shot

Example 5 focus Stacked Macro Shot

Example 6 focus Stacked Macro Shot

Example 7 focus Stacked Macro Shot

Example 8 focus Stacked Macro Shot

Example 9 focus Stacked Macro Shot

Example 10 focus Stacked Macro Shot

Example 11 focus Stacked Macro Shot

Example 12 focus Stacked Macro Shot

Example 13 focus Stacked Macro Shot


But first what is - A Good Stack

A good stack is a series of properly spaced images with about 30% overlap so there will be no bands that appear unfocused. The shots should be equally spaced and there should not be shots at a little different of angle so that part is still aligned but another is not. And finally they should not be rotated. They need to go from front to back a small equal step at a time. If mounted to a rail or changing the focus on the lens you should not have to worry about overlapping or rotation.
Focus Stacked Alignment 1 Focus Stacked Alignment 2 Focus Stacked Alignment 3

When shooting a stack you have to move at the same angle the camera lens is at without twisting it side to side.

Focus Stacked Alignment 4 Focus Stacked Alignment 5 Focus Stacked Alignment 6

The camera must move at the exact same angle the lens is at. This is not an issue when changing the focus with the lens or a rail provided the rail is not moving a tripod head attached to a camera. in other words, do not put a ball head on a rail and then move the rail. The rail gets attached to the camera.

There are numerous methods to shoot  properly aligned, focused and spaced images for stacking. Method one is you place your camera on a tripod, focus, take the shot, turn the focus ring on the camera and take the next shot. The issue with this method is that it just needs to be changed a little and it is very easy to overdue it with a focusing ring.

However, instead of manually refocusing you can electronically do it depending upon your equipment. For instance with Canon they have their EOS Utility that will allow you to tether your camera to your laptop, take a shot in live view, refocus the camera by using their software and then take another shot. Helicon offers software that takes it a step further by analyzing your camera settings, (lens, aperture etc., you set the closest focus point and the furthest point and it automatically refocuses the camera at the proper interval and takes the shot.  (there is a discount code on the left side of this page for their software). Helicon also has an application for an Android Phone that will allow you to shoot a stack. The difficulty is in doing this outdoors with live bugs.

The second method is to use a focusing rail. You focus, take your shot and then move the camera via the rail closer to the camera and take another shot. This process can also be automated by a product from Cognisys called the StackShot. The StackShot moves the camera, takes the photograph and then moves to the next position and repeats the process. It can be controlled via a little controller that comes with it or with software.  In a nutshell you look up your magnification to get your step size, (so now you know how far you you will move with each step). focus, and enter enough steps to travel from the front to back. Like the first method this takes time to setup and is not suitable for a wide variety of bugs. Helicon's software can also be used with the StackShot.

The third method is to hand hold the camera and take the shots. it can be done as the photo on the top of this page was shot hand held and stacked from 5 images. I shot the first image, closed my eyes and shot the next four images.

Below is a training manual called "Shooting Blind" which contains one method of hand holding a focus stack. There maybe more methods but this one works for me when shooting at 1:1 to 3.5:1 magnification. I focus, take the shot, move the camera closer and repeat the process, usually I close my eyes after the first shot of the stack. So you can be assured that there is a trick to it as I can shoot evenly spaced images with my eyes closed.

Naturally there is a catch, always is, the bug must be on something that does not move, and the bug cannot be moving as well. So you are not going to get a bee on a flower as he is busy working his way around the flower. Nor are you going to be able to shoot one on a leaf in the wind. Ideally you are looking for a bug on a post, wall, table really anything solid or one that is on a plant/leaf that is close to the ground. The bug needs to stay around for about 5-10 seconds for you to take the shots.



Shooting Blind
A Manual on how to Hand Hold Your Camera and Shoot a Focus Stack

Do not purchase "Shooting Blind" without reading this first

Shooting Blind is a short manual on how to hand hold your camera and shoot a Focus Stack. It is only a few pages long and it provides exercises that if practiced will allow you to hand hold your camera and shoot a near perfect stack every time.

The best way to think of it is like a magic trick as that is what it is, only it is not magic it is just a trick. However, like a magic trick some people can pull it off better than others.  It is easy to pull off a stack of 5 to 10 images, more requires a lot more practice. A magician practices his tricks, this is something that you need to practice. You can easily practice it anywhere and really anytime, you just need your camera. However, initially to do the exercises you will need a laser pointer. I got mine at the Dollar Store but they don't always have them. Once you get down the basic exercises you will then practice with your camera.

You must fully accept the risk that you may not be able to do this as there are no refunds - others have used this and it works for them, so it is not the manual it is you. Like a magic trick it should not be shared, you purchased it, have others purchase it. If it is a friend, take the time to teach it to them - be a good person. In other words, now that you can do it don't post online how it is done.  Also when you first master it, don't tell others how you did it, tell them you dropped a grand on a new lens with great DOF - mess with them - have fun in life, it is short.

In order to pull off a hand held stack you will need a flash with its head mounted at the end of your lens with a fast recycle time. I strongly suggest you purchase either eneloop or PowerEX batteries. They have a very quick discharge time, I'm sure there are other good ones but these I know are not good, but great.

Shooting Blind $24.95

You will receive a link that will allow you to download
the manual as a PDF. You will not receive a hard copy.