How focus stacking can help you to get super sharp landscapes

Sep 6, 2017

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Sep 6, 2017

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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Focus stacking is a popular technique for macro photographers. But did it ever occur to you to try it with landscapes? No? Nor me. But it makes a lot of sense, depending on the look you’re after. Although landscapes are often shot with ultra wide angle lenses, they can also be made at much longer focal lengths. I like to do this myself with a 70-200 f/2.8, but that means you start to see the effects of depth of field.

This video from photographer Mark Denney shows us how to use focus stacking techniques to get infinite depth of field for landscapes with any lens. Mark also goes over some shooting tips to help you get the best source material to work with, regardless of whether you use manual or auto focus.

YouTube video

The process is fairly straightforward. Unlike shooting macro, though, where you’ll often have your camera on a rail, sliding it gradually forward between each shot, adjusting focus is the key here. Essentially, you set your camera up on a tripod, focus on the foreground, keeping the nearest part of the image in focus, and take a shot.

Then you refocus with the front edge of the depth of field overlapping slightly with the far side of the first image. Then you keep repeating this process until you’ve covered the entire depth of your scene.

Once in Lightroom (or Adobe Camera Raw), the first step is to process one image to give you the final look you’re after. Then copy those settings and apply them to the rest of the shots. With the images processed, right click them and “Open as layers in Photoshop”.

Then, even though you used a tripod, you want to use Photoshop’s “Auto Align Layers” feature from the edit. This helps to ensure that any issues caused by focus breathing or slight movement of the tripod are eliminated. With all the layers highlighted, choose “Auto Blend Layers” from the edit menu. From here, you get two options. Panorama or Stack Images.

Not surprisingly, you want to choose Stack images, and hit OK. Photoshop will then process each of the layers. It masks out what it believes to be blurred from each image. Then, it spits out a final result that’s sharp and in focus throughout. Here you can see how the final image builds up from each of the four layers in this example.

So, it looks like focus stacking is pretty useful for more than just macro.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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6 responses to “How focus stacking can help you to get super sharp landscapes”

  1. Paul Richards Avatar
    Paul Richards

    Yes, it can be a good idea

  2. Jurek Siminski Avatar
    Jurek Siminski

    Yes . I do it from many years

  3. Tj Ó Seamállaigh Avatar
    Tj Ó Seamállaigh

    Just adding a point: usually the “sweet spot” of the lens is
    preferable f-stop to be used because sharpness is best and it comes with less
    chromatic aberrations, and that’s why a focus-stacking approach to
    landscape photography became essential (as well as to other fields of
    photography). Of course, a photographer should have tested his/her
    lenses properly to judge where the sweet spot lies (typically between
    f/8 and f/11).

  4. Cynicaleye Avatar
    Cynicaleye

    Or, just use Affinity Photo.

  5. Ian Brace Avatar
    Ian Brace

    Wouldn’t movement cause a issue? I’ve had some fantastic results on close ups before.

  6. Luca De Nardi Avatar
    Luca De Nardi

    Very interesting, I’ve never used this technique before but I’m going to try it ASAP!