One of the biggest issues with landscape photography is ensuring that you have enough depth of field to cover the entire front-to-back distance of the scene you want to capture. With some lenses, sure, if your nearest subject is at least a certain distance away, and your aperture’s small enough, you can get pretty close. But the only way to really ensure complete front-to-back sharpness is with focus stacking.
It’s a technique that’s more commonly associated with macro, where you often have a paper-thin depth of field. But it’s also very effective for shooting landscapes, too. In this video, Mark Denney walks us through his process for shooting and then compositing stacked images for maximum focal range.
Recently, Mark was shooting at Lost Dutchman State Park in Arizona with his Sony A7R II and Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 GM lens, and he documented the process with a video a couple of weeks ago. It’s an amazing place to photograph, but quite challenging. I was there myself just last year while testing out the Sigma “Big Three” lens trio.
In that video, he talks about the challenges of shooting landscapes with wide-angle lenses and touches on the depth of field issues when you’ve got something very close in the foreground and an interesting background. This is the video where he ties it together with the post-processing stacking work.
Mark chooses six photographs from a series to make his final image here. He processes them in Lightroom and then brings them into Photoshop as layers where he Auto-Aligns them, to account for things like focus breathing and slight tripod movements.
Auto-Blend Layers is the next (and pretty much final) step, which offers an automated way of stacking the images together, where Photoshop looks for the sharpest parts of each layer and masks out the rest to produce the final result. Depending on how the auto-align has shifted your layers around, you may want to crop in a little bit to remove any weirdness from the edges.
A very simple, and largely automated technique, that will definitely help to take your landscape shots up a notch when it comes to sharpness and clarity.
The great thing about focus stacking for landscapes is that you’re not required to use a certain aperture in order to maximise depth of field. You can shoot at whatever aperture the sweet spot of your lens is. If the depth of field isn’t that great, it just means you have to shoot more images.
Do you use focus stacking for your landscapes? What’s your favourite technique?