Home Photography Ideas: Master Focus Bracketing and Focus Stacking Macro Modes
Watch the video: Home photography projects – Focus bracketing & stacking
You might be trying your hand at macro now that we’re all stuck at home. And as seasoned macro photographers know all too well, depth of field, even at narrow apertures, is so fine that it can be impossible to bring the entire subject into focus. This is where the magic of focus bracketing or focus stacking comes into play.
This process involves taking multiple shots, gradually moving the focus point each time, and then “framing” or “stacking” them together to create a single image with great depth of field.
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A number of cameras incorporate one of these two techniques as a built-in feature. To concentrate stack, offered by systems such as the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III, will automatically compose all images in the camera. To concentrate bracketingseen in cameras like the Canon EOS RP, forces you to compose the images yourself in post-production.
Both methods capture macro shots with apertures as wide as f/1.8 while still keeping the entire scene in focus. And of course, you don’t need a camera with any of these features built-in – you can perform the technique yourself by shooting a frame, manually changing the focus point, shooting a another frame and so on until you get what you want.
Cameras automate and streamline this process, making it less time-consuming (and much less painful) to shoot and bracket up to 999 frames. However, if you’re not going the automated route and want to replicate the technique, skip steps 5-8 below – all other steps apply if you’re doing it the old-fashioned way!
If you’re composing the images yourself, some of the manufacturers’ native imaging software (like Canon’s DPP) automates the process in the same way, but it’s also relatively easy to run in Photoshop. So, let’s start…
01 The right kit
You’ll need a camera like the Canon EOS RP or Canon EOS 90D to use the built-in focus bracketing feature (which requires you to compose the images yourself), or cameras like the Olympus OM -D E-M1 Mark III or Olympus OM-D E-M1X for fully automated focus stacking.
You will also need a macro lens if you are shooting small! Here we pair the EOS RP with the Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 lens.
02 Handle if you are brave…
Since focus bracketing relies on composing several identical images, except for focus shift, this technique really requires the use of a tripod. That being said, if you have very steady hands (or have a camera with image stabilization) and only frame a small number of shots, you can try doing it handheld.
Since we took this photo using just a 10-shot burst (which only took a few seconds), with our elbows planted firmly on the table, we had enough stability and there were no major movements. between pictures.
03 … but a tripod is better
Although you can do this process by hand if you’re only taking a few images, we strongly recommend using a tripod for added stability. If you’re taking a stack of 50 or 100 photos (or more), there’s no way to hold the camera still enough for the process to work!
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04 Shooting settings
You want granular control over your focus point, so select single focus points. Eliminating camera shake is also important, so set drive mode to a two-second self-timer to ensure there’s no wobble when you press the shutter.
05 Enable bracketing / stacking
Now you need to activate your camera’s focus bracketing or focus stacking mode. This varies depending on your system, so check your manual (or Google) if you’re not sure what menu it’s in.
06 Bracketing/stacking settings
After activating the mode, you’ll need to select the number of photos to take – between 20 and 100 should work for most small scenes. The “Focus Increment” setting (or equivalent) adjusts the shift in focus between each frame, while the “Exposure Smoothing” (if your camera has one) will minimize small shifts between the shots.
07 Select starting point
Choose your first focus point by touching the screen or using manual focus. The bracketed/stacked image will be in focus from this point, so you should usually choose the part of the subject closest to the lens.
08 Start bracketing / start stacking!
Once your initial focus point is set, press the shutter button. The camera will now start taking the chosen number of images – and the number of images remaining will usually be displayed on screen. Do your best not to move, so as not to vibrate the subject / the ground / the tripod / the camera during the capture!
If your camera has fully automated focus stacking mode, then the hard work is done – it will composite the images together for you, automatically! However, if your camera has focus bracketing, you will have to do the composition yourself…
09 Open your favorite editor (parenthesis only)
If you need to manually compose your focus bracketed images, you’ll need to open them in your favorite photo editing software.
If you’re using, say, a Canon EOS M6 Mark II, you could do a lot worse than opting for Canon Digital Photo Professional – the depth compositing tool is fairly self-guided and gives good results. Using the manufacturer’s native imaging software is therefore an excellent option.
However, if you prefer more optimized results, opening the files in Photoshop will usually yield a slightly better end result. Watch the video for an overview of the process.
10 Optional storage
Due to factors such as lens breathing, minor exposure changes, the number of shots, as well as the detail (and contrast between) your subject and the background, the composition process can sometimes produce minor artifacts as a byproduct of bracketing all frames together.
This image, for example, was taken with natural light, which changed subtly as the sun moved in and out of the clouds during our 100-frame sequence. The result is that some nasty halos have been produced around the edges of the rose, but luckily this can be easily fixed using the Spot Healing Brush tool or Photoshop’s Clone Stamp.
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