Stacking Images is not just for macro.

24th March 2010
Macro photographers the world over use stacking techniques to increase the depth of field that you need to ensure as much of your subject can be in focus. Zerene Stacker and CombineZP are the main programmes that do the job outside of Photoshop.

But have you considered this? Just because you plan to take photographs of something other than macro, does it mean that stacking cannot be done too?

Well, the answer is yes. Of course you can, though few probably do.

On the recent Canon Fodder meeting at Fountain's Abbey during March of 2010, I was keen to try out a situation which would enable me to try stacking in a landscape scenario.

As many of you will know, landscape is not one of my strong points, macro being my favoured genré. Having an eye for close up detail also meant that the ice that was on the ground in the sheltered area of the grounds of Fountain's Abbey, against the views beyond, gave me just such an opportunity to look at stacking.

So with great gusto, I clambered down one of the slippery slopes to the waters edge when I spotted the wonderful ice on leaves and grasses.

I used the Sigma 105 exclusively on these following four images because I needed to ensure I had results that would be sharp at all four stages, and the Sigma 105 being a prime fixed length lens would always be better than the more basic zooms I own.

Having spread the tripod out, splaying one leg on the bank and two in the water, with me precariously perched on two large stones in the water itself (one of which rocked alarmingly) I pointed the lens on the Canon EOS 450D at the area before me and switched on the LIVE VIEW function.

Then cam the task of trying to see the screen clearly enough to focus on the areas that I needed, so I zoomed in the focus control on the screen to x5 and focused on the ice covered grasses immediately in front of the camera.

You will notice that the only thing that you can clearly see is the ice particles at the bottom of the image, and even at F/11, because the subject is so close to the camera lens, the depth of field is minimal at best, and maybe an inch or so at the most. Notice that the ice is also out of focus in this first image as you go further into and away from that at the bottom.

I took the first photograph, timer mode at two seconds, and because the camera was using LIVE VIEW, the mirror was up and no camera shake should be introduced.

So that's the first one taken, and now it is time to move on.

By again using the magnified view on the screen, I refocused on the remaining grasses beyond my start point so they became sharp, and at such a close distance, that meant that nearest ice particle become blurred. A matter of barely 3 inches covered front to back. You can clearly see the different focus points in this second image below.

Notice still, that because I am working in a "macro world" on the opening two images, the bokeh is incredible beyond, where a world of people and water and trees and grass exist.

Now this is where the interest aspect of depth of field comes into play. If you focus, still at F/11 on the area more than just a few inches away, what remains in focus extends further, ans you can very clearly see what I mean in the third image below where the focuis is on the vegetable debris lying a few feet away. You will also notice that some judicial garden would have benefited this third photograph, where there are two or three rather obtrusive branches of weeds sticking out at horrid angles. Unfortunately, I couldn't risk leaving my position where I was straddled over the water, because I would likely as not either nudge the camera, or slip into the water!
Fortunately, Photoshop being what it is, meant in the final stage, they would become less of a problem with some cloning. You will also notice now that there are people in the far distance, one in a very bright coat. Photoshop will definitely be my friend!

Now you will also notice that the foreground ice has become massively out of focus - in fact totally blurred beyond recognition, much the same as the background originally was when the focus was on the ice.

By taking the fourth and final shot (below) whilst being focused now on the distance, you can clearly see the tees at the farthest point in nice sharp focus, as well as various peole who are looking around the grounds of the abbey, and among them a few intrepid CFF photographers, all of whom by this time had left me far behind as I busied myself in the dangerous icy water by the ruins... (thanks guys!)...

So now we have all four photographs taken, each at a different focal point range from infinity at F/11, through to immediately in front of the camera and lens - again, all at F/11.

Next comes the process of blending the images into one final product which can be tweaked in Photoshop or you favourite editing suite. I used CombineZP to do this process. The way to do it is pretty straight forward. Open all four images at once in the programme, and align them with the software. Once all this has completed, you then move onto "Do the stack" where all the images are carefully and very cleverly overlaid, sharpened and mixed and blended, until the final result appears magically on your screen. I found that with CombineZP there is some very noticeable blending points at the bottom of the image where the artifacts are seemilngly shifted into almost a storage spot! This is simply the software's way of blending the photographs. To get rid of it is simply a case of cropping a ta point immediately above where the artifacts appear. This is hardly any size at all, so no problems occur on your final image size anyway.

So you now have your final image that you need to save and then in your editing software you complete any required editing (I had to clone out those weed branches and the person that was in in the bright coat. There were also some people in the third image in black, but they had moved out of shot after that one.

So there you have it, four images all taken at different points including macro and infinity, all at F/11, and blended to get each individually focused scene equally sharp, to create one photograph that is in focus from front to back.