Photoshop: Photo stacking for continuously sharp images

The term ‘focus stacking’ describes an image processing technique in which several images of the same motif merge with each other. Differently selected focus points enable a sharp representation over large parts of the picture, which would normally not be possible.

We will show you what you should consider for the correct preparation and execution and how the subsequent image processing succeeds.

Preparation – photography

Good preparation is indispensable and increases the quality of the results that can be achieved in image processing. Focus stacking requires as many identical image series as possible. The only exception is the differently selected focus.

That is why the DSLR camera should always be mounted on a tripod. It is also recommended to use a remote shutter release so that the camera does not have to be touched more often than absolutely necessary. In order to be able to edit the images well later, you should photograph in the file format RAW.

In poor lighting conditions and the resulting long exposure times, even the slightest shocks can lead to blurred images. To avoid this, activate mirror lock up in the camera settings. The mirror will now fold up a short time before shooting and will no longer cause any shocks.

Another factor that should not be underestimated is the lighting on site. Fluctuating lighting has a negative effect on the series of pictures and makes it more difficult to merge them afterwards. Therefore, make sure that the lighting is as consistent as possible, regardless of whether you are taking pictures outdoors or indoors.

Furthermore, you should select a suitable motif for your photo shoot. The general opinion is that the technique of focus stacking is particularly suitable for macro photography. Without post-processing, the often very detailed motifs, such as small animals or flowers, can usually not be reproduced in full focus.

However, even in landscape photography, entire image areas can shine in new splendour thanks to focus stacking. Choose your subject keeping in mind that it must remain motionless for the duration of the shot. Some photographers use specially prepared insects in macro photography.

Tips for a successful execution

Practice makes perfect

For the best possible result, take plenty of pictures with different focus ranges. It is important to focus as evenly as possible. So feel your way forward slowly. In principle, there are two ways of taking pictures.

  • Automatic focusing
  • Manual focusing

If you want to take pictures using autofocus, you should use the Live View function of the camera if possible. This allows you to see the composition of the image on the display and to move the focus point easily.

Alternatively, you can do the focusing yourself. To do this, simply switch from autofocus to manual focus on the lens. The focused area can be shifted with the focus ring of the lens.

Regardless of which method of focusing you choose, be careful when handling the camera. Any touch, however small, could cause your camera’s viewing angle to change, resulting in different shots. Therefore, make sure that the tripod is stable and the camera is firmly locked in place. Focus on the point closest to the subject and slowly work your way back over several focusing planes.

Post-processing and merging with focus stacking software

Once the entire subject has been photographed, the computer can make changes to exposure, contrast, and similar parameters if necessary. Image editing can be done with most common photo editing software. However, it is important that each image receives the same correction and that there are no differences between them.

Image editing with Lightroom

In Lightroom, value corrections can first be made for one image and then applied to the other photos in the series. To do this, make the desired changes to any image. Then select all images and press Sync. A dialog window opens, which you confirm with OK.

Bildwertkorrekturen in Lightroom und das Dialogfenster Synchronisieren in Lightroom

Adjust exposure, contrast and colour values and transfer to all images (“synchronize”)

 

If you are satisfied with the result of the image processing, open all images in Photoshop or an image processing software with similar functionality. As a free alternative to Photoshop, we recommend the focus stacking program CombineZp, with which individual images can be automatically merged together.

Das Dialogfenster Synchronisieren in Lightroom

Stacking in Photoshop

Next, select all layers and press Edit – Auto-Blend Layers.

For further processing, all images must now be superimposed as layers.

 

Inserting multiple images into Photoshop and stacking them

Insert individual images as layers into a document

 

Selecting and merging multiple layers in Photoshop

Select images and edit – Auto-Blend Layers

Then an additional window opens with the title Automatically blend layers. Here you select the option Stack images and confirm your selection with OK.

 

Dialogfenster Ebenen automatisch überblenden in Photoshop

Joining the layers may take some time, depending on the performance of your computer. Photoshop analyses the existing layers for similarities and compares them with each other. The focused areas of the individual layers are then highlighted and connected. At the end of the process you have a photo motif which is focused over the entire area.

Ergebnis des Focus Stackings

Bottom line

Focus stacking offers the possibility to combine several differently focused photos into a single sharp image. This procedure is particularly popular in macro photography, where it is sometimes impossible to focus on all desired areas of the subject despite a small aperture and high depth of field. However, focus stacking can also be used for other things, such as landscape photography. The decisive success factors are, as so often, the right preparation and a lot of patience. With the help of the most modern image processing software, image series can ultimately be combined to form one perfectly sharp image in just a few simple steps.

Photo with the photographer's domain as a watermark

Free tools for custom watermarks on your photos

To protect your photos from copyright infringements or to establish your own brand, you can work with watermarks. These marks, which become recognisable by the incidence of light, originate from paper processing to identify the producing paper mill. They were and still are used to prevent counterfeits and copies of banknotes, personal documents, and digital data. Since digital images are also reproduced and used without permission, you can add your individual watermark to your photos for protection and branding. If you regularly publish pictures on social networks such as Facebook and Instagram or run a blog, such watermarks also serve as a distinguishing feature for your followers. For this marketing effect you can use your name, your email, the domain of your website, or your logo. In this article, we’ll introduce you to free tools that make it easy to brand your photos.

Watermark freeware for Windows

TSR Watermark Image Software is a good option for Windows, for example. With this program, you can watermark several images at once and save them into any destination folder. You can also use this program to create your watermark yourself – for example using an image of your logo or writing your email adress or website URL. Font, alignment, size, and colour are adjustable, as are the degree of transparency, the position, and the angle of the watermark. You can export your photos in different formats (jpeg, png, tiff, bmp, gif) and sizes. TSR Watermark Image Software is relatively intuitive and easy to use. The free version already offers numerous functions, while special additional options such as 3D effects are only available in the paid upgrade.

Benutzeroberfläche von TSR Watermark Image Software

Free watermark tool for MacOS

With watermark PRO you can use a watermark to brand your photos on a MacOS.

You simply drag and drop your pictures into the program and you have various ways to create a watermark. Your options are, for example, text characters, logos and QR codes and even a map with GPS data. You can easily adjust the settings using the right column in the neatly arranged interface. Besides the usual photo formats you can also export your photos as PDF files. Up to five photos can be watermarked simultaneously per batch process. If you want to work with more photos, you can activate the batch function via an in-app purchase. This function allows you to edit an unlimited number of photos at once.

Benutzeroberfläche von watermark PRO

Creating watermarks on a smartphone: Apps for Android

For Android devices we recommend the apps Photo Watermark and Add Watermark free.

With the Photo Watermark app you can draw your signature directly on the display in addition to the usual options such as text, images, and timestamps. Size, transparency, position, and colour can also be set here. You can apply your created watermark individually or place it over the image as a film. With Add Watermark free you can also add your own fonts. Batch processing to brand several images at once is only available in the full version, which requires payment. With the upgrade you can also save your branded photos in any format and size. Both Add Watermark free and Photo Watermark allow you to save files in JPG format or embed your images directly into social networks.

Fliesschicht-Einstellung der App Foto-Wasserzeichen

Watermark app for iOS

Whether text, signature or QR code – even with iWatermark lite you can protect and personalise your photos with a watermark in many different ways. Many examples are available in text and graphic form as well as various settings such as font, colour, size, and transparency. With the free version you are able to use all functions, but the text “Created by iWatermark” is added to every photo. By upgrading to the full version for a modest price you can easily avoid this. iWatermark is also available for MacOS, Windows, and Android.

Conclusion

The mostly easy to use, straightforward programs and apps lead to the desired result with a few clicks – protection against unauthorised distribution and increasing the recognition value of your photos. To mark several photos at once, you usually need to pay for an upgrade.

Note: With most free versions, you may only use the watermarks for private purposes. If you want to use the apps and programs for commercial purposes, you can work with the paid version.