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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.

Photoshop: Inserting image objects into new backgrounds

Removing and adding individual image objects is not uncommon in today’s photography. With the help of Photoshop, illusions can be created retrospectively in a few simple steps. Even if a photomontage can only withstand a trained eye for a short time, interesting creative effects can be produced.

We will show you how you should proceed when creating a photomontage and how you can adapt the inserted image into the background very well.

Inserting and scaling images

Select an image and drag and drop it into the open Photoshop file. To make the photomontage appear as authentic as possible in the end, you should have the picture cleanly cropped before inserting it. You will find instructions on the topic of cropping in Photoshop in our article Cropping images with Photoshop: three options.

Once you have inserted an object, you should make sure that the object layer is converted into a so-called “Smart Object”. The conversion allows a non-destructive scaling of the image. For this purpose, the image information of the reference file is stored in the Smart Object. Any changes you make to the design are made to a separate copy of the reference file. This means that your design retains its original quality even after repeated scaling and modification.

Transformation of a Photoshop object into a Smart object

Right-click on the layer containing your inserted object. Then select the entry “Convert to Smart Object” and confirm with a left click.

You can access scaling using the shortcut “Ctrl” + “T”. Make sure that you have selected the layer that you want to scale. After activating the shortcut, a grid appears around the object, which allows you to change the size using the corners. The object can be scaled proportionally by holding down the “Shift” key. This maintains the relation of the object and does not distort it.

Scaling an object in Photoshop

The grid and the points on it allow you to change the size or rotate the object.

Pay attention to the most realistic proportions between the inserted object and the rest of the image. Otherwise, you will quickly notice that this is a photomontage.

The object should also be placed in a suitable position in the image. Make sure that the viewing angle of the subject is the same as the rest of the image. Furthermore, the subject should be placed in alignment with the focused area of the original image. When shooting with a shallow depth of field, a perfectly sharp object cannot appear in a blurred environment and away from the focused area. On the one hand, this would appear very unnatural and, on the other hand, would quickly be exposed as a photomontage.

Dandelion blossom after scaling

The sample image is a shot taken with the aperture wide open. Such shots generally have a very shallow depth of field. While the first blades of grass in the foreground are still relatively sharp, the remaining blades of grass a few centimetres further away are already lost in the blur of the image. The focused area is therefore at the lowest point of the image.

If the dandelion blossom, in the given sharpness, were placed even further towards the background, it would stand out noticeably to the eye. To reduce the sharpness a bit, we select “Filter”, “Blur filter” and then “Gaussian Blur filter”.

Gaussian Blur dialogue window in Photoshop

The choice of radius affects the strength of the blur. The result can also be displayed directly in the entire image.

Adjusting the image to the lighting mood of the background

For a harmonious interaction between the inserted object and the background, it is also very important that the lighting mood of the two elements matches.

By using special filters, Photoshop allows us to match the colour mood of both the background and the object. One possibility, for example, is to colour in the average hue. First select the background layer of your Photoshop file. Then navigate to “Filter”, “Blur filter”, “Calculate average”.

Photoshop-Dropdownmenü des angewählten Durchschnitt-berechnen-Filters

Photoshop then fills the selected layer with the average hue of the other layer. For further processing, we add this hue to the colour selection using the pipette.

Die Anwendung des Durchschnitt-berechnen-Filters färbt den Hintergrund im durchschnittlichen Farbton ein

The blue-grey hue recognisable in the image represents the average hue of the example image we used.

The colouring of the background can be undone using the shortcut “Ctrl” + “Z” (alternatively: “Edit”, “Step back”). Create a new layer and fill in its background in the colour of the average hue.

Eine mit dem durchschnittlichen Farbton eingefärbte Photoshop-Ebene

The aim of the procedure is to apply the average hue only to the object to be inserted. To do this, you first place your hue layer above the object layer in the layer hierarchy. Then, while holding down the “Alt” key, move the mouse pointer over the hue layer. Confirm the square symbol that appears with the arrow pointing downwards by left-clicking. The background should now be visible again and your object should be completely coloured in the respective hue.

Die Füllung der Farbton-Ebene wurde lediglich auf ein einzelnes Objekt angewandt

The opacity of the hue can then be adjusted to your own taste by selecting the hue level. Ensure that the opacity is balanced and matches the background.

The dandelion blossom was successfully inserted into the picture

Finally the stalk of the dandelion blossom was covered with a few blades of grass.

Conclusion

The creation of photomontages requires a certain amount of experience in working with Photoshop. However, advanced users have the opportunity to add their own creativity and personal feelings to the photos they have taken and can add new elements afterwards. The result of the photomontage is directly dependent on the quality of the cropped objects to be added to the image. For a credible representation, it is recommended to coordinate the relations of the image components and not to choose an excessively composed image. The inserted objects should always be adapted to the given lighting mood.

An old black-and-white photo of a mother with her two children in a square.

Photoshop: Colouring photos

“From old to new”! Old black-and-white photos have often lost their vitality after many years of storage, or newly taken ones are not very expressive or lack a certain artistic aesthetic. This is where you can be creative. By editing photos with a professional software like Photoshop, you get a variety of design options. You can, for example, intensify the colour of an image at a later date or colour individual image elements of black-and-white photos.

In the following, we introduce you to some techniques for colouring photos in Photoshop and then give you important tips that you should consider when designing your black-and-white photos.

Techniques for colouring in Photoshop

In Photoshop, the most popular paid image editing program, many different methods and techniques can be used to partially or completely retouch images. Before you begin colouring your photos, you should develop an idea of the desired end result. Think about whether you want to design the entire photo or just accentuate individual elements with colour at the beginning. This consideration influences the actual method.

The Color Splash Effect

If you only want to apply colour to certain elements of the photo, for example to draw the viewer’s attention to these areas, use the Color Splash technique. You can only highlight one or a few color sources in an otherwise black-and-white photo

For the Color Splash technique, you must use a coloured digital photo, which you first convert into a black-and-white photograph. The desired elements are then re-coloured. The areas are filled manually with the selected colour. To do this, use detailed brush strokes to apply colour to the whole image. This gives you an impressive photo that looks as if it had been created by a professional.

In this tutorial you will find illustrative instructions for the Color Splash technique using Photoshop.

Colorkey-Foto - ein rotes Velo in einer Gasse mit Kopfsteinpflaster

Repainting of a complete photo: Tinting and manual colouring

With older black-and-white photos, the colour has often faded. The image is then neither particularly expressive, nor does it appear artistic or of high quality. With Photoshop, you can breathe new life into these photos by giving them new colours.

altes Schwarz-Weiss-Foto einer Mutter mit ihren beiden Kindern auf einem Platz

In Photoshop there are several techniques for this. One possibility is to assign a basic colour tone to the photograph at the beginning, which gives the whole picture a certain atmosphere and colouring. On this basis, individual layers are then selected and painted with different colours. Here it makes sense to work with different layers above the original photo in order to be able to post-process these separately afterwards. You can also apply a gradient to the hue so that the intensity and saturation of the base colour vary within the image.

Another possibility to colour black and white photos completely is offered by Photoshop using manual colouring. The step of giving the image a general basic tint is not necessary here. Different elements are filled with colours manually. You also work with brush strokes to be able to apply the color in detail and exactly. This way you get a realistic colour design that creates a colourful and modern looking photograph from an expressionless photo.

The following tutorial provides detailed instructions on how to colour a black-and-white photo.

Tips for expressive and realistic photos

  1. If you want to scan old black and white photos in advance to be able to re-colour them afterwards, make sure that they are not too badly damaged or without any contrast. Such images often cannot be improved significantly by editing them.
  2. No matter which technique is used in Photoshop, it is always recommended to work with different layers for colouring the different areas of colour. This allows easy and targeted post-processing to perfect your photos.
  3. The quality of a re-coloured photograph is determined by a realistic colour design. Therefore, use many different colour nuances and pay attention to the transitions between the individual colours. The extra effort is well worth it.
  4. If you only colour individual elements of your black-and-white photo, the artistic accentuation of these areas is the main focus. Here you do not have to pay attention to a realistic colour representation.
  5. As with other post-processed photos, you should also consider adjusting the lighting, adding sharpness, retouching, and filtering on re-coloured photos to make them more impressive and individual.

Photoshop isn’t the only photo editing program that gives you great photo colouring options. You can also use free alternatives to create individual photographs.