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How to Focus Stack in Landscape Photography

The advance method of stacking multiple images together will allow us in landscape photography to obtain a sharp foreground, midground and background. Furthermore, this technique may require additional time in-camera and post-production; however, the result of added sharpness looks ideal in larger prints.

As mentioned previously, placing a subject in the extreme foreground and photographing with an ultra-wide lens, it’s impossible to achieve completely sharp images. When there is such a big distance between the foreground and background subject, we have to:

  • Capture multiple photos. (2+)
  • More is ALWAYS better.
  • Merge in post-production.

Lastly, the in-camera settings compared to landscape photography do not differ. As a result, shooting at F/8, low native ISO and an S/S depending on the amount of light source. Raising our aperture to F/22 or higher will have a negative effect on the image, causing less sharpness, dust spots to appear and diffraction.

In conclusion, the best way is to focus stack your images – let’s find out how!

What is Focus Stacking?

Firstly, Focus Stacking is an effective photography technique, combining an in-camera system and a post-processing software such as Helicon Focus. As a result, focus stacking multiple images a commonly used method used in the niche of landscape and macro photography.

Secondly, the technique involves capturing multiple (two or more) images with different focal points. An exact demonstrated of this method will be showcased later in greater detail.

Landscape Photography Focus Stacking Tutorial

Learn how “focus stacking in Landscape Photography” works and understand how it can take your images to an entirely NEW level. In modern photography, it’s becoming more challenging to get the entire picture in focus. In this blog, we will cover how to achieve sharp images through your images, both in-camera and using Helicon Focus in Post-production.

Furthermore, the production of wider lenses by numerous companies and photographers are pushing the boundaries for more extreme foregrounds. However, focus stacking in landscape photography is a required skill and a go-to technique for many photographers of all levels.

Focus Stacking for Beginners

When Should I Focus Stack?

An incredibly powerful technique but not always necessary, let’s look at some scenarios when focus stacking is beneficial for the final image:

  • Ultra wide-angle lens (14-20mm 35mm equivalent)
  • Large distance between the foreground and background
  • Generally all macro images
  • Telephoto photography with a large distance between foreground and background
  • Zooming in on a scene, such as a forest, and you want everything to be sharp even with an open aperture

Firstly, these are scenarios where stacking focused images would benefit the picture by having everything in focus. However, this entirely depends on personal preference, sometimes adding a part of the photos not in focus creates depth or perspective in the image.

Evaluate each situation and composition depending on what you’re trying to achieve for the final result.

PRO TIP: Capture a test image, and then zoom in as far as you can on your camera screen to see if or when the sharpening fades off. Identifying if and how many exposures you’ll need to blend for a sharp image.

How to Focus Stack

It’s all good and well to know what is focus stacking, but how does it work? Firstly, I’ve declared this as an “advanced” technique, but it’s not as tricky as it sounds. Therefore, we are now going to cover the critical points in the camera before going over the post-processing techniques.

Adjusting the Focus Point

Focusing on focus stacking is a significantly critical aspect of the procedure, hence the name. Focusing manually or automatically will produce the same results, it heavily depends on your standard method.

Taking the images in a sequence will heavily improve your workflow, especially in post-production. As a result, capture the nearest foreground image and work your way to the background. However, remember every focus stack will range from 2+ images.

Below is a sequence of images required to focus stack the scene from the flowers in the extreme foreground, the mountains in the background. However, it’s impossible to determine where the location of the focus points are in the image.

With NO finger you have no idea where the focus point is unless zooming to 100%

Therefore, below you’ll see that I’ve captured double the amount of the images that are required. Furthermore, I’ve placed my finger separating the photos, indicating where the focus point is on the scene. 

The finger points to where the focus point was for future reference
Landscape Photography Focus Stacking

There you have the in-camera techniques, simple right? Let’s just quickly recap the uncomplicated process required.

  • Find a composition
  • Use a tripod (Highly recommend)
  • Focus on the subject (Foreground to background)
  • Capture the image.
  • Place finger in front of camera, capture another image to display focus point for future reference.
  • Adjust focus for next image (Utilise focus peaking if camera feature)
  • Repeat steps 4 & 5 until you have enough focused images from foreground to background.
Fujifilm Focus Peaking

If your unsure how many images to capture to focus stack, assure to try two techniques on a practice shoot.

  • Capture images and zoom in on the camera LCD to check focus. Go with your gut feeling, then check on the computer at home to see if you’ve taken enough. 
  • Use focus peaking if your camera has this feature. Therefore, overlap the focus peaking display to assure you’ve got all the information required.

PRO TIP: Capture additional images than you require; more pictures is better than not enough!

Focus Stacking in post-production

Finally, after capturing all the information in-camera from out in the field, it’s time to learn how to create stunning focus stacked images in post-production. Firstly, I will show you step-by-step how to blend the images in photoshop, although this method can become confusing. Therefore, I wish to show you the simplest and most effective way of using software called Helicon focus.

Focus Stacking in Adobe Photoshop

  • Open all the images as Layers in Photoshop 
  • If you use Lightroom, select all photos and choose Edit in-> Open as Layers in Photoshop
  • With all layers set ‘click’ Edit -> Auto-Align Layers
  • ‘Click’ Edit -> Auto-Blend Layers.
  • Photoshop will now automatically blend the image.
  • Zoom into 100% and check the result.

Please Note: There are generally unsharp areas as a result of photoshop stitching the images. Therefore, create a merged layer and add a new layer mask (white). Furthermore, select a black brush and paint in the affected areas.

In conclusion, this is the best free software (if you own Adobe Photoshop); however, I never use this technique due to the result. As a result, I use a software called Helicon Focus, dedicated to focusing stacking images with exceptional results.

Helicon Focus - The BEST Focus Stacking software

Helicon Focus is the best and a go-to software for many professional photographers when focus stacking their images.

A complete beginner could use helicon focus on their first attempt without any issue as the software is straightforward. Firstly, if you use Adobe Lightroom such as myself, you can export directly to Helicon Focus.

  • Import images into Adobe Lightroom
  • Make alterations to the image as needed and apply to all images.
  • Select images you wish to stack in Helicon Focus.
  • Right-click -> Export -> Helicon Focus.
  • Helicon Focus will load all images, select the ‘Render’ button on the top toolbar.
  • Images will automatically stack together.

Finally, if Helicon Focus didn’t do a perfect job, there is a ‘Retouching” tab on the top panel. The focus-stacked image will display on the right side of the screen. Furthermore, on the left-hand side of the screen will display only one of the pictures that you’ve selected from the focus stacked images. (all the original photos displayed on the right-hand side, here you can manually select the image you wish to merge into the final result manually) 

Below’s video shows how simple and easy it is to blend images in Helicon Focus – Download FREE trial here!

In Conclusion

Focus stacking images is an effective technique to know and understand, especially for landscape photographers and almost required for macro photographers. Therefore, I recommend you to download the photos below that I capture on my vlog about focus stacking so you can practise. Additionally, by clicking here, you can have a 30 day FREE trial of Helicon Focus to use. 

Download the RAW Files here to practice Focus Stacking