Focus stacking workflow

By trial and error, the workflow that I use to create focus-stacked composite images has been refined to its current semi-steady state. My goal for the workflow is to maximize efficiency and minimize unexpected results. I’m not saying this is the best way to focus stack images, but it is the best way I have found to do it…so far. Suggestions for improvement are invited and welcome.

Photo editing using Apple Aperture… [or Lightroom]

Although Apple discontinued development of/support for Aperture years ago, the desktop application still works and in many ways I prefer Aperture over Lightroom.

Make all necessary edits/adjustments to one photo except Spot & Patch, Vignette, and BorderFX (a plug-in for Aperture). This process works because I shoot the entire photo set for a composite image using manual exposure and manual flash. Add metadata (IPTC and Keywords).

  • Right-click on the photo; select “Lift Adjustments.” <Replace> <Stamp Selected Images>.
  • Right-click on the photo; select “Lift Metadata.” <Replace> <Stamp Selected Images>.
  • Select all images for focus stack; Photos / Edit with Adobe Photoshop CC…

Editor’s Note: Aperture seems to “choke” when too many photos are selected to send to Photoshop. Alternate procedure: Select the images (to be focus stacked); export as TIFFs (16-bit), 300 dpi; save in folder entitled either “TIFF” or “TIFF versions.”

Focus stacking workflow using Adobe Photoshop…

Launch Photoshop.

  • File / Scripts / Load Files into Stack…; either Add Open Files <OK> or browse to the location of the folder where the TIFF files are saved. Do not check the box for “Create Smart Object after Loading Layers.” By default, Photoshop creates a new document called “Untitled1”; either rename the document or leave it as is.
  • Select all layers.
  • Edit / Auto-Align Layers; Auto <OK>.
  • Edit / Auto-Blend Layers; Stack Images, Seamless Tones and Colors <OK>.
  • Duplicate all masked layers to a new document [backup copy].
  • Select Untitled1: Layer / Merge Layers (Photoshop merges all layers into one TIFF, named after the first file in numeric sequence.)
  • Straighten and Crop as necessary.
  • Duplicate the layer [or drag the layer to the copy icon (at the bottom of the Layers panel)].
  • Spot image (zoom in): Spot Healing Brush: 27-54 pixels, Content-Aware.
  • Duplicate the layer [or drag the Spot layer to copy icon].
  • Select the top layer: Filter / Other / High Pass…; adjust the radius until you can just see an outline of subject <OK>; change Normal to Overlay. Don’t oversharpen! I set the radius to around 5.4 pixels or less for composite images; ~1.5 pixels for single photos.
  • Duplicate the finished layers to a New document, temporarily called “Temp1.”
  • Save documents: Untitled1 (Save As… TIFF); backup copy of masked layers (Save As… PSD); Temp1 (Save As… PSD; change name to Untitled1.psd after the file is saved).
  • Import the composite TIFF file into Aperture [or Lightroom]: add additional keywords, as appropriate; Export using BorderFX.

Adobe Photoshop | High Pass Filter

Related Resource: High Pass Filter: Ep 134: Exploring Photography with Mark Wallace (10:13).

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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One Response to “Focus stacking workflow”

  1. Why focus stack macro photos? | walter sanford's photoblog Says:

    […] Showcasing some of my digital photography and videography. « Focus stacking workflow […]

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