A Short Stack With Maple Syrup, Eh? – Part One On Focus

A Short Stack With Maple Syrup, Eh? – Part One On Focus

Now that I’ve put that mind-worm to work on you…and there’s no Smitty’s Pancake House open at this time of the day near you…I’ll start the week with the confession that I am the third guy in Will Roger’s famous joke about the guy that learns about electric fences.

I was given the opportunity to read about the business of focus stacking in the photographic literature some years ago. Then I could have watched YouTube videos to explain it all. But I chose the third option…I’ll refer you to Will’s Famous Quotes to complete the analogy. There were some shocking moments.

The need for focus stacking ( or you might like to call it focus bracketing or focus shifting depending on what you’re reading  ) ranges from those who do true macro shots through to the tabletop illustrators and on to landscape artists. Few portraitists and no sports shooters would get much opportunity to do it – their subjects move too much. It’s essentially a tripod technique. Note: I’m the guy in the middle – tabletop illustration and models for me.

Doing it in my early digital days was crude but made possible by the fact that even the simple photo editing programs like Photoshop Elements make layers of images. I used to shoot tabletops in three layers – front, middle, and back – removing obstructing elements from the front to see the middle and then doing the same for the back. It made a ” Viewmaster ” scene that could be reasonable if you arranged subjects that could be on the three planes of focus and that had hard-edged differentiation that could be cut round.

Taking an image after a scene was arranged might involve 15 minutes of re-arranging and focusing and the tripod needed was massive. I’ve got a Gitzo Studex 5 that was previous used to support a machine gun…or so it seemed. The cutting out and layering on the computer could easily use up another 3/4 of an hour. It was really like the old days of 4 x 5 camera work – a big day was six images and you were shaky afterwards.

The promise of easier work was tantalising but the exact technique and extra programs and equipment were off-putting. The internet spoke of Zerene and Helicon programs while there were a number of automatic mechanisms that powered the camera back and forward in minute steps while firing the shutter. A customer of CE loaned me one of these but I was too scared to try it.

Then circumstances threw me a lifeline ( which, as usual hit me on the head …). I needed Lightroom to decode new RAW files and Adobe brigaded up Photoshop with Lightroom on a subscription basis. And buried within Photoshop is the facility to automatically analyse images for sharpness and blend layers based upon this. It was the first step to real photo stacking for me. All I needed to do was be the second guy in the electric fence joke. I needed to watch YouTube to see the instructions.

Note: YouTube in a political year is a minefield, and there are better ways to cross one than on a pogo stick. Do some focussed requesting before you start watching.


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