Focus stacking - Lightroom & Photoshop CC

MWhite

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I thought I would play around with focus stacking today using Lightroom and Photoshop CC. I took a series of photos in manual mode using my Pentax D-FA 100mm macro at f2.8 with my A7III mounted on a tripod. Shutter was tripped with a remote. I used a macro-slider to move the camera and lens across the focus planes. (I love how the focus highlighting makes this easy.) After importing to LR, I opened the series in layers in PS, auto-aligned the layers, and then auto-blended the layers as a stack. The resulting photos (I did this a couple of times) are not bad, but not great either. If you've done this, you know that PS makes a series of masks for the different layers letting different in-focus areas appear in the final photo.

Controlling what shows up seems to be a problem. Note the stem under the flower (coreopsis). It starts off in focus and then becomes blurred near the flower. The disc flowers in the center of this composite flower are not sharp. They were in camera. Similarly, bits of the petals (ligules) are not sharp. It may be hard to see on your screen.

Do you have any suggestions about my technique? Is other software better at this?
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addieleman

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I have done focus stacking with LR and PS some time ago when photographing lenses from my collection and I remember that I sometimes had to correct some of the masks in the various layers. I do this with a bellows and I quickly found out that the position of the lens should be fixed and that focussing had to be done with the rear panel where the camera is mounted. If you move the lens, the alignment of the layers cannot be perfect in principle because the perspective changes. Thus your moving the camera/lens combo as a whole may have caused problems although I don't see evidence of that. The multitude of small features of the petals may have been too much for Photoshop to determine which part of the images are related, so I don't know if you'll be able to avoid manual correction of the masks.
 

MWhite

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Thanks for the reply. Some of the problem may have been with my technique. Lacking a bellows, I removed the focus rail and just tried to focus with the lens. By slowly and multiply photographing the disc flower center, I was able to bring that in focus with the LR/PS process. BUT, it generated a bunch of artifacts such as duplicate petals. Perhaps the perspective had changed too much when I focused in this way. I had no luck editing the masks either. Focus stacking with LR/PS - for me, at least - may work better with landscapes than macro.
 

bdbits

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For other options, when looking into this recently the two I see mentioned most are Zerene Stacker and Helicon Focus. I saw a slight edge given to Helicon capability but Zerene a bit easier to use. I would not consider either one cheap, but if you are serious about focus stacking they are probably worth the price of admission. Both have 30-day trials.

If you do buy one, I would be interested in hearing back how it goes. I recently acquired a macro lens and have found depth-of-field is not an easy thing to deal with particularly up close. I often have to go way beyond my usual aperture of f8 or wider, often down to f16 or even f22, just to get enough depth. So focus stacking is something I also need to look into soon.
 

somnambulist_squirrel

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This is a three-image stack, manually-focused using an adapted vintage FD mount manual Tokina AT-X 80-200 F2.8, processed in Lightroom and brought over to blend the three images in Photoshop:
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Little to no wind and landscape vs. macro made this a lot easier. I tried one (in a different spot) a few weeks ago on a windy day and the moving grasses and trees made it difficult.
 
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