Ok first off, please don't judge the above photo too critically. If you read yesterdays blog you will know that I have covid and can't go anywhere, so you will just have to do with a quick shot from outside in the garden. For the purpose of this blog though, the image will demonstrate everything that I want to discuss; that is focus stacking or focus bracketing.

I am sorry that this blog isn't going to be applicable to everyone as certainly from a Canon perspective only the R5, R6 and the RP have this function. I believe that Sony and Nikon cameras also have a similar function but I don't know the camera bodies nor what the menu function maybe called.

Lets get started then. If you take landscape photos ( macro photography too) then you will know that it is hard to get everything in the composition sharp, especially if you have interest all the way from the foreground to the background. Yes, you can potentially solve the problem by using an aperture above f16 but you run into potential issues with diffraction which will soften your image. The way around it is to take multiple images whilst the camera is perfectly still on the tripod. You move the focus points from front to back. I usually take anywhere from 3 to 5 images at apertures ranging from f4 to f8. It is then a simple exercise to take the images into photoshop, open them as layers, aligning them and then adding layer masks which you carefully rub through to reveal the image. Hey presto you are left with an image that is sharp from front to back. Once you know what you are doing, it doesn't take long at all.

However there is now another way, and here is how you do it.

In the menu system go to the focus bracketing option and enable it.

This screen will now open. Let me walk you though the setting.

Focus bracketing you will put to enable

Number of shots - you can then this between 999 to 0. For landscapes I would go with a maximum of 9 although you might want to reduce this number. For macro photography its up to you, just remember you need to do some post processing that I will discuss later on.

Focus increments - you can set this from 1 which will increase the number of shots needed to 10 which will reduce it. For landscapes I suggest using a setting between 8-10 for macro start at 1..

Leave the exposure smoothing to disable.

You are now good to go, but before we do lets look at camera settings

Its the bottom part of the image I want you to pay attention too. The auto focus needs to be set to 1-point AF. The drive mode is one shot as opposed to servo and you want to be on single shooting or 2 second delay. That is you are now good to go.

Position the focus point at the bottom of the screen and focus and simply press the shutter button. The camera will now automatically take the number of images that you told it too. It will move the focus point through the image and take the photos very quickly. With the R5 it uses the electronic curtain which enables 20 frames per second. This is so impressive as it really speeds up your workflow. If you have struggled with foliage moving etc when you have focused stacked in the past, it should eliminate it provided your shutter speed is quick enough. I have heard a rumour that you can't take exposure that are longer than 0.5 second although I have yet to test this. I also believe that the images that are taken are 12 bit raw which looses 2 bits of colour depth so its trade you might have to make.

And that's all you have to do in the camera with exception of exporting the images.

Once this is done you have 2 options. You can either open up photoshop and follow the same workflow that you always have and do the stack manually, or you can use Canon Digital Photo Professional 4 which is a free download from Canons website. The link is below.

Import all of your photos in the sequence into this software and then highlight them all.

You now need to press:-


Depth Compositing

Start Depth Compositing Tool

When you have pressed this the following screen will open.

You don't need to touch the sliders but make sure the auto brightness adjustment is checked. The final step is by clicking the browse button. By doing this it will allow you to change the output file type. It is automatically set to JPG but you want to change it to TIFF which will give you greater control when you do you final adjustments in Lightroom or Photoshop.

Click save and execute. The software will now start to stack the image for you and it does a bloody good job. But there is a disadvantage that I need to make you aware of. The software takes an age to process. I took 9 images and the total processing time was about 10 minutes, this was exporting the file as a JPG. For a TIFF ( files being larger) it could be even longer. Just imaging how long 999 images would take. In case you are wondering I processed the file on my MacBook Pro which is the 2017 model with a 2.3 Ghz i5 processor and I have 8GB Ram. No doubt on my iMac which is newer, faster processor and has 64GB Ram then this would be considerably quicker.

So here is my verdict. Will I use this workflow for every focus stacked image I do? Nope as I can probably do it quicker using the old workflow. However when it comes to windy days and complex images where the editing stage would be difficult then, defiantly. It's great to have something else in the tool kit to help produce better images.

Below are 3 images, the first is where I started the focus stacking, the second is the 9th image that the camera took. You can clearly see the change is focus. The final image is the end result of stacking all 9 images in the Canon software.

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