Stretching Focus on Close-Ups

post-focus-1One of the challenges of close-up and macro work is that depth of field is very shallow. That can be good for backgrounds, but bad for the subject. But if you stop the lens down, the background can start to get distracting yet the subject still isn't as sharp throughout as you might like.

So I tried something completely different simply because the technology did not exist before. I can shoot with the lens set to a wide aperture so the background stays out of focus, yet I can get the subject all in focus! That is focus stacking, not new technology, but to make it work, my camera has something new in technology. It is pretty cool.

post-focus-3Last year, Panasonic introduced what was called "Post Focus" for a number of their Lumix cameras. What this did was to take a number of photos continuously while changing focus slightly between every shot. This allowed you to choose the "best focus" later, but what seemed most interesting to me was the potential for focus stacking.

Focus stacking takes multiple photos shot at different focus points and combines them so that all of the sharp parts show up in one photo. This allows deeper subjects to gain sharpness throughout even when depth of field is shallow. Many close-up and macro photographers have been doing this by manually changing focus as they shoot. Post Focus does this automatically.

My Lumix GX8 was capable of it with a firmware update. I did that update last fall, but never took the time to try out this technology until now.

It takes a little getting used to. You press the shutter and the camera takes over, changing focus as it goes, and you can see this on the Live View. Then you have to save the photos individually.

You can end up with a lot of photos. I put them into Lightroom and quickly weeded out the excess (photos that had little visible change), then adjusted the first image and synced those adjustments to all of the images.

Next, I sent the images to Photoshop from Lightroom, using Edit In with the Open as Layers in Photoshop command (select a group of photos, then right-click any one of them to see Edit In). There, I used Auto-Align and Auto-Blend (Stack) to merge all the images as one.

These photos are of manzanita flowers – manzanita is a California native plant that typically blooms about now. Below are two photos showing the original limited depth of field and then the final shot. There are a whole mess of photos in between the two "originals."

post-focus-1post-focus-2 post-focus-3

About Rob

I am proud of the work I have done as a photographer, author, naturalist and nature photographer, editor and videographer. I love the natural world, and that can be a native bee in my native plants garden as much as a visit to a national park. I am a husband of a beautiful and smart wife, a father to my outstanding son and daughter, and one who lived in Minnesota most of my life, but now loves the variety and very long growing season of Southern California. I have written and photographed a lot of books and magazine articles but what is most important to me about them is knowing that I have helped people become better photographers and gain a better connection to nature. I work to help people connect with photography and nature through speaking and as a workshop leader, too. All of this has gained me a Fellow award with the North American Nature Photography Association. Many people knew me as the long-time editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine and I am still connected with them as a contributing editor. A short list of some of the books I have done: Landscape Photography: From Snapshot to Great Shot, Magic of Digital Landscape Photography, The Magic of Digital Nature Photography, National Geographic Field Guide to Digital Photography, The Power of Black-and-White in Nature Photography and Reports from the Field (an iBook). My website is at www.robsheppardphoto.com; my blogs are at www.natureandphotography.com and www.mirrorlessnature.com.
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2 Responses to Stretching Focus on Close-Ups

  1. David W. says:

    Thanks for reminding me about Focus Stacking. I've seen a little bit about but never used it. I should practice it so I'll recognize where it will be a good tool to use and know how to use it.

  2. Moritz says:

    Great idea - I wish this was possible for "older" cameras too.

    I think in Lightroom 6/CC you should be able to do stacking there right away without having to change to PS.

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