This focus stacking technique in CS5 is very effective for jewelry photography and macro photography of other small product photography subjects. Here we’ll show you, step by step, a fast, effective and simple technique using tools available in Photoshop CS5 and earlier versions such as CS4 and CS3.
Why would I need Focus Stacking for a sharp image?
When you’re shooting a small subject you’re typically using close up or macro which always gives you a shallow depth of field (depth of focus) – more so with macro. Even stopping down your lens aperture to the smallest aperture (largest number) it’s likely your subject will not be in sharp focus from front to back.
What is Focus Stacking?
Focus stacking involves taking a number of photos of the same subject with the focus set to different levels of the subject and then blending them together resulting in the subject being in sharp focus throughout in the final image. We typically shoot anywhere between 3 and six levels of focus and sometimes more. In this exercise we used the six images below and reading them left to right, top to bottom the focus point ranges from the front of the ring to the back.
What kit do I need to shoot jewelry for Focus Stacking?
TRIPOD – A steady tripod is essential for image sharpness and keeping precisely the same composition between each frame.
CAMERA – A camera that allows you to accurately set various focus points. Historically this would typically be a DSLR like the Canon 5D MKII we used but it is now possible to achieve this with iPhones, the latest Smartphones and the latest Compact or Compact System Cameras.
TABLETOP STUDIO – A good quality Tabletop Studio such as the Modahaus TS216 Pro we used to diffuse our light sources and give clean reflections in the jewelry.
LIGHTS – Well diffused daylight may be all you need but that’s not always available 😉 We used our favorite new LED gooseneck table lamps we bought from Ikea at £10 ($9.99) a pop! Ikea call them JANSJO in all their stores worldwide. They’re not daylight balanced but setting custom white balance on your camera is easy peazie these days.
PROPS – If you look closely you’ll see in the preliminary images above we used some prop wax to support our ring at the angle we wanted. Prop wax is really handy stuff and if you’re careful you can hide it in your images – better than we did 😉 but we knew Photoshop would take care of that later. Blue tacky stuff can be used as an alternative.
BLING – Of course you’ll need some bling to shoot and ideally something with a bit of depth.
I always try and recommend musical accompaniment for shoots or post processing. Smokestack Lightning performed by the Yardbirds was my choice. I think Howlin’ Wolf first recorded this and John Lee Hooker has done some great performances too.
So let’s get focus stacking! Like Lightning!
In the screen capture above you’ll see in CS5 we have all six images now open. If you use CS4 or CS3 the images probably display individually on screen rather than as tabs as CS5 displays them. Have your layers pallet open. If you’re not familiar with working in layers this is a great exercise to get started with and it’s really simple.
Go to File > Scripts > Load files into stack.
In the next dialogue box you’re presented with select ‘Add Open Files’ and check the box ‘Attempt to Automatically Align Source Images’ and hit OK. This adds the six images we have open. TIP: Make sure you’ve no other images open in Photoshop before doing this or you’ll add those to your stack.
YAY! Now you have your 6 images loaded into a layered stack and these layers are now visible in your layers pallet on the right. The individual images original file names are identified in the layers name. The top layer appears at the top of the layer pallet and so on. You can turn off the visibility of each layer from the top down to check images are properly aligned at this stage if you want.
HOT TIP: It’s worth pointing out here, when you adjust the focus point when shooting close-up, this varies the magnification of the image slightly, but as we selected ‘Attempt to Automatically Align Source Images’ in the previous dialogue box CS5 has done a good job of adjusting the scale of the images for a good fit. If you have a more pronounced difference in scale in your six images then it may be better to focus stack the images as two sets of three images OR three sets of two images and subsequently focus stack those sets for your final image.
Now we’re going to blend these six layers together to pick only the sharp focus elements from each layer. Select each layer by using ‘Command Click’ until all layers in the layers pallet are highlighted in blue.
Go to the ‘Edit’ drop down menu and select ‘Auto Blend Layers”. We’re almost there!
The next dialogue box you’re presented with, select radio button ‘Stack Images’ and check the box ‘Seamless Tones and Colors’ and hit OK. Photoshop will crunch away for a few moments.
And Viola! You now have a composite image that shows the ring in sharp focus at all levels. You’ll see the layers pallet is still displaying layers so select all layers as before so they’re highlighted in blue.
In the top right hand corner of the layers pallet click on a tiny drop down menu and select ‘Flatten Image’ or alternatively…
…select ‘Layer’ from the top menu bar and select ‘Flatten Image’ there. You now have a six part focus stacked image!
I regularly travel to clients in Hatton Garden, London’s diamond centre where I shot this piece and you’ll see in the image below, I went on to do some final image processing in Photoshop.
When I’m on one of these shoots I’m traveling 400 odd miles by air and through the London Underground so my portable studio kit has to be as compact, light and high performance. I’ve typically one or two hours to shoot a dozen or more pieces. I know exactly how I’m going to post process the images after the shoot and that almost always involves focus stacking as my diamond clients want sharpness all the way through. One more TIP before I wrap up.
If you’re shooting with a DSLR don’t be tempted to stop your aperture down to your lens’s smallest aperture for maximum depth of field as you’ll have the problem of diffraction creeping in which softens overall image sharpness. Every lens has a sweet spot for optimum sharpness. With the Canon EF 100mm macro lens I use I’ll avoid apertures below f11 for example. A great resource to check out your lenses optimum aperture for sharpness is the DP Review website. These guys are very thorough and detailed in their lens tests.
If you’re shooting jewelry with an iPhone, Android or Compact Camera, check out some of our other blog posts for some hot tips. We’ll have a post on shooting with the Samsung Galaxy S3 Smartphone and the Galaxy Camera shortly so keep connected for that!
Modahaus Tabletop Studios are bundled with, as standard, opaque white, jet black and mid gray and translucent red, white and blue backdrops. Checkout Steady Stand/Tabletop Studio bundles and save 15% on individual product prices. And remember we also offer Free Shipping Worldwide!
P.S. If you have any tips you’d like to share with us or questions you’d like to ask, feel free to add them below. We’d be delighted to hear from you or you can connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.