Stacking Macro Photographs in Photoshop

I’ve recently been experimenting stacking macro shots in various stacking tools.  I intend to add some tutorials on some of them over the next few weeks.  I’ll start with one that I’ve recently been using to stack some shots together (usually only 2 or 3 at the moment, but there’s no reason that this should not work with a greater number of images).  This being Photoshop CS5.  Note this works in photoshop from CS4 up.

I recently shot these two rhododendrum leafhoppers, and as you can see  in the combined shot below they are both fairly well in focus.  I’ll not claim that they are both perfectly in focus, as to achieve this I’d really need a third shot mid way between the two I took, but they’re good enough for a tutorial to see the effect.

Combined Stack of 2 Images
Canon EOS 50D (100mm, f/8, 1/250 sec, ISO400)
Combined Stack of 2 Images

However this is not from a single shot as the aperture used to get a reasonable handheld speed was F8.  It is in fact two images combined in Photoshop CS5 using it’s stacking feature.  The original two shots below show how the focus differs in the two shots.

I start with images that I’ve used the same RAW conversion settings on, saved as Jpeg, to get the colours the same before I merge them together.

Stack Tutorial Focus 1
Canon EOS 50D (100mm, f/8, 1/250 sec, ISO400)
Stack Tutorial Focus 1

This first one has most of the top leafhopper in focus whereas the second one below has more of the lower leafhopper in focus.

Stack Tutorial Focus 2
Canon EOS 50D (100mm, f/8, 1/250 sec, ISO400)
Stack Tutorial Focus 2

To do the stacking in photoshop is fairly straight forward and these are the following steps that I took to do this.  (Please note to see the images larger you can click on them and they should pop out to full size & allow you to cycle through the,, if they’re not already, browser permitting).

Firstly I selected the files that I wanted to stack in bridge.

SelectinBridge
SelectinBridge

Then with them selected I select from the menu :  Tools -> Photoshop -> Load Files into Photoshop Layers.

LoadintoLayersBridge
LoadintoLayersBridge

Which loads them automatically into Photoshop into individual layers.

We now select all the layers that we wish to  stack together – so your layer tool should look like this.

SelectLayersinPS
SelectLayersinPS

With them selected we now need to align the images – evening out any camera movement between frames – at least photoshop will try its best too.

This is by Edit -> Auto-Align Layers

Edit-AutoAlign
Edit-AutoAlign

This will launch a prompt in Photoshop on how you want to align the layers.  I use Auto.  So just press OK.

Auto-AlignSelection
Auto-AlignSelection

Now the layers should hopefully be aligned based on the content in them.  The next step does the stack.

Edit->Auto-Blend Layers

Edit-AutoBlend
Edit-AutoBlend

Again another prompt is given.  We want to stack the images for focus.  So choose the Stack option and click OK

Auto-BlendSelection
Auto-BlendSelection

Photoshop will now stack the images together and you should then see the combined result on the screen.  What it has done is to take different parts of each layer and put them together by layer masks.  You will not the layers palette now has layer masks on each layer ( see arrow on image below).  Clicking on/off on the layer eyes will now allow you to see what is used from each indiviual layer.  You can then if you so wish fine tune the image by working on the masks.  I’ve not done in this instance.

BlendedLayersMask
BlendedLayersMask

As the stack & align will create some overlap / edge artifacts in the image we now just need to crop off the edges so there’s no odd edges.

Crop
Crop

Finally before saving the image we now just merge the layers into one.  Layer -> Flatten Image

FlattenLayers
FlattenLayers

Then save the image to complete the process.

Chris

I’ve been taking macro photography from 2004.

I use both Canon film and digital cameras.

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