Experimenting with image (focus) stacking…

(I’ve updated this post to include later results of using Helicon Focus as a comparison to Photoshop.)

This is just a sharing of a first attempt at image stacking when taking macro photos to share with a friend and anyone else who finds it useful.  

I took a series of photos of this beech tree seed pod using a macro lens, two flashguns to provide lighting and a focus rail to allow me to vary the point of focus across the seed pod.  I took about 16 images for stacking and eventually used about 14 of those.  The images were processed initially in lightroom (sharpening etc) and then shifted as a group into Photoshop where each image was ‘opened’ as a separate layer.  The layers were then auto-aligned and then auto-blended and then trimmed with a simple crop.  I’ve done no further manual tidying up.  

Below is a simple comparison. At the top is one of the single images from the stack (taken at f/18). This was the image with the best foreground sharpness.  The second one is the simple auto stack of 14 images using Photoshop and the third a stack (same 14 images) using Helicon Focus and its ‘Method C - Pyramid’ Stacking.  Not surprisingly, I much prefer the stacked images for its enhanced depth of focus.  

Between Photoshop and Helicon Focus, I think Helicon Focus has done a better job straight ‘from the box’.  Helicon has done a better job of isolating fine detail and not obscuring background detail where there is very fine detail on a foreground layer.  Helicon was also a fair bit easier to do as its largely automatic and you can quickly experiment between the three different stacking methods. it also integrates using a plugin with Lightroom and that’s very handy for me as the plugin will export the stack of Lightroom edited raw images straight into Helicon and then bring the final result back.  

In case you were wondering, the subject above is the seed pod from a beech tree that was shed last autumn.  I’ve thousands in my garden!  

The Stack of images was shot on a Nikon D7200 plus Nikon 105mm f/2.8D lens with flash illumination at ISO200.  All images were taken at f/18; given the stacking approach, I may have done a bit better by using a larger aperture like f/11 to minimise diffraction effects.  Nevertheless, the individual images were still very sharp at f/18!  The stacking was done using a macro rail which was incrementally moved between shots; the rail was mounted on a tripod with a ball head.