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Focus Stacking

This is one of a series of articles exploring the advances in technology within the photographic world.

Photo Stacking

My Introduction to macros and Photo Stacking

I once saw, on the Internet, an amazing photograph of a fly vomiting on a piece on food prior to sucking it back up and extracting the nutrients.

Now while this really was a stomach churning image, I was fascinated with the detail the author managed to capture; together with the lighting, the photograph was simply stunning.

With all macro photography, capturing a moment in time like this is going to leave some of the image out of focus, given the shallow depth of field with macro lenses - it would have been something else again had the entire fly been in focus.

I spoke with an acquaintance from a photographic forum to which I subscribe, asking about the kit he used and how he got such detailed images.  It turns out that in a shot of a housefly, the subject was dead allowing the detail to be recorded.

Now, I’m not talking about not preserving rare species and I am talking about taking a responsible attitude to our wildlife, but when I mentioned this on yet another forum, I was slated.  

Ye Gods! One would have thought I was proposing the slaughter of the innocents.  It amazes me that people will happily swat a fly , wasp, spider etc. and in the same breath, throw their hands up in horror at the thought of photographing a dead insect.

The wisdom of age tells me that it takes all sorts to make up this potpourri we live in.

I’ve now bought a Tamron 90 mm lens and together with my extension tubes. a remote shutter release, ring flash and a focusing rail, I have all the Macro equipment I need.  

Prior to the arrival of the macro kit,  I practised with some extension tubes, using the 18-55 mm kit lens that came with the camera.

This shot is of a twenty pence piece, placed at a 30angle to the camera and taken at 2:1 magnification.  Ten stacked shots, combined using  CombineZP.

The tale continues

Focus stacking is a photography term used to describe the process of combining photographs to obtain images with a much larger depth of field that would be possible in a single photo.

There are a plethora of programs out there that will stack photographs. Ranging from the industry standard, Helicon Focus and Zerene, costing hundreds of ££££’s to CombineZP, an Open Source piece of software.  

While this free software hasn’t got the slick front end of Helicon Focus the end results are remarkably similar.

The difference lies in the fact that Helicon Focus has a far slicker operation than CombinZP and of course the price.

While you'll have to persevere through the clunky interface of CombineZP, this is is a handy program to have.

Again, there is plenty of Open Source photo stacking software available:

Hugin (Windows and Mac).



For Astrophotgraphy:



A good place to look for Open Source software is here.

Open source Software

Photoshop has an image stacking facility built in using layers, as does Gimp, the Open Source alternative to Photoshop.

To be fair, the majority of photo-editing packages will have some sort of  photo-stacking with, I’m sure, varying results. It will be a case of looking.