Focus Stacking: A Primer

The Final Result

With all the advancements lately in the photography world, the ability to perform tasks like focus stacking has been off-shored to built in algorithms in specialized cameras, in post production software (i.e. Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture, Helicon Focus, and a host of others that have now flooded the market.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for making things easier, and improving ones workflow, but I do still ascribe to the theory of learning certain fundamentals and essentials for building your photography skills both in composition, and just to understand the mechanics of photography. With that in mind, I’d like to devote a bit of time to discuss the task of focus stacking.

Focus Stacking Versus HDR

First off, focus stacking is used mostly in genres like macro photography, where intricate detail is needed across a range wider than what the aperture will allow for during composition.  The principle is much like the layered approach to HDR imagery – where you stack layers of images with different compositions on top of each other and blend the right portions through the entire image.

Where focus stacking differs from HDR is the types of images that you are layering.  In HDR images, you are overlaying images with different exposure values over one another.  In focus stacking, you are not changing the exposure values, rather just the point of focus.  As depth of field drops off both in front of and behind your focusing point, the subject will blur.  While this may be an appreciated blurring technique in some cases, in other cases, getting different depths of field from different focusing points can make for a tack sharp macro throughout the range of the subject.

As is most often the case, explaining a photography concept is best done with images, so let’s take a look at an example.  For easy demonstration, I took a white cordless phone and placed it on a black background.  This way color issues are kept to a minimum…

First Focus Point

Notice on the first focusing point, the sharpest point is right near the front?  It also quickly drops off into the background as I was shooting at f2.8  The low aperture number means I will have a very shallow depth of field, which is what is causing the blurred background.  To bring the rest of it into focus, I need to “stack” more shots that have a different point of focus.  So, let’s add another few to the composite:

Second Focus Point

Third Focus Point

Fourth Focus Point

Fifth Focus Point

The end result from stacking all these together can be accomplished by any one of a number of methods ranging from the most time-consuming of doing it manually inside Lightroom or Photoshop, and the most efficient one of using 3rd party software.  While several options do exist, the one that has become pretty much the industry standard is that of Helicon Focus!  Their quality of processing is, bar none, among the best I’ve seen.

In the meantime, here’s the result of an image that has been focus-stacked:

The Final Result

It’s a quick edit, and done with only having focus-stacked 5 images.  If I wanted a really detailed depth of field on something more important than a cordless phone from circa 1990’s, I’d likely have taken at least 10-15 images and massaged them through Helicon Focus more carefully.

For a behind-the-scenes footage video, stop over to the Facebook page!  (Be sure to “like” it and share a comment while you are there…)

If you really want to go hip deep into focus stacking and macro photography, there’s a great book by Julian Cremona called Extreme Close Up Photography and Focus Stacking available on Amazon.  Good read, and really takes this subject to the Nth degree!

Photography Apps for the Smartphone, Part 2

Earlier this week, I started diving back into active blogging with a review/write-up of a smartphone app called SetMyCamPro.  You can read more about it here, but I’d like to continue the theme of some photo app reviews, because the best camera truly is the one you have with you, and for most of us, that happens to be the camera built into our phones.  With practice and a photographic eye, you can get some pretty excellent images from these cameras.  Case in point, here’s one I got of an Ohio sunset just a few nights ago:

Ohio Sunset
Ohio Sunset

Granted, not going to win any contests, but something worth remembering for me.  Anyway, enough of the shot that I took, instead it’s time to dive into the second App I am reviewing here on the blog.

I actually reviewed this app before but it was part of a promotional giveaway article for the vendor – and it’s called Easy Release!  The concept is pretty simply – use your phone, ipod or iPad screen to generate a model or property release, have the individual sign from your touch-sensitive device (which most phones are these days anyway), and you’re done.  It’s a handy app to have for those “on the go” kinds of shoots where it’s not in a studio, or something last minute.  For those, you’d probably want to have a more professional setup in place with actual pens and papers to have clients sign off on.  (In addition to an event contract, licensing and usage, and much more.  In fact, I have a two-Ebook combo that gives you all the paperwork you need to get started in photography, including model releases (adult and minor), event contracts, and a how-to guide…you can get it here for only $30:

Add to Cart

Now, for those that prefer the digital mobile on-the-go style of releases for your business, then let’s dig into Easy Release!

On downloading it, the first thing you’ll want to do is configure add an image or logo of your business to your device – this is to add it to your logo/branding to the header that will be used when emailing a copy of the signed release to your clients! (Yes, that’s right, you can email them a copy right from your phone!)  If you want to set up multiple brands, the option is there from their Pro Pack (only $3.99), but if one is enough, then you are set with just the base one in the app.  Enter your logo, the company name, and your contact info, and that’s all you need:

Photo Jul 31, 8 11 23 AM

 

 

 

 

The rest is pretty straightforward – you’re simply selecting the release type (model or property), taking the image, and then the most tedious part – where you enter all their contact information, including phone, address, email, and other pertinent data.  For my own two cents, I wish they would add the option of making an audio recording of this data for later transcription so you can get to the signing quicker.  I’ve gotten fairly proficient at creating these, and actually used it on more occasions than I can count off the top of my head – probably in the scores by now (that’s 20’s for those speaking in layman terms!  LOL).

You can check out the app on the iTunes or Android Google Play stores here and here.  No commissions to be had by me here, so feel free to either buy or go another route, but I think this is the benchmark that any digital model release has to stand up to, because these guys are top notch!  This is, of course only my opinion, so I’d like to open the floor to others.  What are your experiences with Easy Relase?  What about alternatives?  Are they cross-platform supported like this is (Android and iPhone)?  I know it’s a bit pricier than the average app, but for a working professional, the cost does seem justified to get something this robust and portable.

To that end, I am also open to suggestions for additional apps to review.  I’ve got 3 more in the bank, but that doesn’t mean we can’t re-visit later if needed.  Throw your suggestions for other apps in the comments section too, and I’ll add to the list!  Have a great weekend everyone and keep on shooting!

Camera+

Floral Wall Decoration

It’s kind of an unusual week here at the blog.  First off, I’ve been traveling all week.  First was a work trip, now a bit of personal time spent in upstate NY.  Combine that with the launch of the latest eBook from the folks at Craft and Vision (which I touted here on the blog Wed., supplanting the regular “Wordless Wednesday”).  Now, having done all that, I am playing around with one of the secrets tipped off in said eBook – the photo app called Camera+.  It’s a cool little app and makes your pictures pop quite a bit over the standard camera app.

I figured it’d be better to mention this now though over later, because apparently the price for the app is going to go up, and it can be had now for typical App Store rate of 99 cents!  Al Smith, author of EyePhoto, mentioned a few neat tricks to using the app and I am finding even more as I play around with it.  Here’s some sample shots I took with my mobile and processed straight through the app itself:

Coffee Swirls

Coffee Swirls

I took this shot at the hotel after downloading the app.  It was my first shot, and yes, was way over-processed, but I quickly figured out how to dial things in.

Floral Wall Decoration

Floral Wall Decoration

With the strong shadows from the wall and the intricate detail of the floral piece, this kind of shot was made for dramatic processing, and Camera+ is ideal here for a dramatic shot on the go!  Processed using the Clarity option 2x in Camera+

Contemporary/Modern Chair

Contemporary/Modern Chair

My folks got a new chair, and it just struck me as an interesting piece for the shape and angles.  Nothing extraordinary on the processing, except that I was able to add brightness to the seat area which was not in the original shot using the Shadow option.  (It’s a pretty comfy chair too!)

Southern Tier Expressway

Southern Tier Expressway

 I used to drive this road before it was an Interstate back and forth between home and college, so became very familiar with the Southern Tier Expressway.  I’d seen a sign earlier, and had a bit of nostalgia, so promised myself if I happened to see another one and the light was decent enough, I’d pull over and try a shot using Camera+.  The sun just happened to be setting as I rounded a corner on the new “Interstate” and I saw this.  Processed using the Clarity button 2x  in Camera+.

If you’ve not bought the eBook yet, it’s available over at Craft and Vision for only $4 through Sunday ($5 after that).  Make sure you use the discount code: EYEPHONE4.  Then, with the buck you saved on the eBook, hop over to the App Store and get Camera+  I did and am totally geeked about mobile phone photography now!  Probably more mobile phone photography coming up this weekend too! 🙂