Combine Your Macro Photography Shots for Sharper Images - Focus Stacking! | Travis Vermilye | Skillshare

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Combine Your Macro Photography Shots for Sharper Images - Focus Stacking!

teacher avatar Travis Vermilye, Digital Media Artist

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.



    • 3.



    • 4.

      Image Comparison and Refinement


    • 5.

      Project & Final Thoughts


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About This Class

As a macro photography enthusiast and lover of tiny organisms, I spend a lot of time trying to gain a wider depth of field from my macro photos and photomicrography shots of lichen and slime molds and other such things.

This class will show you simply and quickly how to use two different methods of getting much sharper images through focus stacking, followed by some fast image refinement techniques with the Camera Raw filter in Photoshop. This is the process I use on all my macro photo shots!

What you'll need:

1. A series of shallow depth of field macro photography or photomicrography shots of something. Shots should sequentially step through focal points from near focus and far focus through the subject of the image (see example images below).

2. Adobe Lightroom + Adobe Photoshop OR  Adobe Lightroom + Helicon Focus (available at B&H Photo or the heliconsoft website)

The end product will be a single sharp image with wonderful color and fantastic focus depth - much more than you can get from a single image capture at close range.


Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Travis Vermilye

Digital Media Artist


Hello! I’m a digital media artist, professor of design and illustration, biomedical illustrator and animator, coffee enthusiast, fly fisherman, hiker, biker, and a bunch of other things - but I digress.

I’ve gone through some different phases on Skillshare to try and figure out just what kind of classes I want to make for y’all. I focused on biomedical animation (3D Motion BioLab), beginner classes in Cinema 4D (ABC4D) and now I’m creating more general motion design and art-related classes. This may seem a little fractured to some, but I’ve decided it fits me perfectly. I’m always trying something new, growing tired of it after a bit, and learning new techniques to get me energized again.

I am a Gemini after all. 

:)<... See full profile

Level: Intermediate

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1. Intro: Hi, I'm Travis Familia. I'm a biomedical artist and a macro photography enthusiast. I absolutely love crawling around on the tundra in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and taking pictures of like in super close, ultra macro photography photographs. One of the problems I've run into, though, is that when you are so close to an object just inches away, you tend to get a really shallow depth of field, and I always want to get more focus out of my images. And so this class today is about a method of combining a series of images together so that you can get a sharper depth and more clarity in your images by stacking together a bunch of images of the same subject with various focal points. This process is called focus Stacking. We'll be using Adobe Photo Shop and a software called Helicon Focus, as well as ah adobes light room to just organize and select our images. So if you'd like to learn more about focus stacking and how to create sharper, crisper images from your macro photography projects, please follow along and let's get started 2. Lightroom+Photoshop: and here we are in Adobe Light Room and I've got my images selected, and I've started the images that I want to use in this case, just so it's easier for me to find for this class and let's just take a closer look at these images. So if we look at the 1st 1 you can see that it's focused very closely. So the very near focus and as I use my error keys to step through, you can see that the images were shifting slightly on that. The focus is into you changing to being farther as we step through. And the reason my images air shifting around is that I did these free hand, and I'm simply holding my breath and taking consecutive images as I moved the lens closer through the object. Your images may be more aligned because if you do use a tripod and focusing device to help you get more stabilized images and that's fine, you may not have to do the alignment procedure that we're going to do next. So this first pastor, we're gonna use a W photo shop. So what I want to do is to simply make sure I have selected all of these images that I want to use, and you may decide to use more or less images, depending on what you want. So, for example, if I know that I don't want to have an image where this background is in focus, I wanted to be a little blurry. I may choose to begin with Onley this image and shift select this grouping, and that's what I'm gonna do in this case because I want just this, like in to be the subject of my image and everything else to be just a little bit blurry. And so what I'm gonna do is right click on this and say, Export, I'm sorry. I'm going to say I'm gonna right click on this and say, Add it in and then we're gonna go to open as layers in photo shop. And so that will open up a w photo shop if it's not already opened. And if it is, we should be seeing those layers loaded in takes a few moments. And of course, the larger your images, the more time it's going to take. And so if I just turn off the visibility of these layers. You can see that we are indeed stepping through that focus so that we're getting more focused in the background. But the images aren't aligned very well, and that's important that they are aligned before we try to do any focus stacking, Yes, I'm gonna shift click to the bottom of these. And then I'm going to use a tool under the edit tab in Photoshop that says Auto line layers . That's gonna give me a few options if you're unsure what to collect. Uh, what's this? Select to go ahead and click auto, and it should do a good job for you. Based on the experience of doing this in the past, I know that perspective is going to work for me pretty well, because I am moving through these images in space. I also like to use vignette Removal on this is going to remove any sort of differential darkening that might happen based on the position of the camera is going try to even things out for you. Geometric distortion will account for any sort of quick changes or twists in your camera position as you're going through, so go ahead and click OK and let that process. It will take a few minutes for it to process these, depending on how many images you use in your in your focus stacking method. And so we'll just be patient and use the magic of television to move forward. Now that our auto align layers function has finished processing, it's always a good idea just to check and make sure everything seems like it's aligned well . And so you can see that everything seems to be aligned very well. Now we're in fact just moving through focus areas in this image, which is great. Photoshopped. This this algorithm, or this tool that's built in has done a fantastic job of aligning the pickles and the pixels in this image based on what it's seeing in each individual image from here. What we want to do is go ahead and views the auto blend layers function and blending layers is what's gonna actually do the focus tagging for us in photo shop. And so you can see it's going to say stack images or panorama. So if you took a panoramic image, if you use this tool as well, but we're stacking images to try to get a sharp focus, and you can decide whether or not you want to use content aware fill for transparent areas . What that means is if there's an area where there's a gap between focus steps. So if you have focused on one level and then you go a little bit of space, there's no focus and then sharper behind. It will try to auto fill that for you, using the content in the image. I'm gonna quite a uncheck that on this 1st 1 you probably do want to say seamless tones and colors, and that's going to auto. Adjust each layer and try to even things out again. Let's go ahead and click that and again, this will take probably less time to process, so we'll go ahead and just pause for that one. And there we have it. So this is the photo shop method, and you can see what it's actually doing is masking off each layer. So if we begin to turn some of these off, you can see that it's exposing certain sections of each layer based on their sharpness. And so it's stacking those up based on their level of sharpness to create a singular sharp image and you may need to do a little bit of post processing and testing. Just Teoh clear this up for yourself. But it does a pretty good job. I'm usually fairly happy with what floor shop does. Well, we do need to take in account as these areas where it actually didn't do a very good job. So we're gonna look on these borders right here. But I'm gonna go ahead and crop my image in using the cropping tool and make sure, but it is inside any of those areas that are in question. So if I see some sort of questionable focus areas, I'm going to crop those off and composed my image the way that I'd like to. But I'm still I still need to take into account how those focus areas were being cropped on the edges. So go ahead and hit, enter. And once you're completely happy, I'd suggest merging all those emit layers so flat in that image, and then we'll go ahead and save it. And after we've saved the image, then we'll come back and do some pros processing. So the next video's gonna walk through how to do this same process or a very similar process. Using a software tool called Helicon Focus and Helicon, Focus has a variety of opera of options for creating sharp images out of a series of stacked images. 3. Lightroom+Heliconfocus: this segment will be about using the light room to Helicon Focus process. And so here we are, back in Adobe Light room and I've started the images that we want to look at and just just to recap briefly. If you did not watch the previous section, we've got a series of images that are stepping through levels of focus in the object in question or in the subject of our foot foot in the subject of our photograph. In this case, it is a type of liking. And so I'm going to select the images that I want to use and add together combined to be focused and I simply want to right click on them and say export and then choose Helicon Focus. Of course, this assumes you have Helicon focus installed already on your system and that will export it to hell. I can focus for us and the suffers really very easy to use. Just gonna go through the basic tools for you. Right now, there are three different methods of focusing and I usually start off with the depth map method. Uh, and I usually find that just leaving the settings as they are creates a pretty reliable image. And so if you want to step through these images here, you can actually look at them and it'll show you each image individually and to process the image, you simply click the render button and you'll see that it's going through its process and stacking things up. And already we've got a very sharp, very crisp image that it has produced for us. If you decide you don't like this particular methods, so things you want to pay attention to our the surrounding areas, how much focus there is or is not. And so let's go ahead and do each one I started with B. We'll go back to a and I'll click on Render mostly what that process is like, and we'll compare all three of these and we'll go to see and hit, render and see what that process is like just to give you a quick idea. So here's a so you can see the image has a blurrier background. Here, be it's a little bit more sort of pixelated in the background has a little noise, which I kind of like and see has a little bit different style applied to it. So these are just three different algorithms that are being used to stack these images up into focus them. But Helicon focus does a fantastic job. Once you were happy with an image, you just need to decide which one you want to keep. In this case, I think I'm happy with this one. So I'm gonna choose, actually, I'm gonna choose be I'm gonna choose B, and I'll go ahead and go to this little saving icon and you will ask me if I want to save it. I'm gonna save it as a tiff image. And you can decide where you want to put that. I will go ahead and put it in my images folder for this class will call it hell Aken. Focus stacking and say that. And so from here we will go ahead and open up Adobe Photo Shop and do some tweaks to our image. And we'll compare the a photo shop image to the Helicon focus image and see what we think 4. Image Comparison and Refinement: and here we are, back in photo shop. And I just wanted to do a quick comparison of the images from each software package. And so I have brought in the Helicon Soft or Helicon Focus image, and I've placed that on top of the Photoshopped image and aligned those in a layer just so we can see the difference. So right now we're looking at the original photo shop image that we did, and I'm gonna turn on this top layer. And this is the Helicon Soft Image or the Pelican Focus image. And so, just turning those off and on, you can see that there is some variation. If you look in the way that the background is being manipulated, there's some distortion variation. And so each software is gonna have its own sort of variations. You can see sort of a widening of this crack here each hour that each algorithm is going to be a little bit different, but they both do a really nice job. Come. So this video is going to be about creating ah, more enhanced version using the adobe camera raw filter. So I'm just gonna go ahead and use the Helicon soft image, and I might crop this down just a tiny bit. So here we go. Just bring this up. So it's a little smaller and let's look at that camera off filter. So the first thing we want to do when we're using the camera raw filter is I like to create a smart layer out of my objects. So I'm gonna go up and say Layer smart objects Convert to Smart later. This means I've always I'm going to always be able to retain my original image pixel composition. And so now that this is a smart wear layer, which you can tell because of that, I count right there, I can go into the filter section and say, Camera raw, filter. The camera raw field is really, really nice. It's going to allow us to bring out some color and enhance this image a little bit, as if we were editing a raw image and so you can play around with temperature. I have my own sort of techniques I usually use, and that's what I'm just gonna go ahead and go through and do right now. I usually play around with the exposure we're trying, Teoh balance out the hissed a gram up here as much as we can, and I tend to like to bring up down the highlights, right? So we have more detail in those areas and bring up the shadow areas, so it sort of evens it out a little bit. And then we'll balance that out by pumping up the whites and then bringing down the blacks . And it really is sort of a visual thing. If you bring them down too much, it's gonna look way too dark. So just continue playing around until you're happy and the instagram looks appropriate. You can see if anything's peeking out by clicking on these buttons right now. We're going out of gamut Gamma. Give it. That's why I might go ahead and bring that back up. Do the same thing with the white so you'll see if we bring that up, it'll show you what is coming out of the gamut range. So we'll just keep that around right there, and in terms of clarity, I might want to enhance this a little bit. Clarity is just gonna bump things up a little. I usually do you 10 here and I do either minus 10 or plus 10 on the D haze. You can see what that's doing. DIY Hazy makes it softer, and you're the opposite direction. It makes a little sharper. So around eight or 10 typically the images come out a little less vibrant than I like from my camera. And so I'm using a a little bit of vibrance enhancement and also just a little bit more saturation enhancement. But I really want to see these orange cups coming through, and you could see already we're getting more of the color coming out. So we're seeing color variation in there, which I just love. I tend to want to sharpen things up, just a tiny bits of sharpening. I might do a 10% sharpen and just pump up the details a little bit. I don't want to go too Crazy radius. You can try one or two and see what happens. Zooming in a couple levels could be really helpful, so I might zoom into some of these areas and see if I turn this down and nothing what it looks like. If I turn it up to 20 what does it look like? So it's a subtle change. But there is definitely a change there, and so that's giving you just a little bit more Christmas to our image. Another thing I'd like to play with is the split Tony, And so for me, I try to go between an orange and a blue so slightly orange light and or highlight in the slightly blue shadow. And so I tend to go a little bit orange on my shadow and just turn up saturation. Of course, if you pump this way up, it's gonna look terrible, but a little bit, maybe 10 or so, maybe six or eight, and then same thing with the bloom and take it up into a around a 200 range and then just pump that up to pump that up again. It's going way to blue, but I find that just a touch of each is pretty nice. And so just adds it, that sort of hot and cool together. That makes for a nice image, and from here you can decide if you want to add grain. Take away grain, add vignette ing, so if you want a vignette, your image you can pull pull under vignette pretty easily and quickly, which might help pull some focus interest or some visual interest back towards your center . And that's about it. I'm pretty happy with the way that looks and you go ahead and hit OK, And one thing that's nice about the using a smart filter on a smart layer is that you can turn this off and see the before and after. And look how much sharper and crisper that image looks right now. And so from here, I would go ahead and save this out is whatever file type you want to work with. Jay Paige, PNG your tiff. And so the next video will be about the projects and just some final thoughts for you. Thank you very much for watching. 5. Project & Final Thoughts: the project for this class is pretty simple. Just use the techniques that you've learned either in light room and photo shop or light room. And Helicon focus towards your own macro photography projects. Poster work in the project section of this class. If you've likes the class, please do leave a review and please go ahead and share this on your social media networks. I'd really appreciate it. I can't wait to see what you what you accomplished with this technique, and I look forward to seeing you in another class.