Focus Stacking Basics.

May 16, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

I'm going to take you through the stages of, focus stacking, to recreate the style of the Victorian plant collector catalogues. Focus stacking enables you to make an image with everything in focus, even when photographing round objects, like the second seed pod (second from the left).

Once you've learned the basics of focus stacking you'll be able to start on your own projects. The collage below I had printed onto cotton paper, it's gorgeous! You'll love creating your own ideas. The seed pods are from East Coast Park, Singapore.

Focus staked leaves and seed pods on a white background.Focus stacked leaves and seed pods.


What you'll need to start making a Focus Stacked image.

1. Tripod.

2. A camera that you can focus manually. (I used an old Grab delivery bag to stop shadows, worked a treat!!)

3. Shutter release Cable (optional, but it does reduce the possibility of camera wobble)

4. LightRoom and PhotoShop. Other software can be used, but I'm using PS & LR here.

5. An object to photograph. In this tutorial I've used seed pods and leaves. 

6. A lens that you can use to take macro photographs. I'm using a 60mm Nikon Micro lens here, on a D750 body, Auto settings.

Let's Get Started!

A. Attach your camera to a tripod and get the camera lens as close to the object as you can but still be able to focus on every part of the object. Attach a shutter release cable if you have one. I used the Auto setting for these stacked images. 

B. Place the object that you want to photograph onto a piece of white paper/card on the floor or table. Place the tripod with camera attached over the object so that you can focus on it. Make sure you are sitting comfortably as the next bit takes some time and you need to be quite still so your don't jog the camera.

C. Position your object so that it's in the middle of the viewfinder frame (I used, 'live view').

Manually focus on each section of the object/s.

D. Take a photograph (I took 40 photos from some samples!!) of each section of the object. Each time make sure the focus is sharp, work your way around the whole object, so that you have an image of each section, ready to stack. Be careful not to jolt the camera between shots.

E. When you have all your shots, open the series in Light room. Now to start editing.

Shift then Click to high light all the photos you want to stack.

F. Shift/Click, to highlight all the images you want to stack.

G. Go up to Develop and adjust one of the images as you like. I adjusted the highlights, brought out the shadows at bit and increased the clarity and texture to enhance the structure of the seed pods.  I also used a highlight vignette to get rid of any dark halo around the image.

H. IMPORTANT. To get all the images edited in the same way, click, Sync settings, at the bottom of the editing column and you will see the whole row of images changing. 

I. Once this is done, it's time to transfer the edited images into Photoshop. Go up to, Photo, then, Edit in, then, Open as layers in Photoshop

This takes a bit of time, depending on how many files you are moving. 

J. Once all the images have appeared in Photoshop as layers, Shift/Click, to highlight all the images you want to merge. Go up to, Edit, then, Auto-blend Layers, then, Stack Images, and you need to check, Seamless tones and colours. Click OK and go and make a cuppa while photoshop works its magic!! 

Once all the images have been stacked you can merge the layers, lock them and save your image. Or, if you missed a section (frustrating, but it happens!!) You can go back and have another go. The file sizes can be huge because you have so many stacked images, so you might need to reduce the file size before you send or share it. You'll probably need to tidy up the image too, crop, adjust the levels, get rid of any spots etc, I desaturated the photographs to give them a more authentic look. You can keep the colour and go for a more contemporary, high key look too.

Five detailed botanical images inspired by the work of Karl Blossfeldt Focus Stacked Leaves and Seedpods. This fern frond (below) is one of the first images I created using focus stacking, and one of my favourites. My inspiration for this project was the work of photographer, sculptor and artist, Karl Blossfeldt. 

Focus stacked fern.

The image below is Peanut tree seed pod. One of my favourite staked images because I didn't realise until I edited it, but there's a tiny lizard skull in the top left hand corner. This image has been copied onto a white background because I had an orange cast from the seed pod shell that I just couldn't get rid of!

High key edit of a dried leaf.Flipped leaf edit.Focus stacked back and front of the same leaf.

That's all there is to focus stacking! 

Thanks for reading my blog and supporting my passion for botanical photography!


You might be interested in a pack of my 2020 Christmas cards designed using focus stacked fern leaves, the seed pods & a rambutan. If you live in Singapore message me directly and I will deliver them to you, $S20.

Christmas cards from focus stacked seed pods, fern leaves and a rambutanChristmas card project 2020.

More examples of my botanical photography, Fungi Foraging in South Oxfordshire and Before and After: Dark Botanical Photography.


Ruth is a multiple award winning member of the Guild of Photographers and an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society.



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