Rafael Pons of the Photo Pills team organizes classes on their YouTube channel in which he interviews the most important photographers about their techniques. My talk was about focus stacking.
In the first part of the class I presented myself as a landscape photographer and the topic I was going to talk about.
Then I showed a roundup of examples regarding the different types of focus stacking. At the end I demonstrated how to merge a “hard focus stacking”, as I call it.
Focus stacking is a photo and editing technique in which two or more images with different focus points each are blended.
Its use can be applied in different situations of various complexity and depends on the type of point of view from which we want to take the shot.
To explain why focus stacking is useful, I have to introduce the concept of plans in the picture.
In a landscape picture, there are several plans, more or less distant from our lens.
But the important thing is that the plans are one in front of the other and it is precisely for this reason that the camera is able to focus perfectly on only one of these.
This happens even at apertures such as f / 16. This is especially the case when we photograph with a wide angle, as its view is really wide and its effect is more three-dimensional.
But we may need focus stacking even in the case of longer focal lengths if we not only photograph plans of the image that are all very far away but also include plans that are much closer than the others in the image.
The plans can be also more than 3 or 4, depending on the position of the subjects.
A photo is taken with a different focus point for each plan and merged in Photoshop with masks or with software and plug-ins that combine them.
I have defined two different epithets for each type of focus stacking.
The simple focus stacking is a very simple situation in which you just have to combine the different shots that differ only in the point of focus.
In this case you can combine everything in a single shot using the masks in Photoshop or special softwares and plug-ins.
In the case of hard focus stacking, however, the difference between the shots is not only the focus point but also the position of some elements in the foreground that changes from shot to shot due to the wind. A very common example are flowers that move even slightly from one shot to the next.
For this reason, when we create masks to hide the blurry parts of a layer in Photoshop, as I showed in the Photo Pills YouTube class video, we will end up with blurry duplicates of the sharp elements. The consequence of this is a long process of correction with the clone stamp after creating the masks.
These softwares would also clone the blurry “duplicates” of the foreground elements that move due to the wind.
In fact, I have found these softwares very useful in many situations and my favorite is Helicon.
In the future, I will write a review about both to show you how they work and what limitations they have.
In short, in most of the situations I have anyway to correct several things in the final files from these softwares, so I prefer to use my “time-consuming” technique anyway.
I recommend paying close attention to the final file resulting from the blending processes of these softwares.
Look carefully at the whole image with a high percentage of zoom. Of course, it’s up to you which path to take and the degree of perfection you want to have in your final photos.
Personally, I don’t seek perfection only in low resolution and my purpose is always to look for original points of view, never seen before, which are often very complicated to transpose into a photograph.
But this is my vision. What matters to me is the result my photos will have in the printing phase and in a high resolution file.
Like all blending techniques, I think a lot of people, especially the more conservative ones, are still pretty confused about focus stacking.
Many of them often write to me in DMs on Instagram asking me if I have used focus stacking in certain photos. I never understood what changes to them whether they know it or not.
There is no technique that makes an image more realistic than focus stacking. A picture which has everything in focus has an incredible quality and detail.
When I am in a place I want to recover all the details of my landscape, from the flowers to the mountain peaks.
Of course, sometimes, I tried shooting without focus stacking, blurring the foreground, although I find it a much more imaginative effect and I don’t like using it in too many photos.
I am convinced that many think that the more time you dedicate to a photo, the more reality is alterated. They are wrong!
If anything, a lot of time is spent editing an image just to be sure to recover all the details and information in each individual element, making a picture visually impressive but natural.
The point is that many want the immediate result, without the least effort, with as many automatisms as possible and without having to spend too much time on a photograph for the most varied reasons.
A technique that, at times, takes so long, is certainly frightening and confusing.
We are too used to making every activity we do daily automatic and immediate that anything that requires time and dedication makes us flee.
Instead, it is important to understand that to obtain the results that make the difference, it almost always takes a lot of work and perseverance, in everything. And in the end, there is nothing more satisfying than the good result we get.
The most interesting thing is that Photo Pills is not just a spot planning app but also a real institution! They organize online classes, courses, expeditions, camps and even competitions.
It was also very interesting to talk about a technique that is used for things that cannot be planned, that is, those in the foreground.
Obviously, we can roughly predict that elements of the foreground are located in a certain place, at a certain time of the year and at a certain altitude or latitude.
But not in a precise and detailed way. Otherwise it would be pretty boring honestly.
In fact, my favorite part of the shooting session is the exploration of the place and the search for the most bizarre points of view.
Isabella Tabacchi is an award-winning landscape photographer based in the north of Italy.
Despite her young age, she is is one of the most influential landscape photographers.