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There are so many things one can do with photography.  I’ve heard of numerous techniques, and I’m always inspired to try them all!  I’d like to compile a photography bucket list and simply start checking the items off, but I’ve been so busy with so many other things… soon, I promise!

In the meantime, here’s one that I’ve been wanting to try for a while: focus stacking.

What is focus stacking?

This is merely a technique of combining multiple exposures at different focus lengths into one that is entirely in focus.  This technique is used on landscapes to make the foreground and distant background all in focus.  It’s also used to obtain perfectly focused macro shots of flowers, bees, or anything else with a lot of detail.

My subject

I don’t do a lot of macro shots, typically, though I’m fascinated by details.  However, I snatched Aaron’s macro lens this weekend to play around with it a bit.

While we went out chasing waterfalls, I was captivated by the intricate details of the bark on a nearby tree.  With moss and a bit of lichen, it provided a variety of textures and colors – perfect for macro!

The shoot

I took 12 images to capture all layers of the rough bark, and I shot from a tripod to protect my sanity.  I was actually pretty close to my subject, so my depth of field was quite narrow.  In hindsight, I probably should have closed the aperture a bit to give myself a bit more wiggle room.  But that’s what make this an experiment!


This was the tough part.  I mistakenly thought my version of Photoshop Elements came with a built-in feature to stack my photos.  Adobe has an add-on you can purchase, but I don’t like spending money, so I sought out a free, open-source solution.  This led me to Hugin, which is actually designed for panoramas, but there are a number of tutorials that will instruct a user how to use it for focus stacking via the command line.

I followed this one, but it’s four years old.  I’m pretty comfortable with the terminal, so I could tweak the commands to figure out what I actually needed.  I wound up running these commands:

/Applications/Hugin/Hugin.app/Contents/MacOS/align_image_stack \
-m -C -v -a AIMG_ IMG_*.tif

Note: the above command did not want to work with more than 11 images (the command hung when it should output something within no longer than a minute or so), so I had to omit one.

/Applications/Hugin/Hugin.app/Contents/Resources/HuginStitchProject.app/Contents/MacOS/enfuse \
-o "result-img.tif" --contrast-weight=1.00 --contrast-window-size=51 \
--exposure-weight=0.00 --saturation-weight=0.00 --hard-mask \
--gray-projector=luminance IMG*.tif

The results

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

To be frank, the final picture could have been better.  I struggled with getting just the right configurations for these commands, and in the end, I wound up running the second command against the original images instead of the aligned outputs with better results.

I probably would have gotten a better composite with paid software or a better understanding of this one.  And as previously mentioned, I should have shot with a wider depth of field so there wasn’t as much contrast between each layer.  As it was, I have some blurred bands where I didn’t have enough pixels in focus.

So I wouldn’t quite call this experiment a success, but we’re all allowed to fail every once in a while, right?  It just gives me some things to work on next time!

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