Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Manual focus stack for more DOF in CS3

This is a simple Adobe Photoshop tutorial - manual focus stacking using layer/layer mask. If you intend to stack multiple images (i.e. more than two), then it's probably easier to use stacking software such as CombineZP (freeware) or Helicon Foucs or Zerene Stacker. Focus stacking using CombineZ is covered here. However, if you intend to manual focus stack only two or maybe even three separate images to increase DOF (Depth of Field), then you can consider manually focus stacking them in Adobe Photoshop.

All images were shot with a 40D, MPE65 1X-5X macro lens, and MT24EX Twin Flash with DIY Concave Diffuser.

I have two images to start with:

I will call this "Recipient". This is the one I like, but notice the eye is OOF (out of focus)
manual focus stacking in adobe photoshop recipient IMG_4399 original eye oof

But lucky for me, i have another shot, which I will call "Donor". I prefer "Recipient" over "Donor" but "Donor" has the eye in focus.
manual focus stacking in adobe photoshop donor IMG_4398 copy donor

Now the fun part.

(a) I opened both images, one after another in my Adobe CS3.
manual focus stacking in adobe photoshop +donor n recipient

Then I go to the "Donor" image, and Select All (Ctrl+A) then Copy (Ctrl+C), then I Paste (Ctrl+V) Donor onto the Recipient image. Now you can see "Layer 1" on top of Background (Recipeint). Notice i also adjusted the Opcacity to 50%.

opacity - manual focus stacking in adobe photoshop

(c) your screen will something like this once you have adjusted Layer 1's opacity.
manual focus stacking in adobe photoshop + overlapped images

(d) Now use the Move Tool to align the two images, particularly the eyes area. You might want to zoom into 100 or 200% for the best possible alignment. You might want to check the alignment by Hiding/Showing Layer 1 (the eye to the right of Layer 1).
move tool to align layers during manual focus stacking in adobe photoshop

(e) once you have aligned the images, click Add Layer Mask (left image) and a white box will appear to the right of Layer 1 (right image).
add layer mask during manual focus stacking in adobe photoshoplayer mask2 during manual focus stacking in adobe photoshop

(f) change the Opacity back to 100% and Invert the Mask by pressing Ctrl+I. Notice the white box is now black i.e inverted.
invert mask in manual focus stacking in adobe photoshop

(g) Now we'll use the Brush Tool to unmask Donor's eye.
brush tool in manual focus stacking in adobe photoshop

(h) Use [ and ] to control the brush size while working on the Unmasking to reveal the Donor's eye that we have inverted (behind Recipient's eye). Be really careful when working around the edges. You can use Ctrl+Z to undo at any time. Now our Recipient has received its new, in focus eye from Donor :)
manual focus stacking in adobe photoshop IMG_4399 focus stacked eye sharp copy

I am sure there are many other ways to do manual focus stacking in Adobe Photoshop, but this is how I normally do it. This Adobe Photoshop Tutorial may seem very complicated and very daunting to you at first but all you need to do is follow the steps and practice it a few times. You'll get the hang of it in no time.


  1. In CS3 there's also an option to auto align images. It's called 'Auto Align Layers' and it's under the Edit menu.

  2. Thanks, ya i know that.

    It won't work in this case because the perspective was slightly different.

  3. Hi Kurt,

    When taking the multiple shot to do the stacking, which is the best choice? Adjust the focus ring(assuming I'm using a tripod) or move the camera further/closer to the subject.



  4. Not easy to move the camera if it's on a tripod, unless you have a macro focusing rail. In that case, adjust the focus ring.



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