116 — Sharpness on Steroids — Focus stacking interview with Michael Breitung

Pho­tog­ra­phy pod­cast #116 fea­tures an inter­view with Ger­man land­scape pho­tog­ra­pher Michael Bre­itung where we talk about why and how to do focus stack­ing in pho­tog­ra­phy. Basi­cally focus stack­ing involves tak­ing mul­ti­ple frames of the same scene but each frame is focused at a dif­fer­ent part of the image. Then these frames are blended together using a graph­ics pro­gram like Gimp (free) or Pho­to­shop (expen­sive). The result is sharp­ness and depth of field on steroids that can’t be matched by any cam­era lens com­bi­na­tion on a 35mm DSLR cam­era at the time of this writ­ing.  Only tilt shift lenses can com­pete in this extreme sharp­ness arena, but those lenses require many saved dol­lars or a rich uncle. This tech­nique is free if you have the skills and a graph­ics program.

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Bloody Causeway - a focus stacked image by Michael Breitung

Bloody Cause­way by Michael Bre­itung — This focus stacked image blends 4 frames into one. Each frame was focused at a dif­fer­ent point and then blended in Pho­to­shop. Check out the sharp­ness from the clos­est cor­ners all the way to the end of the cause­way. This is sharp­ness swim­ming in awe­some sauce. The aper­ture used here was f/9.5


Kraichgau at Dawn - Focus stacked photograph by Michael Breitung

Kraich­gau at Dawn — Focus stacked pho­to­graph by Michael Breitung


Kraichgau at Dawn - Close up comparison by Michael Breitung

Kraich­gau at Dawn Details — Close up com­par­i­son by Michael Bre­itung — Only 2 frames were needed to cre­ate the final full-sized image above this one. One frame (left) focused at the fore­ground cor­ners, gets the cor­ners sharp in the final image. The other frame (right) focused at the midground, gets both the midground and the back­ground sharp. Then the frames are blended in Pho­to­shop to pro­duce the final image. The aper­ture used here was f/11.


Links /resources men­tioned in this pod­cast:
Michael Bre­itung Pho­tog­ra­phy
Michael Breitung’s (advanced) start to fin­ish tuto­r­ial on his (Lightroom/Photoshop) post-processing work­flow and how he cre­ated the Bloody Cause­way image.
Heli­con Focus image stack­ing soft­ware
Zerene Stacker
Tilt shift lenses in land­scape pho­tog­ra­phy
March 2013 reg­u­lar Assign­ment — Wet or Rain
March 2013 level 2 Assign­ment — Dra­matic angles

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Thanks for lis­ten­ing and keep on shooting!


  1. Jared Fein says:

    I enjoyed this inter­est­ing pod­cast. I have tried focus stack­ing with some macro sub­jects, but not with land­scapes. I look for­ward to try­ing Michael’s tips. I have vis­ited Giant’s Cause­way twice and can really appre­ci­ate the fine focus stacked image pre­sented in this blog. I look for­ward to look­ing at the tutorial.

  2. admin says:

    Thx Enrique! There is loads of room for cre­ative play here!
    I agree — vary­ing layer opac­ity at dif­fer­ent expo­sure lev­els Orton Style can also be a fun thing to try.
    As for HDR and focus stack­ing, since they are sep­a­rate processes, no prob­lem to com­bine them.
    “stack mul­ti­ple images with­out cre­at­ing a mask?“
    That’s what these soft­ware pro­grams help you do — do this with­out a mask. Of course this is less pre­cise than a man­ual mask — but it’s way quicker and depend­ing on the com­plex­ity of the pic it can often do a fab job.

  3. Enrique Waizel says:

    Another excel­lent pod­cast. Many of us are ready to start exper­i­ment­ing with tech­nique.
    Could this be mixed with HDR? What would hap­pen if we sim­ply stack mul­ti­ple images with­out cre­at­ing a mask? We could even exper­i­ment with dif­fer­ent expo­sure lev­els for each layer hav­ing a final effect that could look like the Orton one… Just speculating.

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