Focus Stacking for Macro Photography

How do photographers capture images that are super sharp front to back? The secret is called “Focus Stacking”–taking a series of images focused for foreground, middle and background. Macro photographers take this to the extreme by programming their Nikon with”Focus Shift Shooting” to take dozens of images that can be easily combined as layers and blended in Lightroom/Photoshop.

Super Sharp: Camera on tripod, subject in light box, focus macro lens manually on nearest point, program camera to shoot 30 to 90 consecutive images, edit in Lightroom and Photoshop. Easy with a little practice!
Simple home studio– Orchid sprayer filled with water, epoxy resin tabletop for mirror reflection, lighting with LED flashlights and some colored gels. And, for good measure, a flash unit placed behind and left out of range to backlight the water droplets.

“Rain and Smoke”. Seven focus stacked images, each with back lit flash and water spray, selected in Lightroom. Choose Photo-Edit-Open in Layers. (Photoshop then opens the files it takes 5 minutes) Select all layers, go to Edit-Align Layers, then Edit-Blend Layers. Go to Layers and “Flatten” the files into one blended image. Use Save As command to send back to Lightroom, where you can then do regular adjustments. Pro Trick: Use the Radial Gradient tool placed over the headlights. Boost exposure and whites to “turn on the lights” one by one.

A dramatic low camera angle and piece of foam core cut with a safety razor implies a James Bond hangar and get away scene.
For action, go to the local slot car track or roll your subject forward. Use a very slow shutter speed like 1/20 of a second and combine it with your flash unit set on rear curtain. (The shutter opens to record the movement, then the flash pops at the last moment to freeze the car)
Forced Perspective Photography
Model Car Photography
Macro Photography
Focus Stacking in Adobe Lightroom
Once proficient at macro focus stacking, you can expand the idea to create focus stacked landscapes by driving your model cars to a scenic location. “Forced Perspective” is the name of the technique used for making a very small object to look at a realistic scale within a large scene. This is the old Hollywood “King Kong” trick. Just create a simple moveable foreground piece (Here a roof tile with pebbles doubles as a parking lot) and move your camera and tripod close to the subject until it appears to belong in the landscape.

Bob Gibson is a photographer and photography teacher based in Jupiter, Florida. For inquiries: