The making of a photograph

So, the question is what’s focus stacking and why would you want to use this technique?

Photography focus stacking is a technique used within many genres of photography mostly associated with landscape and macro photography to increase the depth of field in an image, allowing the photographer to capture sharp images from foreground to background. This is particularly useful in landscape photography, where the photographer may want to capture a wide range of detail from the front of the scene to the distant horizon. It can also be useful in macro photography, where the depth of field is often very shallow.

When the focus stacking technique is used its possible to create images that are sharp from the very front and all the way to the back regardless of the distance between foreground and background subjects.

It’s less common in Railway Photography though, photographing moving subjects or changing scenes making the technique slightly more challenging.

Focus stacking is a part of post-processing, but the process starts long before you start editing the photos, a successful focus stacked image is all in the planning.

There are a few things to consider when focus stacking manually. It’s important to use a consistent aperture and exposure for each shot, to ensure that the final image looks natural.

Finally, It’s important to keep the camera as still as possible for each shot, to ensure that the images align correctly, it’s important to be patient and take the time to carefully align the images, as any misalignment will be noticeable in the final image.

For a railway focus stack, I would typically take one photo focused on the main railway subject, another couple where I focused on the foreground, then one more focused on the background. It’s all in the planning though, I compose my images knowing that the final result will be generated by merging the images together in post processing.

There are a few different ways to achieve focus stacking in photography.

One common method is to take multiple photographs at different focus points, and then use software to combine the images into a single image with increased depth of field. This can be done manually, by taking the photographs and combining them in post-processing software such as Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom.

Focus stacking can also be done automatically, using a focus stacking function built into some cameras.

These functions work by taking a series of images at different focus points, and then automatically blending them together in the camera. This can be a convenient option, but it does have some limitations and will be almost impossible to capture a successful moving railway shot using this method.

How many images are required?

A minimum of three, foreground, mid and distance views, although if you are composing a shot with lots of close foreground detail many more images may be required.

What Camera settings should I use?

Shooting in manual mode is essential, keep the exposure, aperture, and white balance the same ensuring all are the same for each image, focus can be manual or automatic which ever works best shooting in the field, I generally use a single point automatic focus point, selecting various points from foreground to distance.

Do I need a Tripod?

A tripod isn’t essential, but the camera mustn’t move between frames, a tripod does make the post processing work more likely to be successful though.

It’s always a good idea to shoot a little wider when handheld, to compensate for movement between shots.

Do I need Editing Software?

Yes, Focus Stacking is as much a field exercise as it is an editing process, the result is an edited image relying on planned images from the field. If you mess up the shooting, focus stacking can be a painstaking and impossible task later. Photoshop does the heavy work and will take in the images automatically create layers and mask the sharp sections from each photograph, essentially blending the sharp sections from each image.

Overall, focus stacking is a great technique to have in your toolkit as a photographer. It can help you capture scenes with stunning detail and clarity and add a whole new dimension to your photography. Give it a try and see what kind of results you can achieve!


Article and images by Andrew Shenton

Phoenix Railway Photographic Circle