Hi, Nick Rains here.

I’m currently stuck at home in a 14-day quarantine after coming back from my Antarctica trip. No doubt there are thousands of other people in similar positions so where does that leave our photography? Buckle up, it’s time to learn some new skillz with all this spare time!

Here’s one idea – have you ever tried focus stacking?

The concept is based around the fact that, for certain subjects, using a narrower aperture for extra depth of field is not necessarily the right way to go.

Here’s a good example. This is a Heliconia flower growing under my deck. If you shoot it at a wide aperture to get a nice background, you can’t get all the flower sharp from front to back. But if you use, say, f16 to get it all sharp, you get a horrible confusing background.

However, what if I was to shoot a series of images at a wide aperture for the best background but focus on a different part of the flower each time? I could then take the sharp bits of each photo and blend them together.

I took a flower indoors so I could more easily photograph it and made four exposures at f4 with a plain wall as the background. Then after blending them together I had perfect focus on the flower, but the background remained out of focus.

Click on the images to enlarge them, and have a close look. You will see the right-hand image has perfect sharpness in the centre of the flower and looks more like a botanical drawing (which is the precise look I wanted to achieve).

Here’s a Hybiscus I photographed on the Macro-Elmarit TL 60mm lens on the CL. Shot wide open at f2.8 and focus stacked to keep that lovely out of focus background. It’s not totally crisp from front to back – being outside I had some problems keeping the flower still but it’s still a lot better than a single capture at f11 or f16.

And this is a Magnolia, also from my garden, but this time I brought it indoors and used some video lights to photograph it on a table against a plain background. I added a textured background in Photoshop – because I could! Same focus-stacking technique though.

How it it done? Well that’s part of the point of this little bit of At Home inspiration – you can easily work it out for yourselves! But to the right are a few hints.

I might make this the subject of a Webinar in the near future, the precise steps followed depend a bit on the subject so rather than give you a step by step, I want to inspire you to do some research and have a go. It’s not hard, just a bit fiddly, and if you can master this you will have a new technique at your disposal.

  • Use manual focus to carefully shoot a series of images at different focus points, covering all the depth of the subject. Exposure should remain the same so manual exposure is the best method.
  • Start at the back and move the focus point a few millimetres forward at a time. You might need to shoot 6 photos, or more, to cover the subject. More is best, too few will leave you focus ‘gaps’.
  • Make sure the subject is stationary.
  • The blend can be done in Photoshop, or better still, in an application called Helicon Focus. There’s a demo if you want to try it.