When Hyperfocal Distance Fails, Part 3

In the previous two articles in this series (Part 1, Part 2), I have explained what are some issues with the unquestioning application of hyperfocal distance to focusing and what some solutions one might use to avoid them. I closed by saying that, in some cases, even those solutions are not sufficient.

In this last post, I want to demonstrate one last technique to achieve perfect focus, front to back, even in scenes that have a lot of depth: focus stacking.

Let’s start with a real life example. These are three images that I took in Ireland. I wanted perfect sharpness from the stalks of grass in the near foreground to the distant lighthouse. I knew that, at a focal length of 12mm, I would be getting decent but not maximum sharpness by using the hyperfocal distance. I also didn’t want to stop down below f/11 to avoid diffraction.

Three shots

What I did was to focus the lens at three different distances and take one image (*) at each one of them. I didn’t try to use any math in doing this, but just focused as accurately as I could, first on the distant lighthouse, then on the rocks about midway through the fjord, and finally on the stalks close to the camera. I could have used precise calculations, but I made a seat-of-the-pants estimate instead, guessing that the three areas of acceptable sharpness would overlap abundantly.

Here are 100% enlargements of the first and and of the last images. Click on them to see them large. The difference is clearly visible in the lighthouse, which is very blurry in the close shot.

Detail of close subjects

Detail of lighthouse

Once I had done some initial, global adjustments in Lightroom, I synchronized the processing settings between the three images and blended them in Photoshop, as demonstrated in the video below.

The final result is here. Again, you can click on the image to access a full resolution version.

The final focus-stacked image

This got me thinking that it would be nice if Adobe, after having introduced HDR and panorama merge features in Lightroom CC, decided to give us layer blending as well.

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(*) Actually, I took three bracketed shots at each focus distance and created an HDR image from each bracket, before stacking them. Since this is not necessary for focus stacking, I left this detail out of the discussion.

Comments 6

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  1. I’m a big fan of focal stacking…take the math out of hyperfocal points 😉
    Technically should your closed focal points for a stack be closer together near the front of the lens and further apart as you approach infinity?

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      Yes, Marc, that is the theory, but if I have to do the math in the field, I will lose patience and maybe even the light or the moment, so I’ll just wing it 😉

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