Ecommerce images represent a product on the web to provide potential customers with an accurate representation of the products. Therefore an efficient workflow that enables you to get an image of a product that is fully in focus is extremely crucial. Check out this article to find out how easy focus stacking might be the answer for you if you find yourself struggling with focusing issues.
Focus stacking is a popular technique used in photography to achieve greater depth of field or in layman's terms, a “sharper” image, especially for close-up or macro photography. It might feel extremely overwhelming to perform focus stacking at first, but do follow along as we break this process down into an easy step-by-step focus stacking workflow and technique so you can follow along.
Like every other commercial job, it is extremely important to start the entire process with solid planning work. This will ultimately be the foundation for you to start working above. From visualization to project execution, get as much as possible written down in your notebook or document so you can refer to it from time to time whenever needed be it during preparation or the shoot itself. By having solid, detailed planning work done, you could also predict and overcome the challenges that may potentially occur during the shoot before you even do the shoot. For example, strategically placing the subject at a certain angle to potentially reduce the number of images needed to perform focus stacking. Or to create a studio environment to minimize the variation in the image exposure.
Basically focus stacking is all about taking a series of consistent exposure images that covers a wide focal range. A step-by-step workflow is listed below to help guide you in the process.
- Setting up your shot: Arrange your subject, background, lighting, and set up your camera on a tripod while fine-tuning your composition.
- Setting up your exposure settings, I do recommend choosing your aperture value first, then the appropriate shutter speed and ISO settings. That way you can fix your depth of field first and get the rest of the settings to compensate for the exposure. Suggested aperture value is usually around f/8 to f/16, that way you can maximize the depth of field for an easier stacking process while minimizing possible diffraction.
- Setting your focus. I do highly recommend using manual focus at this stage and starting with the nearest point of your subject to the camera.
- Taking your images. By keeping the camera settings and position constant, take a series of images while gradually moving the focus point from the nearest focus points toward the furthest focus point of the subject after each frame. As the number of images taken will depend on the overlap of the depth of field, take as many images as possible that you think is necessary to cover the entire focal plane of the subject.
- Once you are confident that you have gotten all the necessary images, this is where we will go to our computers and proceed with post-processing to piece the puzzles together.
Before moving to post-processing, here are some practical tips to ensure a higher success rate when conducting your photoshoot.
- Use a tripod! A good solid tripod will keep the camera stationary while you complete your series of images.
- Use a remote or shutter release to minimize camera shake. Since you are photographing extreme close-ups, a small movement is likely to screw up your entire image alignment.
- Use mirror lockup if you are still using a DSLR.
- Shoot tethered into a larger screen. Any form of tethering is good be it using in-camera WiFi connection, Camranger, or tether cables towards your workstation. The goal here is to view your image on a larger screen to check if you have gotten the correct amount of overlaps in the depth of field for your series of images.
- Take into consideration lens focus breathing prior to setting up your shot. Focus breathing is the change of the field of view when the lens moves through the focus range. Compose your image and move your focus point from the nearest to the further and make sure your subject is still fully in frame.
- Consider lighting consistency. As the series of images will take some time to complete, it is extremely crucial to ensure that the lighting of your product is consistent throughout the series of images. Do use a studio setup whenever possible as ambient lighting is likely to change within minutes of shooting.
- Consider using automation when possible. There are a lot of advanced cameras out there that provide the option to focus shift shooting in your camera. Do check out your camera manual if your camera does support this function. This function will eliminate any human error and ensure consistency in your exposure range by setting the size of the focus range and number of images.
- Remember this is a game of millimetres. Be very delicate with your movements around and patient when capturing your series of images. Be sure to also double or triple-check when you complete your series of images.
This is where the easy part comes in without having to fiddle with any other software; all you need is Adobe Photoshop and a basic knowledge of using mask and brush tools.
- Import all the series of images that you have gotten into any raw processing engine if you are shooting raw to do some minor extraction and correction to the files. In my case, I use Adobe Lightroom / Adobe Camera Raw. If you are shooting jpegs then direct import into Photoshop will work just fine.
- Align all the layers that you have shot. In my case, I have gotten a series of 8 images.
- It is recommended to layer the series of images by order so it is easier to see what you are working on.
- Create a black layer mask to conceal all the layers and by using a white brush, reveal the in-focus bits of the next image. (It is important to make sure your brush is at 100% opacity and 100% flow to make sure you do not leave parts of the images blurry)
- Repeat the process until you have gotten the entire product in focus. (You may use the Photoshop auto stack function, but I do find that it is easier to do it this way as the Photoshop auto stack does create unwanted artifacts which then requires some complicated cleanup. You may also use other external software such as Helicon Focus to stack the images, but personally, I find it cumbersome to fiddle with additional software for a simple job like this one.)
- Proceed with whatever retouching process you normally would. In my case, I proceeded with cutting out the product on white with a pen tool for a cleaner background.
- Export the images to your desired settings and you will now have an entirely focused image.
This easy focus stacking technique and workflow will open up possibilities by producing impressive results when you are photographing your next ecommerce project. As in every ecommerce photoshoot, our goal is to remain as efficient as possible to deliver a high-quality and high-volume output in the shortest amount of time. By having this workflow at the back of our heads, it will allow us to offer more value to our customers and in return higher profitability in our photography business.