How to focus stack in Photoshop CS6 for tack-sharp images

I’ve spent time working on focus stacking my macro images.  But I’ve been inconsiderate.  I should share my techniques with you, my blog readers, in case you want to try this on your own.

So here’s my first-ever tutorial on how to use Photoshop (I have the CS6 version) to take multiple images and convert them into a super-sharp image.

Macro photography can be tough to master.  Objects don’t always stay in sharp focus at all points.  A slight breeze, a flutter, a bug moving from one leaf to another … it can take something in your shot out of focus.

Focus stacking can help alleviate that.

So bear with me, this is my first-ever Photoshop tutorial.  I hope this works.

First off, you need to capture your image.  For this subject, I’m using this dandelion.

Not every part of the dandelion is in focus – some of the tendrils are, but not all of them.  However, I locked my camera in place and slowly adjusted the focus with every shot.  Not everything was in focus in every shot, but every part of the dandelion was captured in focus throughout the shot.

Some people also take multiple images by rocking forward while shooting the subject in a burst of images.  Whatever works for you, so long as you get all of your subject in the images.

Now it’s time to load these images together.  Take the chip out of the camera and load your photos into the computer.

In PhotoShop, go to File > Automate > Photo Merge.

Make sure that the box marked “Blend Images Together” is unchecked.  The box marked “Auto” needs to be checked.

Click on Browse and load your photos.  You can select multiple photos by clicking on each one while holding down your <CTRL> key.

Make sure that all the photos you import are of the same format.  My photos are shot both in .JPG and Nikon’s proprietary RAW format, .NEF.  You don’t want to mix the picture formats when you’re importing them into PhotoShop.

Select the first picture in the stack by clicking on it, then hold down your <SHIFT> key and click on the final photo.

This will automatically highlight and select every image.  Then click the <OK> button on your screen and all the images will load into PhotoShop.

Your computer will now import all the images into PhotoShop and try to align them.  This may take a few moments.

And if all goes well … you’ll be at this step.

The program has tried to align your images as best as it can on the first pass.

Now you need to do a second auto-align.  Select all your layers – click on the first one in the lower right layer screen, then hold your <SHIFT> key and click on the last one.  Now all your layers are highlighted.

With all your layers selected, go to Edit > Auto-Align Layers.

You want the “Auto” selection checked.  Now click <OK>.

After you take care of that step, your next step is to auto-blend the layers.

Go to Edit > Auto-Blend Layers.

That will bring you to this screen.

You want to make sure your “Stack Images” selection is checked, as well as your “Seamless Tones and Colors” option.  Then click <OK>.

Wait a few moments.

Now you have the pictures layered – and you also have layering masks (the second row of images on your layer panel).

When you’re satisfied with what you have, combine all the layers by making sure they are all highlighted, right-click and select “Merge Layers.”

Use your cropping tool to square off your picture.

Once you’ve cropped your picture, then use whatever adjustments you wish – contrast, hue, saturation – I like to use the Nik Collection add-on program to get some sweet imagery out of these pictures.

Hmm… for this, I’ll go with the Nik Collection “Dark” preset option.

Damn that looks nice.

Now I’ll take the brightness down a hair and boost up the contrast…

And then I’ll adjust the curves on this to bring out more detail.

Merge your layers together … and save.

Save your work as a PhotoShop (.PSD) first.  Then if you want to export it as a .JPG or .TIF or what have you, then you can do so.

In this instance, I’ll crop this to get rid of the light shades on the sides of the picture, then I’ll add a white border and a black border around the white border.

This comes out as my final result.

Dandelion in color. Nikon Df camera, HELIOS 81-H lens with extension tubes, 22 images stacked in PhotoShop. Photo (c) 2019 Chuck Miller, all rights reserved.

There.  That’s better looking.  Much sharper.

So I hope these tips work for you.  I really do.

Because I may do more of these ersatz tutorials in the future.  And if I did this one correctly … and helped you pick up a new technique … then that works for both of us, doesn’t it?