Focus stacking is an essential part of product photography. But how does one focus stack? And Why is it important?

Why Focus Stack

Before I introduce you to the process of focus stacking, I want to offer some reasons why you might want to use it in your next product photography shoot:

Quality: The quality of your final image improves exponentially when you focus stack because you are compositing the information of several photos into one super image. More digital information will offer more editing possibilities.

Sharpness: While in some cases you may be able to stop down and have the entire image in focus, it’s nearly impossible to do this when shooting macro photography, especially if you are shooting at an angle. That’s because the closer you are to your subject, the greater the depth of field.

Creative Control: Since you are manually controlling the focus, it’s possible to shoot at a lower f-stop, keep the entire subject in focus, and blur out the background completely. In this case, I didn’t shoot at a low f-stop because there was no background to blur out.

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Helicon Focus Software

The Focus Rail

To focus stack, you focus your camera on the closest part of the subject and then gradually adjust the camera along a focus rail—see image below—to refocus the camera on a new part of the subject. You turn a knob on the rail, take a photo, and repeat the process until you feel you have sufficiently photographed the subject in its entirety.

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The first tool you’ll need in order to focus stack is a is a focus rail, which you can see highlighted in the image above.

Helicon Focus

After you’ve taken an adequate amount of photos—I took 14 for this project—you can then export your photos as tiff files and then upload them into Helicon Focus, a focus-stacking software. After that, you’re done! You can export the composite image and begin the editing process.

Side Note: Photoshop is also equipped with focus stacking tools. However, I prefer to use helicon focus because its processing engine is a lot more powerful, and its results are generally a lot better right out of the box.

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This is what it looks like when you use the focus rail to focus stack.

Final Image

The entire image is sharp and in focus as a result of using the methods mentioned above. While this is just an introduction to focus stacking, I hope it inspires you to incorporate focus stacking into your own product or macro photography projects. Feel free to drop a comment if you have questions.

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