Hydrangeas at Myōhōji in 2018
Once again, the last place for me to see hydrangeas in for the year was at Myōhōji shrine in Tokyo's Suginami ward. And once again, I got there very late in the season so the flowers were starting to fade. It took me an hour to walk there, but as I left in the very early morning, it was very a pleasant hour’s walk. And this time I packed a tripod to try something new - focus stacking!
You’ve probably noticed that in some pictures parts of it are in focus and other parts are not. This can be due to a variety of factors including the type of lens you’re using, camera settings and distance to the subject from the lens. In some cases (like portrait photography), you might be after this effect so you can separate the subject from the background, and that is great. But there are other times when it isn’t and you want everything perfect - like in landscape/cityscape photography. This is where focus stacking is very helpful!
All you need is a sturdy tripod, some extra time and Photoshop. A cable release might be a good idea too as it’ll keep your hands off the camera and avoiding camera shake. And instead of one picture, multiple pictures are needed. It’s a pretty easy technique.
First, setup your camera on the tripod and compose you picture. After that, start by focusing the camera on the part of the frame that is closest to the lens (i.e. foreground) . Next, move the focus point out a little further away and take the next picture, then keep repeating. So, the first picture will have the closest part of the frame in view while everything else will be blurred. As the focus point moves further out, what is near the camera will become blurred. In the final shot, what is furthest away from the camera will be in focus and everything near will not. Does that make sense? Hopefully, so far, so good.
Take the photos to a computer, get them into Photoshop as a stack, use the auto-align function to get everything straight and lined up, then use the auto-blend feature to get one final image. It only takes a few minutes and the end result should be a picture with everything in perfect focus. Actually, it’s not a perfect method, as you will see some failures on occasion, due to a variety of reasons, but overall it is really good.
If you want to see a video about it, I recommend you looking at this one, by Mark Denney on YouTube. Mark is a great photographer and very engaging with his audience and I enjoy his videos a lot. I found his video incredibly helpful when I first started using focus stacking and this is the first time I’ve ever publish photographs using the technique.