If you want to keep your entire subject in focus but you don’t have the necessary depth of field, then you should try focus stacking. It’s a handy technique that lets you combine multiple images – focused at different points – to create a merged file that’s sharp throughout.
But how can you focus stack using Affinity Photo? Fortunately, doing an Affinity focus stack is incredibly easy, and in this article, I take you through a step-by-step explanation. I share:
- How to focus stack in the field
- How to merge the resulting images in Affinity
- How to fine-tune the result for the best possible photo
Ready to create macro, landscape, and still life photos that feature an ultra-deep depth of field? Then let’s dive right in, starting with the first step:
Step 1: Set up your tripod
Whenever you plan to do focus stacking, no matter your subject, you must use a tripod. It’s critical that no camera movement is involved. If the camera does move as you’re making your series of photos, you’ll need to start again.
You see, you must have all the images in your focus stack framed the exact same way. If any of the images don’t match up, Affinity will struggle to merge the files, you’ll end up with ghosting, and the finished image won’t look sharp.
Step 2: Select your subject and compose your picture
Once you bring out your tripod, set up your camera and lens. Pick a still subject, then carefully compose your image. Moving subjects will complicate the process too much when you’re just learning the stacking technique – they can easily mess up an otherwise well-executed stack – so make sure your subject is completely stationary.
(If you’re photographing a flower, wait for the wind to stop before you begin shooting. Even a small amount of movement will cause problems!)
By the way: Most focus stacks take 3, 5, or even 20 images. So make sure your composition looks good before you start. You don’t want to get halfway through your stack, then realize that you’ve failed to eliminate a distracting background element. Consider doing a quick inspection of the entire frame before you begin to shoot.
Set your camera mode to Manual. Adjust the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO so you achieve a good exposure. (If you’re not confident you got the exposure right, go ahead and take a test shot.) Then, once you’ve dialed in your manual settings, don’t adjust them. It’s important that all the photos in the series are identically exposed. And set your white balance manually or with a preset; don’t leave it on Auto!
Realize that focus stacking is a time-consuming process. So if you can get the required depth of field without taking extra shots, go that route instead. Only use focus stacking when absolutely necessary!
Here’s my stacking setup:
Step 3: Take a series of photos
Now that you’ve set up your camera and dialed in the correct settings, switch your lens to its manual focus mode. (This is usually done with an AF/MF switch on the side of the lens, though you can sometimes control the focusing mode in your camera’s settings menu.)
The goal here is to capture a series of files, with each new image focused on a different portion of your subject. That way, when you open the images in Affinity Photo, the program can blend all the shots together to create a sharp image.
So start by focusing on the part of the subject that is closest to you and take a photo. If your camera has a depth of field preview button, press it and check to see how much of the scene is in focus. Alternatively, review the image on the camera’s monitor; zoom on in to see exactly where the image begins to fade out of focus. Then adjust your lens so it’s refocused on that spot, and take another photo.
At this point, you simply need to repeat the above process until you’ve captured sharp photos of the entire subject. Keep moving the point of focus farther and farther away, and you’ll eventually cover the subject from front to back. (If you want to get the background in focus, feel free to keep going!)
The number of photos you need to take will vary depending on the lens, the distance to the subject, and the settings you use. Landscape photographers often only capture 2 or 3 images for a focus stack, but macro and product photographers may shoot 10, 20, or 30+ images, especially when working at high magnifications. If you’re just starting out, I’d encourage you to overshoot. Affinity can easily handle any extra shots. But if you fail to capture a necessary file, your final result will look blurry and the stack will be ruined.
(My focus-stacked image, used for illustration purposes, required 4 images.)
Step 4: Focus stack in Affinity Photo
Once you’ve taken your series of files, Affinity Photo makes the focus-stacking process ridiculously simple.
Just open the software, select File, then New Focus Merge:
The New Focus Merge window will open. Click Add, then select the photos you want to focus stack. Click OK:
Affinity Photo will begin to merge the photos. The amount of time this takes will depend on the number of photos you’re merging and their file sizes, but if you’ve only shot 2-10 images, it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.
Step 4: Examine the resulting image and fix any problems
Once Affinity Photo is finished processing the focus stack, the Sources panel will appear with a list of images. At the top, you’ll see the new, merged image created by Affinity Photo. Underneath it, you’ll see all of the files that were used in the stack:
Then, with the merged image selected, zoom in. Carefully scroll around the image, looking for imperfections. If you identify any such areas, use the Toggle Source Preview button at the lower left of the Sources panel. Click through all the images in the stack until you find the one that’s the sharpest in the problem area.
In my merged photo, the back edge of the camera shows problematic ghosting:
But clicking through the image stack, I can find two images that are sharp – one that covers the back left of the old camera, and one that covers the back right.
Select the photo in the stack that offers the sharpest rendering of the problem area. Then select the Clone tool. Set it to 100% opacity. Paint over the problematic area, and watch as the ghosting disappears!
How to focus stack in Affinity Photo: final words
Making a focus stack in Affinity Photo is surprisingly simple! I’ve used other software to create focus-stacked images, but out of all the programs I’ve tried, Affinity is the most painless. Being able to simply select the images and stack them automatically is extremely convenient – and Affinity’s Clone tool makes it easy to tidy up any blurry areas.
If you’re new to focus stacking, test it out in a few different subjects and situations. Shoot a landscape or two, do a still life, and capture some macro compositions. Each subject will require a slightly different approach, but that’s part of the fun!
And experiment with aperture settings as you go. I used a 105mm lens set to f/4 for my example photos, but if you have the ability to stop down the lens, go ahead and do it. The deeper the depth of field in each individual image, the fewer images you’ll need to use in your stack.
Of course, as with any new technique, practice lots; over time, you’ll improve!
What type of images do you plan to focus stack? Share your thoughts in the comments below!