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Helicon Focus and Focus Stacking

Helicon Focus is a program for focus stacking. Focus stacking is a post-processing technique that enables you to extend the depth of field beyond what is available in one shot. First take several shots of the same scene; then let the program blend them together into one image with an extended depth of field. For each shot, you focus your lens on a different part of the object. The resulting series of photographs is called a "stack," and the process of merging them into one image is called "focus stacking."

If you do macro photography — close-ups of flowers, insects, or jewelry, for example — you're familiar with the problem created by a shallow depth of field. Shallow depth of field is an eternal problem in microscope photography, too, because the greater the magnification, the shallower the resulting depth of field. Sometimes this can also be an issue for landscape photography if you want both the foreground and the background to be in focus. Focus stacking with Helicon Focus can help you to overcome shallow depth of field.

Focus stacking with Helicon Focus also allows you to create 3D models of your objects without extra effort, after which you can export them as stereo pairs, anaglyphs, and even videos of the rotating models. Read more about 3D modeling here.

Getting Started with Focus Stacking

To start, photograph a stack, i.e., take a series of shots of the same object. Before the first shot, focus your lens on the front part of the object. Focusing the lens a little bit farther, take another shot, continuing until the fartherst part of the object is in focus. Neither the object nor the camera should move significantly between the shots. Ideally, your camera should be on
a tripod and the object should be still. This isn't possible when you photograph live insects outdoors, but the algorithm can correct for a certain amount of motion. As a result, focus stacking is widely used for photographing live insects as well.

To create stacks manually, you just need your camera and nothing else. However, this method often isn't accurate enough. The alternative is to use special software for focus bracketing (a term for making stacks.)

Helicon Remote is a program for tethered photography that automates focus bracketing. Automated stack creation is more accurate than manually creating stacks, as well as much faster.

To use Helicon Remote, connect your camera to a computer (or latop, tablet, Android phone or iPad). Helicon Remote is available for Windows, Mac or Android 3.1+. Read more about Helicon Remote here.

Read our Quick Start page for more information on making stacks and using Helicon Focus.

  • Focus Stacking Images

    “…The usual method of stopping down the lens to give more, only helps a little and unfortunately adds blurring through lens diffraction, defeating the purpose somewhat. Happily these days, as with many other areas of photography, digital image processing has come to the rescue…” by Russel Brown


    Focus Stacking Images by Russel Brown

Helicon Focus is a fantastic program from Helicon Soft that was originally designed for macro photography, but it can also be applied to other types of images, such as landscapes, gardens, still-life photography, and even architecture.

       
Jim Zuckerman