Reply To: Focus Stacking

Matt Croxton

I’m sorry! I realize this small piece of peacock ore is not a fossil. The reason I chose to use it is because I thought the highly-textured, iridescent surface would show off any focus errors clearly – and it does.

Here is some technical information on the shot:

Lens: 200mm macro, f/7.1, 1/4 s exposure for each frame. Once a correct exposure was determined, the camera was set to manual mode to insure that this exposure time and aperture remained constant through the dozen images. The shutter was released by timer for each shot, to minimize camera vibration.

Lighting: Two color-matched spotlights were used to illuminate ore, one to the left of the camera, and one to the right.

Staging: I didn’t have a pristine piece of neutral colored fabric available, so I just rested the ore on my leather wallet for the images.


  1. Images were imported into Adobe Lightroom. An initial color temperature and exposure adjustment was made to one image and then these settings were “synchronized” to all the others. Full size tiff files were exported from Lightroom.
  2. The tiff image files were imported into Zerene Stacker. A depth map method of stacking was chosen. This method requires the user to manually mask out areas which do not contain image detail using a slider for control. In the case of this image, much of the dark background was mapped out in the creation of the depth map.
  3. The stacked image that was output from Zerene Stacker was imported to Photoshop.
  4. In Photoshop, my first step was to tone down the brightness of highlight regions while also bringing up shadow areas ever so slightly. I used a method sometimes called the Picture Postcard Workflow (PPW). If you are serious about good color balance and realistic image enhancement, investing your time learning the resources and using the panel at is worth the effort.
  5. My next step in Photoshop was to enhance the color separation in a natural way by using, and then backing off the Modern Man from Mars (MMM) technique. See the link above for explanation on how this approach works. There is also a book if you are interested in learning all the enhancements possible in the PPW. All require a fairly advanced level of comfort at working with layers in Photoshop, but none are gimmicks.
  6. In my final steps, I corrected a color cast in the shadow tones that was imparted during color enhancement, by using curves and measuring color values to assure that the wallet was the neutral black that I knew it to be. Lastly, I applied a black gradient across the left, right, and top side of the image to darken the background and better focus attention on the subject. A spot or two in the background was retouched.

I am attaching a single image from Lightroom, as it appeared prior to import into Zerene Stacker. It can serve as a “before” image for comparison to the final result.

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