Combining Images

I am probably going to tweak someone’s sensibilities, but the ability to combine images into one vision is a strength of digital photography. I will talk more about panoramic images later, but today I wanted to show off one of my favorite pieces of software. So as the rain comes down and my cat snores at my feet, we will discuss Helicon Focus. Rob Sheppard turned me on to Helicon Focus several years back. It is a software program that allows you to take multiple images of the same scene, but at different focus points. It then maps all of these different focus areas out and combines the images into one image. An ideal example would be a macro image with greater depth of field than what is possible with the maximum DOF with a single aperture. It takes a little practice and patience ( and in my case this weekend, trying to contort a body that doesn’t want to contort any more). I was using my Nikon 2oo Micro on my D3s and trying to compose an image that my wife found and liked. She wanted me to shoot upward on a log with a small mushroom in the foreground and several larger mushrooms in the background and keep them all in focus. “Can’t be done”, I told her. Then I got to thinking about using the stacking technique in Helicon Focus. Now, we used to create images similarly in Photoshop, using the same technique and then masking out the out of focus areas, thus combining 4 or 5 images. It worked ok, but it was a lot of work. The people at Helicon Soft have automated this process and made it much easier to stack together images at varying focus points for a single sharp image.

Here are the images that I started out with:

These 9 images were then combined in Helicon Focus. You will notice that I used a marker at the beginning (Rebecca’s hand) and a marker at the end (my hand). Remember this from the HDR series. This makes it easier to pick out a series of images in Lightroom. Unfortunately, you can’t pick the images out in Lightroom and then go to “Edit in” another program or “Export using Preset” like you can with NIK and Photomatix and Photoshop. You simply open the program and then import the images and ask Helicon Focus to render. Doesn’t take very long to process. And when I think about all the time I spent in Photoshop combining images using Layer Masks. Oh well, good learning process.

Here is the final image output by Helicon Focus and saves as a PSD. I then had to import into Lightroom, but that is a minor detail.

Final Image of Mushroom from Helicon Focus (9 Images)

The final thought is that when you have a great spotter along (like my Rebecca), listen to what they are saying and think about how to create what they are seeing! Thanks Sweetie.


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