Digital Photography, Beyond The Basics: Focus-Stacking

Today it’s time to step up and take the picture editing process, and your photography to the next level.

All picture editing software worth its salt uses a method of picture editing called layers.  Layers are very simple to understand.  Just like a cake with different flavors, rather than mixing the batter so you get one big sugary mess to cook up and let rise, the layers are “baked” one at a time and then assembled with frosting in between.

If you are working with a layer, and you want to see some parts, but not others, then you apply a “mask” to hide some parts of that layer for more intrigue and mystery, sometimes adding spice to your picture.

Today is a real quick explanation of a technique that I learned recently to help overcome the limitations of the lens on the front of your camera.

When you take a landscape or scenic picture and you want to incorporate a part of the foreground closest to the lens, with the vast expanse of the beautiful scenery behind it, you can take two pictures on the same settings.  One focused on the part of the picture in the front.

Digital Photography Chama Before and After

Now, take a second image with the rest of the image adjusted for a large depth-of-field, (remember?  a large aperture number, small aperture opening.)  So the rest of the background is in sharp focus.  When you lay one of these images on top of the other in Photoshop, Elements, GIMP, Paint Shop Pro, or other layer-based editing software, you can hide or “mask” the background of one image combining it with the sharper parts of the other layer and save it as one picture.  The results are open for you to explore.

Digital Photography Rio Chama Stack

The argument has been around for ages, what makes a real photograph.  Isn’t Photoshop cheating?  There are as many opinions on one side as the other.  My take on the whole image editing debate is image editing can be a great tool, provided you don’t try and pass off a”Photoshopped” original as “untouched”.

Sound like a lot?  It can be, but with nice and easy guided steps, you’ll be learning how to edit and enhance your own images in no time.  Half the fun is in getting there.




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  1. Thanks once again for helping us amateurs look better!
    Sonya Lenzo

  2. Kevin Bettencourt

    In no way would I say editing digital photography would be cheating. The advancements exist to create art. The additions of layers and masking combined with the traditional aperture and lighting approaches make the old habits of dodging and burning obsolete. Did anyone say Eddie Van Halen wasn’t as good because his guitar was electric? Of course not because electric guitars have been around long enough. Technology jumps at leaps and bounds so embrace it or be run over.

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  3. I have spent a lot time in arts, drawing and computer graphics and have used every piece of software that exists. Of course I’m now leaning toward GIMP as one of the best free picture editing tools out there. It’s good to see a whole different field use the same tools and same ideas to accomplish their tasks. The layering is one of the best features ever added to graphic editing software. The one thing I miss in GIMP that photoshop had was the folders though. 🙁 Hopefully they will add it in a future release.


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  4. Thanks for the great tip about layers in photograph editing. Do you have any tips or clues you use to determine if a photograph is untouched or not?
    I think it’d be fascinating to do some side by side comparisons and then have you show us what was real and what was altered.

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    • Thanks Michael, under the right circumstances , you’ll never know what was real and what was altered. My biggest pet peeve is people presenting images as unaltered or untouched when they really have been. If you want to know if an image has been digitally edited, take a really close look, look for texture changes, changes in color, changes in light tones. A good Photoshop job will leave behind very few traces of what’s been changed. But, in areas like portrait photography, there’s room for that, too. One of the giants in the Photoshop world has noted that he’ll take a couple of pounds off of a client, and after many years he hasn’t gotten any complaints…

  5. Hi Dewayne,

    Do you teach digital photography classes anywhere locally?

    You present amateur photographers in a very clear manner. You’d be a natural teacher in person offline in the real world and not just here online teaching folks on the internet as well I bet!

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    April Braswell
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  6. Clare Delaney

    Thanks for explaining layering so beautifully! I also like your take on the Photoshop debate!

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  7. I see how people can get so interested in photo editing with that explanation Dewayne . I am sure it is good fun . Results are certainly worth the effort .