Photo Focus Merge

On a recent trip I made two images of the same subject; one with the foreground in focus and the other with the background in focus. I settled on the image with the foreground in focus for future use in a gallery, article or print, as it conveyed a stronger message of the subject at hand.

A few weeks later while reviewing my images again, I thought to myself ‘What if I could overlay the two images and combine them to give me one in-focus image?’ The use of a tripod on the original shoot would have let me capture at a slower shutter speed and stop down to an aperture as small as f32, if necessary. However, I didn’t have it with me so,¬†as they say, no use in crying over spilt milk! The image below focused on the background, with the rear of the boat not in critical focus.

Note: Click through any of the images for a larger light box view to see more information about the image and technique.
A photograph of an old boat and village in the background, with the camera lens focused on the background. This image is used here to show a technique in Photoshop known as Focus Merge.
In this image I focused on the background. Because the boat dominated the frame, this did not work for me.

I decided to try my luck with Google and search for ‘combine images, focus near, focus far.’ The search result

yielded an article by PhotoShop Essentials, and the article proved to be an invaluable resource for the image that I’d ultimately create (third image down). That said, after a few steps into the article I deviated from the instructions (more on that in a moment). The basic command in Photoshop to merge the images together into one focused image is:¬†File >¬†Scripts>Load Files into Stack.¬†A pop-up window opens and you select the files¬†that you want to merge from your applicable drive.

A photograph of an old boat and village in the background, with the camera lens focused on the foreground. This image is used here with another to show a technique in Photoshop known as Focus Stack.
In this image I focused on the foreground. The cracked paint on the rear of the boat is in focus, with the background blurred. This image was exported from a raw file without any adjustments.

After I selected my images in the pop-up dialogue box I pressed  OK and Photoshop opened them in a new file with two layers (the number of layers corresponds to the number of images you select). The next step in the article explains how to Auto-Align Layers from the imported images. That is the last step I performed before I distractingly ventured out on my own, this due to the fact that the technique explained in the article was more appropriate for multiple images (more than two) and use of a tripod.

On a whim, I started to erase the top layer to expose the in-focus back of the old boat in the underlying layer. ¬†Therefore, theoretically, I really didn’t focus-stack the images – and you’ll notice I’ve changed the name of the technique to focus merge, inadvertently ¬†– but aligned two images; one with foreground focus and the other with background focus to get an image with great depth of field that I otherwise had a difficult time achieving without the use of a tripod. Also, depending on my proximity to the subject in the foreground, I may or may not have achieved the desired depth-of-field on the initial shoot, but some math would have solved that equation if I’d taken the time to do the calculations. One thing’s for sure: take your tripod on all photo excursions!

Below is my focus merged image. Photoshop did a great job of aligning them, considering that I’d shifted position for the two images (note the different composition of the above images). After post processing the merged images I was happy with the results on my first attempt at focus-merging two images.

A photograph of an old boat and village in the background, which is a composite of two images - one with focus on the foreground and one with focus on the background. The technique in performed in Photoshop and known as Focus Stack.
This image was the result of combining two images, one with the background in focus and one with the foreground in focus. This image is a jpg which was exported from a tif file made up of layers.

My technique used here was a derivative of the focus-stack procedure and in the future I’m excited to try the technique in full as explained by Steve Patterson on his great blog It looks to be a professional in-depth Photoshop resource and I’ll definitely reference it again in the future!

Until the next time…

It’s a great day for photography. Shoot ’til it feels good!


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