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Image Stacking On-set

Lesson 6 from: Compositing for Commercial Photography

Lisa Carney

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Lesson Info

6. Image Stacking On-set

Lesson Info

Image Stacking On-set

Pick up the camera. Did I mention the shoot list? Shoot lists don't have to be elegant, shoot lists can be scrawled. Do you mind if I? Come on in. She's gonna re-tether leg room, so we're gonna share the computer here for a second because, as I said, she is responsible for this section, I am not. Just doing a test fire, strobes have been firing. So, I have a shoot list and on the shoot list, what we're gonna do is we're gonna shoot the hero. Get the hero shot first and what we're gonna do is she's gonna stack it to make sure she has it. So stacking, and I might have you talk it through when we get to that stage. Sure, I could shoot a little test. Do you think we're ready to kill the lights? Sure. Let's kill the lights. Dim the lights, I was gonna start singing, but you don't want me to start singing. (laughs) Donna Summer has it, you don't need me doing it. Here we go. Y'all are too young for that. You don't even know the reference do you? (laughing) Disco...

is dead. (laughing) Alright. There we go, and we might be focused on our last shot, which would be pulling it back. So, with image stacking and Christina's gonna talk a little more about this, but what you're doing is you're taking multiple shots. You focus on the front end, middle, three quarters of the way back, and the end, so what did we do? Four stacks I think on this one? I think we did four, four shots. Okay, so some people do 25 shots. Right. Might be a little overkill. I'm just sayin. And, as Christina was saying, she didn't say it yet, but on the 35 millimeter camera, this is a little difficult, you have to kinda guesstimate what you're doing. On a medium format camera you can actually get tick marks on the lens and mark your lens to do this. So on a medium format camera this is easier. 35 millimeter it's a little harder, but it is fantastic. So please, tip of the day, honestly, I will say, this is worth the price of admission for this class, alone, is this tip: image stacking. So with image stacking, the reason why we thought it would be good to show you, if you are not in a situation where you have high powered strobes, and you can't shoot at f/16, or you don't have a tilt-shift lens. So a tilt-shift lens, you can tilt your lens, and get a lot more in focus, so if you don't have those, this is your next option, and so... Shooting in daylight. Yeah, so if you're doing natural light, with a product shot and they want everything in focus, this might be that time that you're gonna have to do that. I'm gonna step behind you and go ahead and go over here. Sure, so often times with a lot of my ad work, I'm using a larger format camera system, with a phase one digital back, I still have to stack with that, so some of the larger formats I'll even shoot on a four by five still, swear to God. I have an adapter plate with a phase one digital back so that I can tilt that lens and get focus. And sometimes even with that we have to stack. So, it's one of these things where they really created this technology as soon as we started shooting digitally because of the limitations of this focus that I'm talking about. Image stacking, focus stacking, focus stacking is probably what we should call it. Yeah. This is retouching to me, this is a huge part of the retouching process, now I lose money on this, but I'm happy to because it is such a pain. Because when you have stuff out of focus it grows, right? The image gets bigger. Your perspective changes. I've gotta try to retouch that in, it takes some time, and it's a pain in the heiney, I'd rather not do it. So, I believe what we're gonna do is take four shots. Yeah, so this is our number one. So here's how I do this, I take my first frame, and then I tag it number one. Right, so I know where my start is, cause you've got all your test shots here. It looks exactly the same when you're just not zooming in a hundred percent, right? So, you need to have, so I mark my start, with one. And then, I'm turning the auto focus off on here, so that I can manually find my next step back. Let me just switch that really quick. So, if you're dealing with, depending on your lens, you might be able to put tape on your barrel to help you, and I'm moving it a fraction of an inch. I'm not going very far to cover our depth in the shot. Again, we don't have a lot of things on the set, but imagine if we did have an enormous amount of stuff on here, then my stack could be 10 frames. Yeah. You know what I mean, so you're just going enough through your shot. I start in the front, take a picture, and then I continue through, and then the last frame is the thing that's the farthest away from camera. Now, while she's doing this, I want to talk to the retouchers out there. Once I discovered, was enlightened, let's say that, I was enlightened to this process. I now include this in my conversation with photographers on jobs, and I can't tell you how many photographers, "Wait what, what is that?". And again, I said earlier that we are providing a service, right, to our clients, that is part of the service of being a retoucher, I believe is, it's not about me, oh I want to make more money, and do the image, do the manipulation myself, it's I'm like hey, if we could do this together, can I suggest that you do this? I hope I didn't block your light there. No you're totally fine I think. The other thing that, I don't know if it was mentioned, is nothing can move on the image stacking. So if you have a product that's moving, if you have flowers and there's air conditioning in the studio, you can't use this, cause literally, just the smallest little waver will ruin this. Right, and okay, that being said. I've shot tacos that have fallen, microscopically. Like it looked like it didn't move, and this is why I always stack immediately, right then. I just put all the files together as soon as we're done with the shot, and they're like, "Aww, the lettuce fell," "Gotta re-do it." Lettuce wilts under the light. Yeah. This has happened to me on some major burger chain food. Right. Retouching, the lettuce will start... It does! Bending down. Your food will naturally, especially if it's lettuces and things, they're actually living at that point, and you're putting a dressing on it, there's weight on that. Yup. It will settle, and so, in that situation, you might not be able to do this technique, you're gonna have to be at f/16 or f/22, and you've got to get enough light in there to cover what you can, so when an image in the stack, when something inside the image stack moves in one of the frames, you get this bizarre ghosting, and so you know right away that something went awry. Now in that, I will tell you, as a retoucher, that's alright. If there's a little hiccup in the corner, that's alright. There'll be a shot where I can paste it in, and it's not too difficult, so it's not a deal breaker. Yeah. So, you might be able to fix it, because you can actually alter the files before you stack, and with Helicon Soft you can actually modify that stack if you need to. Yeah. So this was my last shot for the, so that's the way you saw, I went too far. So really, we can just do it with three. So what she's doing is in Lightroom, she's checking her focus, and realizing does she need all three, or all four? How do you like our... I think it's beautiful. Our fake bubbles here, okay. Alright, so we have the first shot is for the glass, the second shot is for the lime, and then the third shot is for this guy right here. So three shots front of the glass, lime, back bottle, bottle back, put it in the back in the ball. (laughs) Back bottle. Back bottle. So three shots. So now, I'm selecting those three frames, I'm going up to file. I'm gonna stop you for one second. Yeah. You go ahead. I want to tell you that we have the Pro version of this software, so we can do this through Lightroom. Remember, I told you I was going to tell you when things go off the rail? I don't want someone at home, they bought the Junior version, and they've got the software, and they're like, "I'm in Lightroom, I can't see it!" You gotta buy the Pro version, and when you buy the Pro version, you need to restart your Lightroom. You need to actually quit out of everything. I usually restart the whole computer, before it will show up, do you understand? So that's another off the rails, I want to give you a little warning, so when you're doing it at home. Okay, so we are now... I selected the files in Lightroom, and I'm telling it to export through to Helicon Soft, and then this window comes up from Helicon, and now it's showing my three files that I picked on the right side, and so I'm just gonna hit render. While it's rendering... It's processing. While it's doing that, I want you to notice that lovely DNG on the side of this. Image stacks digital negatives, which means they are raw files, they have an XNP, you can open it all the way back to beginning stage, this is glorious. It's in the Pro version, I don't think you can do DNG in the soft version. Correct. Let me say that one more time. The DNG needs to be the Pro version. It's not expensive, it pays for itself on the first job, I assure you. Oh wait, I accidentally saved it as a TIF, let me just re-save it. Okay. Yeah, no savings TIFs in this house. No saving TIFs. We save DNGs. So, let me take a moment to talk about that, since we're talking about tethering. Often times for me, do you remember I talked about the food chain, the chain of command? If I'm hired by the photographer, I have access to everything because I'm talking to her. If I'm hired by an ad agency, I don't even know her. I don't even get her number half the time, so who at the ad agency is giving me all the deliverables to work on? Do they know what an XNP is? Do they know what a sidecar is, if you're using phase one? And that's all the controls, that's all the goody bits, that's the light, the contrast, the settings. And if the design agency doesn't know that, then I don't get it as the retoucher, and it's a nightmare, it is a hundred percent my living in entertainment advertising. Entertainment advertising, the studios will shoot whatever it is, and then it goes off to whatever design agencies, and they're designing off JPEGs that already have XNPs applied. "Okay, I'm gonna finish it, can I have all the raws," "and we'll start over?" I don't have the contrast, I don't have the color, I don't have the dehazing, I don't have the vignetting, I have nothing and I have to guess. Guessing is very expensive, I often, and I'm not kidding you, will spend an hour deconstructing a file effete, from a JPEG to a raw file. An hour, guessing, so I really support the DNG, why I support the DNG format. And I know photographers stick their nose up at it at times, because it's Adobe, and it's embedded, it's proprietary, but it's one, there's no XNP. You don't have to go find it, it's one file, it's happy, they live together, they're married, there's no divorce, everyone's together. (laughing) The children are happy, it's all good. So I would, I know it's a little controversial, you may not know that, but I'm saying this, but I would prefer a DNG format whenever possible. Yeah. Cool. So are we good is that staff? We are good. I accidentally saved it in two different folders, but now it's on your desktop. Saving more than... (laughing) So anyway, please please please, investigate this. So I think we should go ahead and run through the shoot. So, I'm gonna be your assistant, and I'm gonna do the shot list, so if we could now, do our coverage. Do me a favor, make sure that the image is on your desktop. Excellent, good idea. What make sure? Just to double check. What? Crazy talk there. Right? Alright. So it should be, it's called stack two. Stack two, I see it. There you go. See this is the TIFs, so get rid of that one. Alright. (laughing) And I'm gonna go ahead, she's driving my car, it's a little awkward. Yeah, it's weird, it's like a very personal thing, your computer is, right? When somebody else is on your computer, it's like what are you doing in there? Like somebodies in your purse. Yeah, it is, it's totally a purse, and I'm a big bag lady. (laughing) Alright, I want to call attention to something. I am dragging it by its name onto the Photoshop icon, and when I do the retouching we'll talk more about this, (gasping) It opened in camera raw! Do you see this? (laughing) It's image stack. The excitement, you have no idea, because you haven't spent, you haven't been up til two in the morning trying to do this job, I have. It opens in camera raw, I can adjust it if need be. I can go back to zero if need be, it's beautiful. I have all the data, and that's because... And this is... Just zoom in at hundred percent, just make sure it really is sharp. Yeah. Now, this, and as I said before, this is something she would do on the set, and if I'm on the set, I would absolutely be doing that. So for those of you hiring photographers, you might want to consider hiring retouchers. Now... Ah it's beautiful, it's beautiful. Yeah, okay. I'm in love. Alright, it's my trick of the week, is this image focus stacking, now while we're here, I think I'd like to take a moment, and I'm gonna ask you to go over there. Yeah. And I just want to call attention, to some issues on this file, alright? Not that's gonna be corrected in film. I'm a retoucher, I'm like oh my goodness. You're never gonna get that lime right. Don't even bother, don't bother, the color's not gonna be right, we're not wasting any time, I will do that. I'm looking at the reflections, so what do I need to get rid of? What should we consider? Now, there's a big one right here, above the lime. Oh, yeah. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy, okay? Now, we had a chat earlier today, about... That's from this fill light here. The highlight on the side of the bottle. Don't worry about it honey, I'll take care of it. Frequency separation, there's some techniques for this, I will take care of it. If it's hard, then I might say, "Hey, can you relight this?" Alright? I'm making sure everything's in focus. Do you remember I said about how brilliant I thought she was about putting the background in? Look at the neck of the bottle. Look at all that reflection. Can you imagine having to try to retouch that later? Thirty bucks, you get a little thing... (laughing) You stick it right there, you save so much time in retouching, I can't even tell you, alright. Is there anything else I want to point out? The more we're doing this type of work, there are more and more print shops that are offering larger prints for less money, you know? As resolution gets better with printing, that pricing comes down for all of us, which is great. Back in the day, this was a very expensive thing to do. Absolutely. And if we had to go on location, this was a cheaper option. That background, if you look up close, it's a vinyl print, it's not so pretty. There's stripes all in it, who cares, it's blurry. I can blur it a little bit more in Photoshop, easy, with a loose mask so, I'm telling you that if you're buying your prints on your own, cheap! Cheap is fantastic, it's blurry, who cares? So don't spend your money on an expensive print, unless you're going to hang it in your living room after the photo shoot.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Compositing Companion Handout
Delivery Worksheet
Estimating Shoot Worksheet
Retouch Checklist 1
Retouch Checklist 2
Solar-Curves Action

Ratings and Reviews


Super Lisa is the best teacher. She makes learning Photoshop fun. Great course. Lisa has a great teaching style. She mixes in a great speech cadence, great voice up and down and pausing, jokes, and is extremely knowledgeable and fun to watch. Awesome course. Learned a lot from the course.

Anne Dougherty

I love Lisa Carney’s classes! She is casual yet precise, and she thinks like I do! The workflow logic of her process is brilliant. Really brilliant. I started working in PS version 1.something, as the publisher I worked for was just computerizing their department, and I was a total novice. But right from our first day working digitally, we had to create images and files that our novice printers could successfully print from. Lisa’s logic/approach is so familiar! Making things work on a deadline is an incredible way to learn time-saving techniques, and I wish I’d had Lisa crunching solutions with me. I am new to the newest PSCC, but all off her process made sense to me. She moves fast, so it might be a little tough for a total beginner, but she stops and explains things very clearly once she’s gone through it a time or two on a file, so, hopefully everyone can get things solidified for themselves. Now that I am retired and doing my photo work just for myself, her compositing techniques are helping me get to my end results much more quickly. I wish I had a Lisa sitting alongside me, with a glass of wine, while I’m experimenting with my creative composited work. Thank you so much for having her as a CreativeLive instructor/mentor.


I took advantage of Photoshop Week and caught this class live - and loved it! I own other CreativeLive food photography courses, but I really liked the way Lisa and Christina taught the image shoot segment in this one. They show us a little glimpse of how the retoucher and photographer work together, in real time, on the set and I like that. Lisa and Christina are also very giving with their knowledge of how things work behind the scenes as well. Though, the main reason I bought this course was for the info Lisa shared about file naming and file version organization. There are a lot of video's on how to perform functions in Photoshop, but almost none about correctly naming, and organizing your versions. Now, I've got a real base to start from. Thanks :)

Student Work