Skip to main content

photo & video

Creative Composites Using Your Own Photo Stock

Lesson 6 of 12

Focus Stacking In Adobe Photoshop

Karen Alsop

Creative Composites Using Your Own Photo Stock

Karen Alsop

buy this class


Sale Ends Soon!

starting under


Unlock this classplus 2000+ more >

Lesson Info

6. Focus Stacking In Adobe Photoshop
Learn how to use Adobe Photoshop to focus stack elements and then place them into a scene to match.

Lesson Info

Focus Stacking In Adobe Photoshop

I'm going to show you how to focus that in Photoshop. Now you'll remember that we photographed the Yoshiki matt camera in a few different ways. The first time that I photographed it, I was on a tripod and I photographed manually focusing on the front most point the mid and the back. So those are the three shots that I will merge first. But then later we photographed using no tripod, so freehand using the focus stack method in the camera so that it took the three shots in succession. And then we were able to check that those shots would merge together. So I am going to show you how to focus stack that when it's free hand and you'll find that my focus stacking action which I've included with this class will really helpful that to be streamlined for you. But I'll show you manually how you would do that so that you understand that process. So let's take a look at the first set of images. The three photographs of the issue come at where the photograph is focused at a different point. So if ...

we look at this one, the focus is right near the front. Now, the next one, the focal point was back here and the final one, the focal point was right at the very back edge of the camera. So we now need to merge these together and you'll need to take note that while I usually will tell you to work non destructively and to create smart objects from roars so that you can always have access to that raw data when it comes to focus stacking, it does work better to emerge a flat version of the image. We're going to go through a two step process here. We're going to take this into Photoshop and run the Photoshop action now with these images they were photographed on a tripod so they should be still but I do like to make sure by also aligning the images together, which is why I'm bringing it into Photoshop and not simply stacking directly from bridge. So we select all of the images, the three and we go to tools down to Photoshop and then go to load files into Photoshop layers. So this process then brings all of those images, those three images or however many photographed into one document as one set of layers that you can then merge together. Now we've got the three images in there as layers that we can then merge together. Now what we can do is either do this manually or use the focus stack action that I have provided. So let's make it easy and actually use this focus stack action which is basically selecting all the layers and bringing them all together, making sure that they are all aligned and that they all merge perfectly together. So to get your action, go to the class bonus material, download the action, double click it and it should load in your Photoshop panel in actions. Once you've loaded it and it's showing up in your actions. Panel, press play So once it's finished all of that, it will show up as a merged file and you can also see how it's masked the different areas. So let's take a look at that. We'll go to the top one. You can see that it's chosen out the very front areas of the image and made sure that those are the ones that it uses for the front, because that's the most in focus. And then if we go down to the next one, so you can see as we go down and have a look at these different parts, it's merged it all together. So that that final piece is in fact in focus. So if we zoom up on it, you can see the front area is in focus uh the side and right through to the back. Now, the reason that we do this is that if we want to put this in a scene that is in focus from front to back, maybe we want to make this look like a giant camera. It won't look out of place, it won't look like it was a small image or object that was made larger. So I'm now going to quickly show you how this would look in a scene. I'm not going to go into great detail right now on how to extract and how to place and how to add shadows and all of those sort of things because that is another topic altogether and it is in fact something that you can find in my other creative life class. So if you have a look at that, you'll find quite a lot of good tips on extraction and shadows and lighting. But what we're going to do now is see how this fits and how it works being in a larger scene. So the first thing that I do is grab that merged image and I cut it out and because I shot on green, I can make it really easy for myself in just selecting the green color, inverting that so that it is selecting the green and leaving everything else. Now you can adjust your fuzziness when you do this so that it doesn't sink into some of the camera because there's some reflective parts on the camera there. It will be a little bit tricky to do this fully with the green screen extraction but we just paint those areas back in with the mask so we get it as good as we possibly can. This looks pretty good press okay? And then we create a mask from this. So and we also need to hide the other layers beneath. Otherwise they'll be showing up one really good quick way of fixing it is holding down option and clicking on the mask and then you can see the areas that are black and the areas that are white and so I want this area down here to be fully black. So I'll just paint with black there, make sure that my flow is up 100% make sure that my pen hardness is quite hard so that it doesn't have a soft, fuzzy edge and just go over this area real quick. Now I'm using a wacom tablet. Sin Teak 16. I highly recommend if you're doing this kind of work to invest in a tablet. The interest pro is fantastic. The wacom 16 and I also have a mobile studio pro which I use when I'm mobile. So we go in there and paint with white just real quick over those areas that we know we're showing up as green because of the reflection. All right, that's pretty good. So once we've done that we can click option and bring everything back. Now one real quick little tip on green because we don't want that part to be green, is to change the hue saturation on this so that there's no green in this image. So we create a hue saturation adjustment layer. We clip that to our cut out and I've already made a preset of this green screen. It pulls my green out straight away. But you can also select greens, make sure that it's taking in all the possible green shades that are there. You can move it around so you can see what it is affecting. I usually like to make the greens a warmer tone and then bring the saturation right down. Now that's taken away all of our green completely and now it's ready to be placed into a scene. Now, the next thing that I'll do just to keep it all together is to create a smart object of this. So the smart object contains the masked camera and it contains the hue saturation adjustment layer. And I love using smart objects because they help me to organize really complex composites. I use my objects to contain ross, but I also use my objects to package up my elements. So that's what I'm doing right now. I'm packaging up that Yeah, she combat camera, which I will now name. So I know what it is and that is ready to pull into my scene Now, I've also provided you a scene and the camera images as tips so that you can run through this process yourself. So what I'm going to do now is bring that camera into this scene and show you quickly how I would edit that in. As I said, there's a lot more detail on the compositing aspect of adding shadows and shading and lighting in my other creative life class. So let's grab the camera and take that file into the background image that I'm providing for you Now. It's in there. We just bring that down and adjust as required. Now you can see the lighting direction shading and lighting would need to be adjusted but the angle is about right. So now we've got this giant camera in a scene, the sort of things that I would do here is first merger into the grass. Um, so we're going to zoom up and you can see there's a bit of shadow underneath that is the shadow that we shot there. I might actually leave that there because we can add to that shadow and it makes it more realistic, but we want to get rid of it here because we want the camera to be merged into the grass. So I am going to create a mask. I'm going to use my brush and it is at about 80% hardness paint with black, which is taking away our object. So black conceals and white reveals. So we're just going to get rid of this shadow here, but we'll leave it over here for now. Now the next thing that we want to do is a mask in some grass. So I am going to also include this particular brush for you. Um, I have a lot of brushes that I've created and a lot of brush sets that are also available in my story, Art Education stock. And this one here, it's a red and it can be used as a read or is grass. And what I do with this is I use it to create a grass effect around the edge and what I'm really doing is masking in the shape and because of the way that I've created this, it will change every time it moves, the angle actually changes to replicate real grass, which is not all going to be on the same angle. So we bring in a bit of the grass that is actually the grass that's behind. So if I show you that mask, this is what I've masked in. So that helps with a bit of realism embedding it into the scene. I might even put a little bit in front there. Now, this particular image that I've just shown you here, uh it does need extra shadow on lighting, which I'm not going to do right now, but you can go into more depth and detail on that in my other class. But what you can see here is that it now looks like this is a giant camera. This camera works because it is in focus from front to back. The camera is not dropping out of focus. The depth of field matches because if you look at the scene, the very back area might be slightly soft, but all of this area right here is all in focus. So there should be no loss of depth of field on the camera itself. And that's why we've focused at, I showed you how to focus stack using a tripod. But what if you are out traveling around, don't have your tripod, you don't have anything steady. Can you really focused at? Yes, you can um it may not be quite as crisp and clear, but it will, it will do the job. So I'm going to show you now focus stacking the freehand images that we've photographed earlier and you'll see that it brings them all together quite well. So these last three In the series, the three that I photographed free hand. So if we look at each of them independently, you'll see a slight movement between the shots. Not much because I did fire off a lot of shots in succession quite quickly. So that is the key. You don't want to just shoot, then wait, then shoot, then wait because the movement will be greater. If you can fire off those shots, one after the other, the more modern your camera probably the faster that you'll be able to do that, the more frames per second that you'll have at your disposal. So doing that free hand does work. Now we need to now take this in to Photoshop in the same way. But you'll see here that these are raw files. So I wanted to just go into this and show you what you would need to do if you're editing these raw files, I'm in bridge at the moment, you could do the edit in light room. But what you want to make sure of is that each of these images are exactly the same. So if you make a change on one of them, you need to copy off that change on another. It would be probably a good idea at this point to even crop because we don't need all of that excess information. So I'm also going to straighten and bring down the highlights. Bring the shadows up a little bit as well. I often use highlights and shadows to flatten out my images so that then later I can bring them up and boost them using dodging and burning techniques in Photoshop to help everything blend together. So I do recommend if you are compositing, try changing the highlights and shadows bringing in more detail. So usually the highlights and bring down to about there and the shadows to about there. Um just give me that detail. Now you see this image here is now different to this one. So what you need to do is copy or edit settings but you do need to make sure that the settings that you changed are included in this list. So there are a few different options there. Now I can copy all of them. It would basically cover cover off on what I'm trying to do here. But crop isn't selected. So make sure that if you've cropped it, crop is included. If you've done some spot removal, include that as well. So copy that and then paste those settings across to each of your images. You can do that in bulk as well. So that now we've got these three. Now we could open these as objects in Photoshop but that would not work. So I've set this up so that when I open a raw file, it opens up in Photoshop as a raw as I showed you earlier in the class. I could open it as a copy or or just straight as a flat one, but I want them as layers. So what I need to do is actually click on done that will then make the changes in bridge and then I need to change these two tiffs ideally or something that is a non destructive, not a J Peg. We don't want to compress it. So I am going to now export this and I've got a setting which is called ready to merge. That will put it into a new folder. Save them as tiffs. And I'll be ready to use those files in Photoshop emerge them together. So it's doing that. Once it's finished, we'll bring those over into Photoshop the same way that we did that before. So the important part of this action is the aligning of the images when you're photographing freehand, you'll move that ever so slightly and you need Photoshop to figure out which angle it should all sit so that it is exactly in the same place. Now it's done this. We're ready to zoom up and have a look at the results so we can see if we're looking at it that it has emerged. The areas that are sharp showing up the areas that are dropped out of focus have disappeared. They've been masked out just like the last time it's done a really, really good job and I didn't use a tripod for this depth of field is really, really important in composites and matching that depth of field so that everything is consistent. If you don't, if you put something in like a camera that is not all in focus and you put that into a scene where everything else is in focus, you will find that the viewer gets conflicted, like even if they can't actually tell what is wrong with the image, they can see there's something not quite right about it. If you have multiple elements like that in your scene, it's really going to start to look messy. So you want consistency in your depth of field, just like you do with your lighting, in your shadows and everything else that you use to bring your elements together to tell that story.

Class Description

Short on time? This class is available HERE as a Fast Class, exclusively for Creator Pass subscribers. 


  • Photograph textures, atmosphere and elements that you can use in composites.
  • Easily manage your own photo stock library.
  • Shoot miniatures and focus stack.
  • Supersize phone photos and use them in your composites.
  • Create photoshop patterns and brushes.
  • Photograph costumes and dress your subjects in Photoshop.
  • Find creative ways to make anything possible.


There is nothing like the feeling of creating art from your own images. Purchased stock can be a valuable resource, but it shouldn’t be the first solution when you are working on a creative composite.

Learn how to creatively photograph elements that become other elements in a composite. Turn miniatures into life sized elements. Photograph incredible costumes and dress your subjects in Photoshop. Create brushes, textures and patterns from photos that you can use over and over again. Be resourceful and creative in your hunt for elements, and take your compositing to the next level.

These techniques will open up a world of possibilities for your image creation, where anything is possible.


  • Composite Photographers who would like to expand their creativity
  • Photographers that would like to take a leap into the compositing world
  • Anyone that is looking for fresh and unique ways to bring their imaginations to life


Adobe Photoshop 2021 (22.5.0)
Lightroom CC (4.4)
Adobe Bridge 2021


Karen Alsop is an internationally acclaimed Melbourne, Australia-based photographic digital artist. Expanding on two decades of photographic and graphic design experience, Karen brings photography and art together to create stunning artworks that tell a story and take the viewer into another world.

Specializing in Portrait Art, her digital portraiture captures the personality and character of her subjects by placing them within a visual story highlighting their interests. Karen uses the power of Photoshop to composite multiple captures together, making the impossible possible within her art.

Karen's latest project sees her using her compositing skills to give children with severe disabilities the wings to fly. The Heart Project, a joint partnership between Story Art and The Sebastian Foundation is bringing hope worldwide to children and families through the power of photography.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Story Art Education Offer

Actions and Brushes

Camera Files


Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

Related Classes


Charlene Mitchell

WOW! I'm not familiar with Karen's work so this was a wonderful surprise! Loved the detail she included in her instruction and her passion shows through in every topic! So many tips and tricks to help 'sell' the finished piece as believable - details I wouldn't have thought of. Going to check out her other class on CL and also her website!

Melissa Helland

Can’t tell you how much I appreciate all I’ve learned from this teacher. Wonderful classes here on Creative Live and her site has even more learning opportunities. Worth every penny of my Creative Live membership just for this class alone!

Cristina Menor

Karen is an excellent teacher. Her lessons are always very well explained and very easy to understand and to follow. You will learn lots of valuable tips. I absolutely recommend this class if you want to learn how to create incredible compositions very near to reality.