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Creative Composites Using Your Own Photo Stock

Lesson 5 of 12

Focus Stacking Small Elements To Make Them Look Large

Karen Alsop

Creative Composites Using Your Own Photo Stock

Karen Alsop

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Lesson Info

5. Focus Stacking Small Elements To Make Them Look Large
Karen shares some time saving tips on how to focus stack, making it possible to achieve great results with just the camera in your hand.

Lesson Info

Focus Stacking Small Elements To Make Them Look Large

if you've been around photography for a while, you may have come across focus stacking. Often focus stacking is used in macro photography where you've got something very, very small, like an insect and you're using focus stacking so that you can create a greater depth of field. Now in composite photography, focus stacking is crucial as well. Whenever you're photographing something quite small, you will find that you have less depth of field. You have a shallower depth of field to work with. Now if you then put that element into a bigger scene that is all in focus from the front of the scene to the back of the scene and you have an element that is slightly out of focus, making it may be on its back end or its front end due to the depth of field that will not fit into your composite. You really want to make sure that in compositing everything is the same. So if you have a shallow depth of field, that depth of field is exactly the same with every element that you add. If you have a narrow...

aperture that you've used in your scene, you need to match that with every element that you bring in, especially if you photograph something that's small and you want to make it look bigger. So you want a miniature object to look like it is life size. So I am going to show you how to focus stack. Now there's a few methods that you can use and I am providing a focus stacking action for you as part of this class. So you'll be able to use that focus stacking action, I'll show you how it works and you can use focus stacking either freehand but most of the time using a tripod is the best solution. I have this camera in place and I want to make sure that if I put this into a scene, if I wanted to make it look like it's a massive camera then I need to make sure that the whole thing is in focus. So one way that you can do it is you can focus on the very front tip, that part of the camera that is closest to the lens. Now I'm going to change my focus .2 single point just so I have more control on choosing that part of the camera that is closest to my lens and I would say it's this very point right here. Yeah. What I can do is I can photograph that point. I can then move my focus point and photograph an area that is the mid area away from the camera. So I'm going to focus on this part of the camera and then I'm going to focus on the very back of the camera, let's just get that point right there. We're on this silver bit which is a high contrast area. Focus on that. Now if I look at my shot when it's full, full size like this, it may not look like it's out of focus. But if I zoom up, you can see that this part of the camera is in focus on that final shot and this part of the camera is blurry. Now if I go to the first image and I Zuma you can see that the front of the camera is in focus but as you move towards the back that back part is not in focus. So I'm going to show you on Photoshop just a little bit later how you can merge these photos together to create an image that has this object. This camera in focus from front to back. Now with the camera that I'm using right now, the Nikon Z seven you can actually do in camera focus stacking. I'm going to show you how to do that now, you can do this on some of the Nikon DSLR as well. And certainly on the later models of the Z cameras uh seven and six. So it's a really great feature if you're using this quite often, that means that you can actually see in the camera whether you've got the images that you need to create the stack. So let's have a look, we go into the menu and into the camera settings down to right towards the bottom one of the last ones. It's called focus shift shooting. So we're going there and to start with the number of shots, I'm actually going to set it to three because that is all I really need for an object of this size to make it look like it's in focus all the way through. But if you're photographing something smaller then you'll need more shots. The smaller the object, the less depth of field that you have to play with. Now I'm going to go into focus step with Now I also have that set close to the wide end because I want that change to happen with a bit of distance in between. Uh the other settings you can leave as default but one of the things you want to make sure of is that you're peeking stack image is on so you want to create that, which means that you can then have a look at a black and white stacked version in the camera and make sure that it worked for you. Now before you go in and stack you need to focus on the front, closest aspect of that camera. So I'm gonna go back to that corner there and now I'm ready to go into focus. Ship shooting. Now one of the other great things about this camera is you can assign buttons so you can assign this to a button so that you can go straight to it. So I'm going to go to start and press OK. It's going to fire off the three images. Now we'll see whether it got all of the images that I want. So to check our image, we press the play button, we go and press I and we go to display Peking stack image. We press Ok and now you can see that. Yes it got those three photos now it's not going to combine them in the cameras such as just a reference but this means that we know that it's focused all the way through from front to back and it really hasn't moved. It's changed the focus as needed in the camera. So we have our three shots and we need to take them into Photoshop. One of the things you want to keep in mind if you're free hand and your focus stacking is that it's not going to be as accurate but it's certainly viable. Now if you have your camera set to high speed release mode continuous and you release your camera from the tripod, let's just say you were in an op shop or somewhere where you're walking around and you were taking photos and you wanted to focus stack. So you could in fact do the in built focus stacking. Focus on so you can see them a little bit jittery but you could lean on something, focus on that front section. Okay that's in focus. Go to menu. Go to focus shift and as soon as you're ready Press start now even though I had that free hand if I now go into my settings and I go to the peak, display peak stacking image. It's still got all the shots that I need and the action that I'm providing to you will actually blend them all together. It will move them irritate them as needed and it will blend them all together so let's go into Photoshop and do the next step.

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

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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.