Skip to main content

Macro Photography: Insects and Plant Life

Lesson 15 of 15

Post-Processing: Focus Stacking

Chris McGinnis

Macro Photography: Insects and Plant Life

Chris McGinnis

Starting under


Get access to this class +2000 more taught by the world's top experts

  • 24/7 access via desktop, mobile, or TV
  • New classes added every month
  • Download lessons for offline viewing
  • Exclusive content for subscribers

Lesson Info

15. Post-Processing: Focus Stacking


  Class Trailer
Now Playing
1 Class Introduction Duration:01:39
2 Location Scouting Duration:02:59
3 What is Macro Photography Duration:02:09
5 Gear Duration:11:20
6 Preparing for Outdoor Macro Duration:02:00
7 Camera Settings Duration:06:48
10 Textures and Focus Stacking Duration:01:43
11 How to Get the Shot Duration:15:23
12 Using Macro Flash Set Duration:02:44
13 Post-Processing: Crane Fly Duration:10:04
14 Post-Processing: Bee Duration:14:57

Lesson Info

Post-Processing: Focus Stacking

Next up, we're gonna do some focus stacking. So, we've already talked about focus stacking in-camera with Olympus's in-camera focus stacking, but we can also stack photos after we shoot on the computer, and we have a couple of options to do that. We can do that with Photoshop or we can do that with software that's dedicated to focus stacking like Zerene Stacker or Helicon Focus. What we're looking to achieve is something like this where everything that we want in focus is in focus, and everything that we don't want in focus is out of focus. This allows us to create results that aren't always possible with a single shot in-camera. So, the first thing we need to do is bring some photos into Lightroom. I've already pre-selected three photos to work with my stack. These photos were intentionally shot, focusing on different areas of my subject, and you'll see what I mean in just a second. None of these photos are ideal on their own, but when we stack them together, we're gonna get a really ...

cool result. So here, Photo 1, the front of the eyes are not in focus. This photo would be considered a miss. Next, we almost have the front of the eyes in focus. The focus is a little bit closer to me, but not the front of the eyes, also a miss. The third photo has the front of the eyes in focus, but now the back of the eyes are out of focus. And what I want is the front of the eyes, the face, the back of the eyes, all in focus. But I want to keep this nice soft background around the subject, and because we have these three overlapping focus areas, we can merge these together in post and create a stack that's all in focus the way we want it. So, the first thing that I like to do when I'm preparing photos for a stack is set myself up for success. Stacking software, whether it's Photoshop or something else, have the ability to auto-align your layers and auto-align areas, but it's even better if we can help it out. So, the first step is going to be to help that out. We're gonna go in and develop our photos, and we can pick any one. So I'm gonna pick the third shot because that's the closest to the result that I want, and the first thing I'm going to do is crop. So we'll crop it to a 4 x 5 ratio, and we're gonna crop vertically, and make sure you leave a little bit of area above and below the subject because I shot this handheld, and we need to compensate for my movement. So as I'm adjusting my focus in or out, I'm moving ever so slightly. I'm doing everything I can to stay perfectly still, but inevitably, there's some movement. So, as you can see, before I even crop from 1 to 2 to 3, these photos are not perfectly the same. And, we're gonna try and straighten that out before we go into our stacking software. So, back to that crop, we'll go to 4 x 5 portrait. Give a little bit of buffer above and below, like this, and what I like to do is find reference points in my crop because what I want to do is crop these three images the exact same way as one another. So, here I have this intersection at the right edge of the eyeball, or of the eye, and I'm going to use that as a reference point when I crop my other images. Like this, and then I can go through and make my other adjustments. Fortunately, this image doesn't need all that much work, but I'll make a couple of quick adjustments to push it where I want it. So slight exposure adjustment, some more contrast, I'm gonna bring up the highlights to lighten that green in the background, just a bit of texture. I really like this purple wave through the eye. I'm gonna come in here, and I'm gonna adjust the saturation to the purple and bring it up a bit here in luminance. And then we're gonna reduce noise outside of the face of the fly. We'll do that the same way we did with the Crane Fly. We draw an area that we don't want to impact with noise reduction, invert that area, and reduce the noise. And you'll see here again, just like with the Crane Fly, here's a lot of noise reduction, here's negative noise reduction, and here's in the middle. So, it's not particularly noisy, especially when we're zoomed in this far, but it is more appealing if we smooth it out. So here's what we've got. Now what's great in Lightroom is you can apply these settings to multiple photos. So this is the only photo that I have to process. With the other two photos in my stack, I'm just gonna get them aligned to the base photo, which is this one. So I'm going to copy my settings, I want to make sure that I'm including crop. I didn't do any spot removal, but I wouldn't want to keep it anyway. So we copy the settings. We go to the next photo, paste, next photo, paste, and we have three images that are processed identically and cropped the same. But we still have some movement to account for, and again, we can rely on our software to align them, but I like to get them as close as possible before I go there. So all we have to do is move the fly to our best guess using that reference point that I mentioned for each of the three photos. So now we'll be much closer to aligned. And that gives us a much better chance to have a successful stack. So now we're ready to export our photos. We select the three photos we want to export, right click, choose Export, find our location, I already have that location chosen, make sure that our quality's a hundred percent, and export those three photos. When it's time to bring those photos from Lightroom into Photoshop to do your stack, all you have to do is choose File>Script>Load Files Into Stack. You browse for your images and choose the photos that you'd like to focus stack. Before hitting Ok, make sure you click Attempt to Automatically Align Source Images. We've already aligned them somewhat, but this will go the rest of the way and finalize the alignment. You'll see Photoshop bring your images in as three individual layers that you can work with individually if you need to. Once those images are loaded, select the layers that you want to stack, go to Edit, Auto-Blend Layers, choose Stack Images, and your stack begins. One really nice thing about stacking in Photoshop is the fact that it saves your layers, and it doesn't destroy anything, meaning, you'll end up with three layers that have masks, so if there's an area that didn't quite blend perfectly or that you don't like the results or you want to make a change, you can go back into those layers, adjust the masks or the contents of the masks and revise the results. And now our stack is complete. Photoshop automatically fills in the edges using Content Aware Fill, and we have the result that we wanted. So, unlike any of the three source images, everything that we wanted in focus is in focus, from the front plane of the fly's face, all the way to the back of the eyes and up behind the eyes. As I mentioned, you'll have three layers with masks merging together the in-focus areas, and a new layer with the stack. All of the areas we want in focus are in focus, from the front of the face all the way to the back of the eyes and just beyond. To save this image, simply save it like you would any other image in Photoshop, and we'll save it as a JPEG, and that's it. The best way to focus stack on your computer is with dedicated focus stacking software, so now I'm gonna take those same fly images and stack them using Helicon Focus, which is a dedicated stacking program. We open Helicon Focus, and all you have to do is drag your source images into the window. Here's those same three images we just stacked in Photoshop. We drag them in, you can see it works very quickly, and we have our three source images. With Helicon Focus, you have three rendering method options. You have Method A, which produces smooth transitions and preserves color. Method B, which is the depth map. That works best for continuous surfaces, and Method C, which is good for intersecting objects and deep stacks. Since we have a shallow stack that is not a smooth surface, we're going to use Method A. You can zoom in to see the details here, and all we have to do is click the Play button to render, and our stack is complete. It's that easy. So if we zoom in over here, we can see nice and clean and on the left we have our source images, and we can look at one image at a time. So, Image 1, 2, or 3 will display on the left. And if you're happy with the results, our stack is complete. If you aren't completely happy with the results, you can re-render using Method B or C or you can even retouch the image to bring in areas from a source image. For instance, if I wanted to use source image for this area of the fly's leg, all I have to do is take my brush and brush over that area and now that area from the source image I've chosen comes into my result. When you're happy with the result, all you need to do is right click on the thumbnail, say Save, choose your destination and name, image quality, and you're all done.

Class Description


  • Understand Macro Photography and how to begin shooting it
  • Know what gear to bring and how to set up your camera
  • Find and approach your subjects, even the crawling/flying ones
  • Fast post-processing techniques to keep you on the move


Take a closer look in this beginner’s guide to macro photography and insect photography. Chris McGinnis, will dive into the world of macro photography from understanding what it is to how to shoot it. He’ll explain how to search and capture a smaller world with just the use of your camera. He’ll dive into the behaviors of insects and their relationships to plant life so that you can capture amazing images from your backyard to national parks.


  • Macro Photographers
  • Beginners
  • Hikers


Adobe Lightroom CC 2019




Chris McGinnis is a graphic designer, photographer, and macro photography enthusiast based in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He obtained his degree in graphic design from Moravian College and, after a stint in the publishing world, joined the creative department at Olympus America. Chris currently works as the Senior Manager of Creative Services and oversees all phases of Olympus’ graphic design, photography, and video production. When he purchased an OM-D E-M10 in 2014, Chris vowed to shoot (and share) at least one photo each day for an entire year. After 365 days shooting, sharing, and learning, he found himself more and more interested in the details. He bought a macro lens and has never looked back. As Chris ventured deeper into the world of macro, he soon shifted his efforts toward featuring the beauty, design, and intricacy of arthropods which often go unnoticed.


Andrew Lamberson

I found the class both very informative and very motivational to get started in Macro photography. It is an entry-level class but it explains what you really need to know to be successful. I especially found the information on the value of using flash and how to modify your flash for it to be more effective especially helpful. I am an experienced wildlife photographer and have done some "Macro" with my telephoto lens, but this class motivated me to purchase a dedicated lens. I am really looking forward to spring and finding some good bugs!

Chris Baudec

Great presentation and great motivation in the post processing. I do wish that the would have been made available. After all, this is a Olympus sponsored event, and Oly settings are always welcomed.... and a tad difficult on the learning curve.

Gary Hook

Chris does a commendable job of explaining his techniques, reasons and potential pitfalls to avoid. Very thorough and much more enthusiastic about little bugs than I will ever be :-) but at the end one has a good concept on how to approach the task at hand. Nice closing with his practical examples of 'post' shoot production. One suggestion for inclusion would be some operating tips/techniques with a tripod/macro rail slider. His Olympus is way smaller/lighter than my Canon 5D so my hand holding will be at a minimum. Well done. Thank you