Author Topic: Shooting One Layer or Few/Many Stacked Layers?  (Read 3345 times)

Michael Erlewine

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Shooting One Layer or Few/Many Stacked Layers?
« on: January 24, 2016, 15:45:44 »
This is one of those topics that get me running in circles. What are my best options, taking a traditional single-shot photo or stacking an image? And if I stack, should it be many or just a few layers. I thought it interesting to go over some of the options. I can’t promise you will get anything of value out of this, but differences may be visible, and the comments at least should make sense.

[Note: I have posted 2048 pixel images of the above at this link as a PDF.

http://spiritgrooves.libsyn.com/photography-shooting-one-layer-or-fewmany-stacked-layers

This is a look at some of the options we have when shooting a single photo, an elaborate stacked photo, a photo stacked with just a few layers, and things like that.

(1) Traditional One-Layer Photo (Sharpest f/stop)

Of course, we can shoot a one-layer photograph. That’s photography’s history, and there is no need going over what that entails. We all live with it. For an f/stop, we can use the f/stop with the overall peak sharpness for that lens, often f/5.6 or thereabouts. Or, we can push the aperture higher until the effect of diffraction stops us. I don’t tend to go this route. No image is shown for this option.

(2) Traditional One-Layer Photo (Highest f/stop)

On the other hand, we can choose only narrow, high apertures, pushing the lens to greater overall DOF, but also increasing diffraction. With very fine lenses like the Zeiss Otus series, we can shoot at something like f/16 and apparently not see (I am sure diffraction is still there) the effects of diffraction all that much. With Adobe Lightroom’s new “Dehaze” feature, some of the effects of diffraction (seemingly) can be removed.

I have been learning to shoot single-shot photos at apertures around f/16 and getting pretty good results, especially with the better lenses. But even at f/16, the results of a single-shot layer does not have the sharpness of a well-done stacked photo. Close, but no cigar. I keep trying this, but so far always go back to stacking.

(3) Stacked Photo, Many Layers

We can stack multiple layers, a great many layers, which puts more and more of the image into focus at the expense of potential artifacts and a kind of “rounding error” in sharpness. Yes, taking 50 or 100 layers puts everything generally more in focus. However, the various factors involved in matching up 100 layers, the ever-so-slight shifts, etc. add up and appear as what we could call “noise” or increased low-level artifacts.

MEDIUM APERTURE

In addition, we can take one of several approaches in multi-layer stacking as far as f/stop is concerned. We can choose the midrange “peak” f/stop for that lens as far as overall sharpness is concerned (and stack away) or we can stack at one of the extremes, wide-open or high aperture.

HIGH APERTURE

Taking the high-aperture route (for stacking) has few advantages, mostly due to increasing diffraction. Stacking is perhaps best done at the peak-sharpness aperture for that lens, although that is not what I prefer.

WIDE APERTURE

I like to shoot wide-open, but this takes a fast lens (if you want bokeh), one that is already very sharp wide-open. Additionally, shooting wide-open means that each layer has a razor-thin DOF, a tiny slice of the overall photo, which means many layers may be required. However, it has the advantage of allowing you to paint focus and have just the bits of the image in focus that you want, and not just in one area of the photo.

We could, for example, have areas of the foreground in focus, the midrange out-of-focus, and then areas of the background in focus. We can select and paint-in focus.

(4) Stacked Photo, Selected Layers

Another alternative is to stack focus at a higher aperture (like f/16), but use very few layers, perhaps picking out the parts of the photo you most want in focus and making each of those a layer. The result is a photo that is sharper and with less noise or artifacts, but also, when looked at carefully, less sharp overall. From a distance it looks quite sharp, but close-up examination shows, of course, only those areas for the particular layers we selected in peak sharpness.

(5) Superimposition of an Image on a Background

I seldom if ever do this, but we should point out that it can be done. Take a photo of a background with pure bokeh and then (using another layer) superimposed a section of the same thing at f/11 or f/16, so that you have the same photo, but featuring one flower or whatever. Here is a crude example I just threw together.

There are no winners here, no free-lunch. Whatever we do enhances one aspect of the photo at the expense of others. Each approach has its merits, but also its disadvantages.

MICROCONTRAST      

What worries me most about stacking is the potential loss of what we can call microcontrast. I know, some argue whether microcontrast even exists, but to me, it does. Lenses like the new Zeiss Otus series seem to me to have better microcontrast, which for my work is very desirable.

When we stack photos, especially with many layers (as mentioned earlier), the very fact that by definition a stacked layer involves digital sampling of a larger image means that something is excluded and left out. This, coupled with the minute alterations that occur from changes in lighting (if outdoors) or somehow jarring the camera/tripod, etc. seem to affect the overall microcontrast of the photo. The result is something similar to diffraction. We could just call it, as a joke, “sampling” error. It is unavoidable and usually quite visible, if we look closely. The fact is: most people (as viewers) do not look closely, unless we are purposefully doing so. Photography is about impressions.

However, focus stacking, as mentioned, is a digital impression of an analog image, which is itself an impression. If the impression is satisfying in some way, then I guess it does not matter how many artifacts are embedded in what we are looking at. We get the impression.

DESIRABILITY

We have discussed the disadvantages of stacked photos.
There is also the popular consensus that there is something about a stacked photo image (warts and all) that appears “different” from a single-shot photo. Many people like it. Perhaps it is that messing with the overall (or selective) focus pushes our envelope just a bit, making that photo seems a little bit realer or more vivid than life, almost a touch of a 3D (or psychedelic) look.

And there is also the fact that, unlike a traditional one-shot photo that has a single focus point in the image, with focus-stacking usually there is no single focus point as dictated by the lens, but rather anywhere you want to look is the focus point, so where do you want look first? In other words, there is no focus point embedded in the image that leads or directs your eye, so your eye in some sense is free to look around. There is no doubt that this is liberating, unless you like being led.

Anyway, just some thoughts on all of this.
MichaelErlewine.smugmug.com. Founder MacroStop.com, MichaelErlewine.com (articles), https://www.youtube.com/user/merlewine (video tutorials), All-Music Guide, All-Movie Guide, Classic Posters.com, Matrix Software, SpiritGrooves.net, DharmaGrooves.com

armando_m

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Re: Shooting one layer or few/many stacked layers?
« Reply #1 on: January 24, 2016, 16:21:32 »
Seems the light changed among the multiple exposure you took which makes a bit hard to compare the contrast , sharpness is great in all of them

to me the F16 single shot looks best, nice contrast and overall focus

followed by the f4 stack
Armando Morales
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Michael Erlewine

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Re: Shooting one layer or few/many stacked layers?
« Reply #2 on: January 24, 2016, 16:27:10 »
Seems the light changed among the multiple exposure you took which makes a bit hard to compare the contrast , sharpness is great in all of them

to me the F16 single shot looks best, nice contrast and overall focus

followed by the f4 stack

Actually the light was constant, in the dark, with LED lights. As I mentioned, it may be of little to help, but the text should make clear what is being looked at here.
MichaelErlewine.smugmug.com. Founder MacroStop.com, MichaelErlewine.com (articles), https://www.youtube.com/user/merlewine (video tutorials), All-Music Guide, All-Movie Guide, Classic Posters.com, Matrix Software, SpiritGrooves.net, DharmaGrooves.com

Bjørn Rørslett

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Re: Shooting one layer or few/many stacked layers?
« Reply #3 on: January 24, 2016, 16:29:24 »
Arguments pro et contra for all techniques can be put forward. You have discussed some in the initial post. However, there is a question of feasibility as well. Under realistic field conditions, focus stacking very often is just an exercise in how to inflict the maximum of pain to the photographer with little or no rewards gained. Alternate methods, for example double exposures, adding flash judiciously etc. are much more practical. Indoors in a studio setting other approaches are feasible if the subject is static.

I do object to the description of stacking as sampling of an "analog" image. Such terminology can only add confusion.

Since I mostly work outdoors, stacking for me is quite restricted in its applicability and most of your questions are moot. Studio-based photographers obviously can provide more insights.

NOTE: I  changed the thread title away from using all capitals.

Michael Erlewine

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Re: Shooting one layer or few/many stacked layers?
« Reply #4 on: January 24, 2016, 16:47:33 »
I do object to the description of stacking as sampling of an "analog" image. Such terminology can only add confusion.

Since I mostly work outdoors, stacking for me is quite restricted in its applicability and most of your questions are moot. Studio-based photographers obviously can provide more insights.



I hear you about the "analog" analogy. How would you put it? The idea of sampling is that something is sampled, and not all of it makes the cut, right?

And I agree about the pain. I do not agree about not using stacking in the field. I do it all time and have for years, not always successfully, I admit. It is not restricted to the studio, but just more difficult. I have stacked hundreds of thousands of images in the field, more then than now, just because I am less mobile than I once was.


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Bjørn Rørslett

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Re: Shooting One Layer or Few/Many Stacked Layers?
« Reply #5 on: January 24, 2016, 17:02:33 »
All digital image processing deals with sampling. That does not make any of it analogue.

As to the practicality of doing stacking in the field, it is a question of a co-operative weather with little or no wind and a photographer willing to spend a long time for each capture just to try to make it a little better according to criteria not universally accepted. Nobody denies you the pleasure (or pain?) of stacking in the field nor the fact you sometimes deliver excellent results (mainly studio work, it sees) - but for myself, I cannot work like that. There is too much ground to cover. Any extra gain in quality is lost by what I cannot do in the field. Spending time to locating a botanically most informative specimen for me is more optimal.

As we have different outlooks on the matter, no wonder the conclusions differ. No big deal for either of us, I guess.

Michael Erlewine

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Re: Shooting One Layer or Few/Many Stacked Layers?
« Reply #6 on: January 24, 2016, 17:08:52 »
All digital image processing deals with sampling. That does not make any of it analogue.

As to the practicality of doing stacking in the field, it is a question of a co-operative weather with little or no wind and a photographer willing to spend a long time for each capture just to try to make it a little better according to criteria not universally accepted. Nobody denies you the pleasure (or pain?) of stacking in the field nor the fact you sometimes deliver excellent results (mainly studio work, it sees) - but for myself, I cannot work like that. There is too much ground to cover. Any extra gain in quality is lost by what I cannot do in the field. Spending time to locating a botanically most informative specimen for me is more optimal.

As we have different outlooks on the matter, no wonder the conclusions differ. No big deal for either of us, I guess.

I am less interested in the "original specimen." I did a lot of that years ago, contributing a very large collection of specimens to the University of Michigan, etc. I do more in the studio, especially winter, and even my outdoor work is more framed and "studio like." I am interested in lenses and what they can do, just as many here are. Also I learn patience by stacking focus, something I in my life I have very much needed to learn.
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Bjørn Rørslett

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Re: Shooting One Layer or Few/Many Stacked Layers?
« Reply #7 on: January 24, 2016, 17:25:27 »
As I said, we have different outlooks and requirements. Neither is better or superior - they just are not equal.

Seapy

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Re: Shooting One Layer or Few/Many Stacked Layers?
« Reply #8 on: January 24, 2016, 22:08:57 »
I have a great respect for your techniques and results Michael, I take many photographs of plants and flowers myself, for specific reasons, like Bjørn I can't afford the time to spend making stacked images of a single bloom, or bunch.  What I do when the need arrises is to focus on different parts of the bush or tree to bring branches into focus, also taking care if possible to position the camera so branches are in a single focus plane, Magnolia being an example.  Larger Rhododendron clusters are difficult for sure.

On occasions I have waited up to an hour for the wind to drop in order to get a decent chance of a usable image.  So many times I have carefully set the camera up in still air, got everything to my liking and wham, from nowhere a strong updraft of air sets everything in motion!

I travel all over the UK to botanic gardens in search of particular species to photograph, I spend all day in a garden seeking out subjects and photographing them, I repeat this in different seasons to catch other flowering species.  I simply couldn't spend the time on one particular plant, much as I would love to.

So my focus stacking is usually by hand and is more on a branch by branch basis rather than slices of a particular flower.

I read your threads with interest and always learn some technique from your posts, thanks.
Robert C. P.
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ColSebastianMoran

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Re: Shooting One Layer or Few/Many Stacked Layers?
« Reply #9 on: January 25, 2016, 20:13:56 »
I'll do stacking when the conditions allow and a good aperture won't give me the DOF I want. Mostly this happens for macro in a controlled setting, but there could be other contexts.

Michael Erlewine

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Re: Shooting One Layer or Few/Many Stacked Layers?
« Reply #10 on: January 25, 2016, 20:26:51 »
People keep telling me that you can't stack wildlife photos. In my case, it is just not the truth. I have stacked endless critters. Yes, some of them may not be large stacks, but if you have patience it can be somewhat easily done. And I live in Michigan, which a huge glacier scrapped flat ages ago. Michigan is one big flat wetland, with over 60,000 lakes of various sizes. The wind blows over that flatness like you would not believe, so I have had to wait, wait, and wait again, for years.

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Erik Lund

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Re: Shooting One Layer or Few/Many Stacked Layers?
« Reply #11 on: January 25, 2016, 22:13:15 »
People are telling you they don't bother much with outdoor stacking as I hear it...

Just because someone states something doesn't mean it applies to you - even if they say it about your thoughts or your work - It's just their perception of the subject at hand...

On a tangent;
My camera pusher let me play with a Leica S when I turned down the Leica SL - Now that is a nice tool! It would be a kit on a Leasing plan he said with a big smile and stated adding the prices...  ;)

If I wanted to upgrade my kit to the next level, one above the Nikon D3X and the 1.4 G lenses - it would be the Leica S Typ 007 with a select few Lenses - big 6 μm sensor sites and the best glass in the class!
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Bill De Jager

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Re: Shooting One Layer or Few/Many Stacked Layers?
« Reply #12 on: January 26, 2016, 05:44:17 »
All digital image processing deals with sampling. That does not make any of it analogue.

It seems to me that there is a real image, in analog form, created by the lens at the plane* of focus, and that analog image is then sampled by our digital equipment. Or is it stretching too far to call a real image created by a lens "analog", given the nature of light itself?

*I don't mean to imply too much by using this word, which certainly is an oversimplification in this context.

Bjørn Rørslett

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Re: Shooting One Layer or Few/Many Stacked Layers?
« Reply #13 on: January 26, 2016, 06:01:15 »
Anything sampled by a digital camera sensor is by definition digital. Using the term 'analogue' of the bit pattern emerging from the camera is only creating confusion. Whether or not the input source delivers an analogue signal to the digital system is immaterial.

simsurace

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Re: Shooting One Layer or Few/Many Stacked Layers?
« Reply #14 on: January 26, 2016, 09:24:36 »
Anything sampled by a digital camera sensor is by definition digital. Using the term 'analogue' of the bit pattern emerging from the camera is only creating confusion. Whether or not the input source delivers an analogue signal to the digital system is immaterial.

As I understand Michael, he is applying the term "analog" to the entity that precedes digital capture, and the term "sampling" to the act of collecting images. For a single image the analog entity is the real image projected onto the sensor. For a stack, it is the light field. This entity is also analog (if we neglect the quantization of light) and it is sampled horizontally (photosites) and vertically (slices of the stack).

On the other hand, the combination of the slices into a final image is not a sampling process, it could be called a form of compression of the data.
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