During my recent photography workshop in Alaska, we were driving from Anchorage to Seward to photograph Humpback Whales.  Along the way we stopped at Summit Lake for a late lunch.

It was starting to rain but the view across the lake to the stormy mountains was stunning.  I wanted to capture a shot showing the reeds and rain on the water in the foreground and still pull in the background mountains with a long lens.  This posed the problem of having enough depth of field for both so I decided to try my first ever split focus image.

If you haven’t previously heard about focus stacking, it is where you take a number of exposures of the same subject, moving your focal point to the different areas of the image as you go.  (In this case I only used two different images).  It is used a lot in macro and scientific photography where depth of field is so limited.  With focus stacking photographers can now layer the images to achieve a much larger depth of field.

For this shot, I used my 70-200 2.8 lens set at 165mm and took the first shot of the reeds, I then refocused on the distant mountains keeping the camera as stationary as possible (my tripod was packed away) and took the second shot.  These were actually both taken at f2.8 which independently gave them shallow depths of field.  I merged the two images in PhotoShop and converted it to black and white.  Not something I have ever done before but I am really pleased with the results.

Whether or not I ever choose to do it again, who knows.  But isn’t it fantastic that as photographers we are constantly trying new things.  Who said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

Go out and try it on your next shoot, and let me know how it goes!

The final image, once the two base images were merged in Photo shop.
Click to view bigger.


The first image, with focus on the reeds in the foreground.


The second image, with focus on the mountains in the distance.

Canon EOS 1Dx.  Canon 70-200 2.8L IS II.

ISO 200.  F2.8 at 1/2500 second for each image.


All images copyright Chris McLennan.
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16 comments so far

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  1. Love it! I have one question… The middle part of both images aren’t in focus. How do you deal with that when you do your montage?

    Beautiful work! Really!

    • Hi Josee, this actually makes blending the two images very easy as there are no sharp features in the middle space. I quite like this look but if you want everything sharp I would recommend that you take more images and use a program like helicon focus to blend them. Cheers, Chris

  2. Hi Chris

    Are you able to merge focusing stacked images in Lightroom, or do you need a program like Photoshop that can deal with layers?

    I have Lightroom 3.6 but I suppose if Lightroom can’t do it, then GIMP might be able to pull off a similar result.

    • I did mine in Photoshop, I am not aware of a way to do it in LR? Good luck David!

  3. That worked out well and it looks superb in black & white. I have actually tried this process at a fast flowing stream, taking ten shots in quick succession with a 1D to record the nuances of the rapids, and then stacking them using a startrails stacking program. It looked kind of freaky and I had to darken the shadows of each individual frame to achieve good contrast in the final shot.

    • Hi Tony, that sounds interesting! I have never used star trail stacking software but must look into it!

  4. Nice. I’ve heard of this technique before, but I’ve never tried it myself. Sometimes I get caught up on the idea that using too much post photo processing is cheating, however I’m seeing how it’s just another tool in the toolbox to being creative.

    It was neat seeing the two shots as they were taken and then what it looked like after they were merged. As a beginner photographer it’s really nice to see before and after processing from a pro photographer.

    Thank you for sharing your photo experience…it was fun to read and look at.

    • Hi Lori, I hear ya! I am also very cautious about the amount of post processing in my work. This was more an experimental thing for me and it was fun. I guess as most of my commercial work is in the travel industry it has to be real. I think other genres such as fine art or people just wanting to experiment and have fun with their craft then the options are endless. I do personally think the level of post production used should be revealed by the artist :) Thanks, Chris

  5. Chris,

    Tha’s brilliant! Will definitely try it out. thank you.

    • Great and all the best with it! ;)

  6. I´ve only tried focus stacking while doing product photography- it never worked well for me don´t know what i did wrong, anyway never thought about it for a landscape-your post has inspired me to try it in that medium- thank you :) (i´ve subscribed to your new blog via my RSS). keep up the good work Chris!

    • Excellent Adrian, I hope you do try it, this was my first attempt also… Not perfect but it was fun and I do like the result :) All the best, Chris

  7. What a fantastic idea! The results is amazing!!! i really love the end result!

    • Thank you Susan, that is appreciated :)

  8. Chris, question – wouldn’t you achieved the same result with smaller aperture say 10?

    • Hi Ilya, no the depth of field with this lens choice would still not have been that great. With the technique I used the foreground and background are sharp with the focus dropping out in the mid range areas giving a unique effect :-)

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