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Helicon Focus and Focus Stacking
Helicon Focus is a program for focus stacking. Focus stacking is a post-processing technique that enables you to extend the depth of field beyond what is available in one shot. First take several shots of the same scene; then let the program blend them together into one image with an extended depth of field. For each shot, you focus your lens on a different part of the object. The resulting series of photographs is called a "stack," and the process of merging them into one image is called "focus stacking."
If you do macro photography close-ups of flowers, insects, or jewelry, for example you're familiar with the problem created by a shallow depth of field. Shallow depth of field is an eternal problem in microscope photography, too, because the greater the magnification, the shallower the resulting depth of field. Sometimes this can also be an issue for landscape photography if you want both the foreground and the background to be in focus. Focus stacking with Helicon Focus can help you to overcome shallow depth of field.
Focus stacking with Helicon Focus also allows you to create 3D models of your objects without extra effort, after which you can export them as stereo pairs, anaglyphs, and even videos of the rotating models. Read more about 3D modeling here.
Getting Started with Focus Stacking
To start, photograph a stack, i.e., take a series of shots of the same object. Before the first shot, focus your lens on the front part of the object. Focusing the lens a little bit farther, take another shot, continuing until the fartherst part of the object is in focus. Neither the object nor the camera should move significantly between the shots. Ideally, your camera should be on
a tripod and the object should be still. This isn't possible when you photograph live insects outdoors, but the algorithm can correct for a certain amount of motion. As a result, focus stacking is widely used for photographing live insects as well.
To create stacks manually, you just need your camera and nothing else. However, this method often isn't accurate enough. The alternative is to use special software for focus bracketing (a term for making stacks.)
Helicon Remote is a program for tethered photography that automates focus bracketing. Automated stack creation is more accurate than manually creating stacks, as well as much faster.