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This is a draft article about using the Focus shift shooting option in some Nikon cameras and the “focus stacking” process available in Adobe Photoshop CC for image output. Menu choices are in italics.

Focus Shift with Nikon Z Cameras and Photoshop CC

Focus shift shooting is a menu driven function that requires both a focus shift enabled camera (such as Nikon’s Z 6, Z 7, Z 7II, D850, D750, perhaps others) and software such as Adobe Photoshop that provides focus stacking capability. In Photoshop, we use Layers. Adjustment layers are the primary component for most work in that program. In brief, we first use the camera for Focus shift shooting then Photoshop to stack what we have shifted into layers for further work. The focus shifting begins at the primary point of focus and proceeds to infinity, that is, camera focus infinity. After having completed all the steps attentively, the result is an image with great depth of field. A tripod is best but handheld using image stabilization seems to work well in my experience for a brief shoot, say up to 10 shots.

1. If you are typically a Raw shooter, you may wish use Photo Shooting Menu (Camera icon), Image quality and select a JPEG file output unless you really wish to process every Raw image. However, I use DxO ProPhoto 6 Elite to select multiple Raw images in “PhotoLibrary,” apply a preset, then select File > Export to disk. The Export to disk – Options dialog appears providing a host of alternatives. Since, very often, our focus shift images are all taken in an identical shooting environment, it is easy to create, name, and save a preset for future use in PhotoLab: Image > Apply a preset.

Individual images can also be adjusted in Adobe Lightroom using File > Import Images and Video. Make adjustments, choose Develop module, Sync Settings > Synchronize, then Photo module, Edit In > Open as Layers in Photoshop. Of course, here we frequently use Click to select the first image and Shift & Click to select the final from our group. This can be very efficient for Lightroom users.

Of course, as our file sizes and number increase, system resources will be increasingly challenged. The illustration of focus shift and stacking provided below is quite rudimentary but a good place to start.
2. Using the Z 7 as an example, go to Photo Shooting Menu (Camera icon), Focus shift shooting which is near bottom of the menu next to Interval Shooting. Don’t forget you can scroll up in any menu to get to the bottom of the menu list.
3. Under Number of shots you can select up to 300 but for my first experiment I selected 10. My target image was about five feet distant and at f/7.1 so I started the exercise with a fairly deep DoF to begin with. Best practice is to focus on the nearest object in your anticipated image.

As I use Back-button focusing, this step is easy. To Back-button focus, set Shutter button to release mode. Menu: Custom Setting Menu (Pencil icon), Autofocus > a6 AF activation > AF-ON only (AF-ON to Enable). Hereafter, activate autofocus by pressing the AF-ON button at the uppermost front side of the camera. Note: switching to Back-button focusing is rather a mental awakening but takes some getting used to. If you forget that you have enabled this, you will end up taking a lot of images out of focus. You cannot simply snap away with the shutter button).

4. Focus step width, options: 1 to 10. Nikon suggests we start with 5 and I agree.
5. Interval between shots, 00 will take about 5 frames per second (FPS). The Z7II will go to 10 FPS but I am good with 5. A longer interval may be required if a flash is used.
6. First-frame exposure lock, set to ON unless you have some compelling reason for the camera to select a different exposure as the process proceeds.
7. Silent photography, sure why not, it’s less distracting.
8. Choose storing folder, perhaps but I simply format the memory card between shoots.
9. Highlight Start and press OK, press shutter-release button halfway to stop. The process will also stop when finished or if the camera senses that it has reached “infinity.”

Some users manually select focus points (Single focus point) and use Manual mode when taking images for focus stacking. This is probably best practice for a limited number of images, perhaps, foreground, middle, and background. With such an approach, we do not need a specific focus stacking function in our camera to produce a stack in Photoshop. Obviously, if our camera is on a tripod, we can choose focus points using the LCD. Freehand is a different animal and here the Focus shift shooting option is most useful.

Focus Stacking in Photoshop.

1. Batch load images to layers, File menu > Scripts > Load Files into Stack > Load Layers > Browse. You may have to Click/Shift & Click to select a range of files from among unrelated images.
2. If you wish, to prevent layers from being born as Smart objects requiring Rasterization…go to Preferences > General > uncheck “Always create Smart objects when placing.”
3. Selecting all layers is a menu function: Select > All Layers or Click top layer and Shift/Click bottom layer. If your image looks like an out of focus mess at this point do not despair. The next few commands add an eye of newt and toe of frog to the entire batch.
4. Edit > Auto-Align Layers > Auto (leave Auto selected).
5. Edit > Auto-Blend Layers: A: select Stack Images, B: Check Seamless Tones and Colors, C: Uncheck Content Aware Fill Transparent areas, D: OK.
6. Layer > Flatten image
7. Edit, Image > Image Size, Save.

A first effort!

Photography can be fun, profitable, creative, and technically superior at the same time. Contact me for a custom one-to-one camera class in Bakersfield, California. Please text me at: 661-303-9210 (preferred) or email me using: for an appointment.

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