When I’m shooting florals, my weapon of choice is my old Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8D macro lens (now superceded by the 105mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S VR).
Whenever possible, I like to shoot them wide open to accentuate the flower by creating as much bokeh as possible, blurring the background to minimize distractions in the frame.
This works well with some flowers, but with others, such as a hibiscus, it’s impossible to get the whole flower (or all the parts you want) in focus without stopping down the aperture to get better depth of field… which compromises the nice, smooth, blurred background you’re trying to achieve.
One of the tricks I’ve used in the past involved shooting several frames, each with a different part of the flower in focus, then using Photoshop to blend them together by loading the images as separate layers and carefully brushing away the blurry parts with layer masks, creating a single, in-focus image as a result.
This can be easy or hard, depending on the conditions you’re shooting in. If there’s any kind of wind, you’re chasing the flower around, trying to get it composed the way you want it. (This of course assumes you’re unable to clip the flower and take it inside—a great solution in your backyard, but botanical gardens tend to frown on that sort of thing.)
What this means in Photoshop is you need to align the layers exactly before blending them, which can be time consuming and frustrating, and may even require using Free Transform to bend parts of the flower into submission.
Enter Photoshop with the new and improved Auto-Align Layers and Auto-Blend Layers features. I’d heard a lot of hype around these new features and decided to take a little time to try them out. The results exceeded my expectations.
Here’s how you do it:
Shoot several frames, manually focusing on different parts of the flower. Use a tripod if you can to maximize your chances of getting the best results. Auto-Blend Layers does a good job, but my policy is to do what I can to help out the software whenever possible.
Load the images in Photoshop as separate layers. (If you’re using Lightroom 2, it has a convenient option to Open as Layers in Photoshop).
Select all the layers by clicking on the first one, then shift-clicking on the last one.
Go to the Edit menu and select Auto-Align Layers. When the dialog comes up, just leave it on Auto Projection setting, and click OK.
After it’s done, go to the Edit menu again and select Auto-Blend Layers. When that dialog comes up, select the Stack Images setting for the Blend Method and let ‘er rip.
That’s it! The results I got were amazing, and definitely worth the price of admission. I didn’t have to tweak the masks Photoshop created at all.
I’d be interested in hearing about your results with the new features. Feel free to leave me comments about how your images turned out using this method.