Typically used during post-processing of macro photography, Zerene image stacking software processes multiple images taken of a single composition to create a completely in-focus output image. Being a Landscape Photographer, I was curious if this concept would work for the type of images I capture. After using Zerene focus stacking software, I am now convinced that I am on to a really good thing, and in part one of my review I will explain why Zerene Stacker can be an invaluable tool for much more than just macro photography. I have added “Part One” to this review title simply because I have used the software to process just a couple of images so far. I intend to photograph and process more images using Zerene Stacker, which will allow me to fully illustrate the software’s limitless potential, in this field. First lets take a quick look at the Zerene Stacker interface.
The Home Screen where you begin by adding files (images) to the current project
The Add Source Files dialog box will appear, from where you will simply select and upload images from the location they are saved in. The number of images uploaded for each project will depend on the number of focus points you have photographed of that particular scene. I recommend a series of at least three shots, at different focus points when photographing a landscape. One advantage of using focus-stacking software for landscape photography is you will not need to take many shots to process a completely sharp image in Zerene Stacker, for most scenes. This means that after a short learning curve, you will have the ability to process images with more impact in just a short amount of time.
Image files are now loaded into the current project
For this project I have selected twelve images, which are displayed here as a single image stack. Clicking on any of the twelve image files listed in the Input Files column on the left, will bring that file to the top of the stack, making it the visible file. Next, select Stack from the task bar. Here, you will discover that there are two image stacking options from which to choose from, each based on creating an output image using a different processing algorithm. These are PMax and DMap. I found each method capable of producing different results, and therefore, experimentation is the best way to determine which method will produce the best output image for you. Read a detailed description of both stacking methods here. DMap versus PMax
Output image ready for the magical Retouching Tool
Once the all important stacking step is completed, it is time to use the program’s Retouching Tool. With just a little time and concentration, this is where you will eliminate any artifacts and image-stutter, which are a result of moving elements in the scene such as clouds or in this case lupines blowing in the wind. For this step you will need to magnify both images. I use a setting of 100%, which allows me to easily see details, while quickly scrolling through all parts of the image. Each file on the left of the screen represents each individually focused shot. Simply match the best focused shot with the area of the image on the right you are using the Retouching Tool. The tool itself is very easy to use. Just like the Paintbrush Tool found in Photoshop and Lightroom, simply brush over any area that has been effected by movement or wind. When zooming into the lupine image, I was able to see and correct several areas effected by motion-stuttering. Using your mouse, you can easily control the size of the brush area, on the fly. Once you have finished retouching the image, go to Edit>Commit Retouching. Your image will then appear in the column at the left of the screen, under Output Images “Retouched.” Not all projects will require retouching. For example, the image near the top of this review of the tree and Half Dome includes features that were not affected by wind or movement, during the time it took to capture the series of shots needed. For some reason this screenshot did not record the Retouching Tool Brush. Click here Landscape Tutorial Page and look at the forth image to see an example illustration of the Brush Tool in action.
Save Output Image(s) Window
Save Output Images will open the output options window. From here you will choose the output file size and type that matches the workflow you typically use. My preferred settings are to save each new image as a TIFF file, at 300 ppi. Next, chose a location on your computer where you wish to save the new file. This will be the location where you will open your stacked file for further post-processing such as color correction and sharpening.