The best laid plans… or always keep an open mind

focus stacking, landscape, jasper, mountains, sunset, ice fields, columbia, mount wilson, landscape, horizontal, tourism jasper, Dan Jurak,

I almost always stop at the Columbia Icefields for photos when I am in Jasper.

Over the years I’ve personally witnessed the toe of the Athabasca Glacier recede. Where we once parked our vehicle when we were kids is now a long, long walk from the glacier.

One evening I had planned on getting a photo with both Mount Andromeda and Mount Athabasca glowing orange with a smattering of dramatic clouds swirling around the tops of the peaks.

The reality that evening was a couple of sparse poofs of white and a very harsh and direct sun shining on the mountain tops as the sun was setting.

So much for that idea.

As I was walking back to my vehicle which was NOT in the parking lot but halfway up the drive down to the parking lot a distance of about half a kilometre I kept noticing tiny streams of water threading down the hillside and reflecting the evening sky. I walked a bit further up the slope and saw what was to my eye a beautiful curving line of water which might make for an interesting photo.

Mount Wilson in the background was brightly lit while all around the water was very dark. Not a problem I thought, the range of exposure would be captured by the camera and I could even it out in post processing, which I later did.

I was also trying something new for me. Focus stacking. I picked up a new camera body a couple of weeks before that figures out focus stacking for you.

Focus stacking is taking a series of photos starting with close focus and with each successive shot focusing a bit further.

The laws of physics limit how much depth of field your lens will have with a particular aperture.

You can’t tell from this shot but the camera was about ten inches from the ground, photographed at 14 mm on a full frame body. When I focused on the near rocks the far peaks were soft no matter how much I stopped the lens down.

I set the camera up to take five exposures while stacking. This requires me to focus to the nearest point and then the camera will automatically do the rest of the focusing and exposures for you.

Then in post processing you combine the resultant images either in Photoshop or a stacking program like Helicon Focus and get ONE sharp image.

So experimental mode in effect I let the camera do its magic and to my delight when I got home and combined the images I got one sharp frame.

Focus stacking has a lot of applications of which landscape photography is one. You can really exaggerate near/far relationships while focus stacking and have a perfectly sharp image where before you were limited by the laws of physics about how far you could stop the lens down and how much depth of field you would get.

I remember reading years ago about an MMA fighter who was one of the best in the world. He was head and shoulders better than anyone in his weight class. He was so good that he could clown around and play with his opponent like a cat sometimes does with a mouse. When asked what his secret was he said that he was like water. It takes the shape of the vessel it occupies.

That is very much like shooting landscapes. You cannot force mother nature to provide you with the light or weather that you want but instead have to be flexible enough to take advantage of what she provides.

Happy shooting,



~ by Dan Jurak on July 13, 2018.

4 Responses to “The best laid plans… or always keep an open mind”

  1. Beautiful photograph Dan!
    Incidentally I was just reading about focus stacking the other day. I have an Olympus EM-5 and am seriously considering upgrading it and found that focus stacking has been inbuilt into the camera for some of their more recent models. It’s amazing how much they pack into these new devices.

  2. Thank you Sukanya. Most of the stuff on my camera I will never use but it’s nice to have it there when you want/need it. I only wish that camera manufacturers would allow for longer shutter speeds instead of having to buy a release with a timer in it. It wouldn’t cost anything to add and would be a great addition.

  3. Great writeup, and beautiful photo! Focus stacking is very challenging and at the same time very rewarding, once you see the final result 🙂 Thanks for sharing your stories and images for all to see!

  4. Hi Tuca and thank you.

    Maybe we’ll bump into each other one day while shooting landscapes.


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