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Image Stacking For Reduced Noise, Improved Resolution And Detail In Images

Did you know that you can use Photoshop (and other image editing programs) to improve photo detail and resolution using your digital camera and a number of shots?

|  Lumix FZ82 (FZ80) in Adobe Photoshop
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There's a technique called 'image stacking' which, if you've not heard of it before, can be used to improve resolution and detail, as well as reduced noise in your photos. 

There are two reasons why you might want to do this:

1. To get a higher resolution image if you need one and your camera doesn't currently offer enough megapixels.

2. You want to take a photo with reduced noise, for example for photos of the moon, astrophotography or in low-light.

In a nutshell, the way you do this is by combining multiple images that are on individual layers in your chosen photo editing software and there are some great tutorials out there all on the subject. These include the following two tutorials by Ian Norman and Points In Focus

The Points In Focus article looks at using Smart Objects and Mean / Medium stacking which is available in Photoshop CS6 Extended+ and CC onwards while Ian Norman shows you how to stack images using layers for a technique called 'superresolution'. Instead of using a tripod to keep your camera still when capturing multiple shots, Ian suggests you work handheld as the slight movement in-between shots give additional detail and resolution (similar to pixel-shift used in the Olympus OM-D E-M5 II and Hasselblad HS-200ms).

The 'superresolution' tutorial is a little more complicated so if you've not done this before, have a play around with smart object image stacking first, which is what we did below.


Why Should I Use Image Stacking?

The moon photo below was captured with an ultra zoom bridge camera so the result is pretty good but we had to take multiple images to ensure we captured one image that was sharp and had a reasonable amount of detail. 


Moon Shot (Full Zoom) | 1/160 sec | f/5.9 | 215.0 mm | ISO 80

Original Image 


Sharpening Applied

Now compare the above image to this one where we stacked 6 images using layers and then applied sharpening, you'll see the image has slightly more detail when viewed at 100%. 


Image Averaging Layers | 1/160 sec | f/5.9 | 215.0 mm | ISO 80

Original Image Sharpened 

Here are the closer / cropped views so you can compare them easier (left - original, right - sharpened): 



Using Smart Objects With Mean & Median Averaging

Image Median Averaging Smart Object Layers | 1/160 sec | f/5.9 | 215.0 mm | ISO 80

Smart Objects with Mean and Median Averaging applied. 


As well as stacking and sharpening, by using Smart Objects with Mean and Median Averaging, results are improved even further with noticeably more detail (pay close attention to the top left and bottom of the moon). 

Here are the closer / cropped views so you can compare them easier: 






Further Processing: 

Image Median Averaging Smart Object Layers Converted to Black and White | 1/160 sec | f/5.9 | 215.0 mm | ISO 80

B&W conversion and contrast levels adjusted 


To make the detail 'pop' even further, as well as the processes already applied, we increased the contrast levels and converted the shot to black & white. 


Even More Processing

We decided to increase the contrast even more and adjusting the levels to make the blacks blacker and highlights really stand out. As we've sharpened the image, a little noise has become visible but we don't think it ruins the shot. 


Image Median Averaging Smart Object Layers Converted to Black and White, Contrast Adjusted, Cropped | 1/160 sec | f/5.9 | 215.0 mm | ISO 80
Final Image

You Can Do This In Camera

Some cameras already have this technology built-in - a number offer "Multi-frame Noise Reduction" which takes a number of shots and combines them. 

Others use multiple shots and move the sensor at a pixel or sub-pixel level to get full-colour information for each pixel, creating a picture of higher resolution than the sensor's native resolution. This was first seen in the Hasselblad H4-D200MS, which uses a 50MP sensor to produce 200MP images, and then in the Olympus OM-D E-M5 II, which uses a 16MP sensor to produce 40MP images. The Olympus PEN-F and Olympus OM-D E-M1 II also produce higher resolution images than the sensor's native resolution (20MP sensor, 50MP images) and the Pentax KP uses a 24MP sensor to produce an image with better colour and higher detail, 24MP, images.

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Photographs taken using the Lumix FZ82 (FZ80)

"Now, where did I bury those kids."Haunting..Saturday shadows sea defences...Earth flowerThe moon

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