Zenith Watch Post-Production 1: Focus Stacking and Compositing

After completing the tricky task of photographing the inner workings of a luxury Zenith watch, Karl sits down to start work on the retouching process.

This Photoshop class focuses mainly on the initial stages of the retouch – selecting which shots will make up the final composite image, focus stacking multiple images and identifying which areas of the image will need retouching.

As he shows you how to focus-stack an image, Karl talks you through the process of aligning multiple images, using the auto-align function in Photoshop. You’ll be able to see his workflow, understand his thought process and gain some valuable insight into how to retouch a product image to a professional standard.

In this class:

  • Product Photography: How to retouch a luxury watch
  • How to create a composite image in Photoshop
  • How to focus-stack an image
  • How to auto-align a composite image
  • Using layers and layer masks
  • Using Photoshop Transform tools

Learn how to photograph luxury watch images like this in Zenith Watch Product Shoot.

To see the final stages of this retouch, check out  Zenith Watch Post-Production 2: Clean-up and Final Touches Part 2.

Questions? Please post them in the comments section below.


  1. Hector2683

    Hi Karl

    So, I have a watch I shot, and the result were around 30 images to be used for the focus stacking.
    Now, when I align the images properly, and go to the focus stacking phase, photoshop does a terrible job in certain areas. There are bits where the image is blurred, or moved and not coinciding with the surrounding areas.

    Is there an explanation for this? I thought this would happen only if there wasn’t enough images in between focusing for photoshop to create the stacking correctly. But man, Im using like 30 images here. That reason cannot be.
    I noticed that step where you merge the images in automation… Im not sure what does that step actually does.

    Any suggestions?

    1. Hi Hector, I find PS slow and not as accurate as Helicon which is another software I use. In fact if you look at a live show we did on Lancome Lipstick as a focus stack you’ll see my entire process. Helicon is faster and more accurate but even then there can be the odd problem so I simply find the correct layer and manually fix the bits by pasting them in sizing and masking. The more overlaps there are in an image then the more chance for problems regardless of how many shots you take.

      1. Hector2683

        Hi Karl

        Thanks a lot for the fast reply.
        I have tried both PS and Helicon, and both give me the same artifacts and issues in the same places.
        Now, You mentioned that “The more overlaps there are in an image then the more chance for problems regardless of how many shots you take”
        What does this mean exactly? That if I take the photos by focusing at very small intervals, there will be more issues? It sounds counterintuitive, but hey, the beauty of Commercial Photography is how counterintuitive it can get to be. 😉

        Having that item clarified will most likely allow me to finish this image.

        Thanks once more!

        1. Hi Hector, well hopefully you found Helicon to be much quicker! Also try the other render modes in Helicon, one gives less problems but results in a higher contrast image. By ‘overlaps’ I meant overlapping items or objects in the photo is where the problems occur in the render, so basically if part of an object in the foreground overlaps part of an object in the background such as two edges then where they intersect is usually where focus stacking struggles. More shots in your stack sometimes helps but not always. The only option if it doesn’t work is to manually paste and scale the bits in from the appropriate layer.

  2. Hi Karl,

    To focus stack with my iMac, I am trying to follow your procedure of photomerging using my own files in Photoshop 21.2.4 Release. I get the Photomerge window, select there Layout Auto and place the checkmark to Blend Images Together like you did, but I cannot proceed to Add Open Files, as pressing that virtual button always pops a window on my screen with the text “Documents must be saved before they can be merged.”

    I have my files shot tethered in Canon EOS 5D Mk IV via Lightroom Classic 9.4 Release, Camera Raw 12.4, then exported into Photoshop and automatically named as Studio Session-0XX.CR2 files. No matter how I try to save or re-save them before photomerging, that same message always pops and blocks me from proceeding any further.

    What am I doing wrong, and how should I correct it?

    Thank you for your advice,

    1. Hi again,

      To add to my previous message: apparently I chose a wrong approach in trying to move those tether-shot files from Lightroom Classic to Photoshop by applying the “Lancôme lipstick method”, but later, following carefully your procedure in “How to Focus Stack – Rings example”, I finally made progress. However, now it appears my camera had not been fully stable at the shooting stage, so I need to redo it.

      Learning from mistakes, that’s what it’s all about…


        1. Hi Karl,

          I just re-tried focus stacking in #KTE Weekly Challenge (Black-on.black), completing it for the first time ever!

          The outcome leaves a lot of room for improvement (including focusing on the very closest spot of the object), in hindsight the lighting of darkest parts could have been much better, etc., but at least there is considerable depth of field that I tried to achieve.

          It may sound ridiculous, but even small steps forward feel rewarding!

          Cheers, Hannu

  3. Hi Karl,

    Amazing stuff. I love the improvements Photoshop has made over the years in auto alignment and blending!

    I’m nowhere near as good as yourself when it comes to photoshop, but if I may share two things that have made my life easier.
    When aligning layers manually, I flick the layer blending mode to “difference”. Pick a key area – and move things around until layers cancel each other out. It saved me tons of time in the past.

    Second tip – I use a 52mpix camera, so files are large. After copying in a new layer, I simply erase areas of the layer that will never be masked-in anyway using the Eraser Tool. That makes files far far smaller and easier to work with.


  4. *protected email*

    Hi Karl,
    I thank you for the many opportunities you are offering me with your photography courses. I wanted to ask you for help regarding focus stacking in watch shoots. I did as you teach, importing tiff16bit files into licensed Photoshop CC2019. I should point out that I have a Quad-Core Intel Xeon E5 Pro Mac. But since I import the files through Photomerge the system warns me that it cannot automatically align some images … “Some images cannot be automatically aligned.” Same thing if I do an automatic level fusion … a message comes up saying: “Automatic level merging cannot be applied because virtual memory disks are full.” If, on the other hand, I export the jpg format files from Lightroom and do the procedure, it does it but the alignment does not take place and I see the image with a single point in focus … Could you please give me some advice? Thanks a lot and congratulations again. Paul

    1. Hi Paul, try merging/alligning just 3 files first in one shot then do another 3 in a different one and then if that works drag the layer from one image into the other. If not then you will have to look at 8bit tiffs instead. Also you can crop all of the stuff you don’t need out of the shots first to reduce file size and it is possible to manually align but this is time consuming.

  5. KASUN

    Hi Karl,

    Don’t know if this trick works in this particular watch. When the auto align is not working due to low details what I do is just merge (Layer masking) that required part with some other layer that has more details but equal in scale. Then simply apply the auto align… it works every time. Since the camera is in the same position and the same focusing plane it works smoothly.

  6. This was an extremely interesting course. Amazing watch transformation so far, from the shoot to this point. The watch detail is amazing! I can even see the lay of the grind process in the brass cogs deep in the inner workings of the watch!! Looking forward to the next retouch session.

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