Mesmerizing Sand Ripples in Mesquite Flat Dunes, Death Valley National Park

A wind storm hit Death Valley National Park the previous day, leaving Mesquite Flat Dunes filled with untracked ripples. It was the kid-in-the-candy-store scenario.

The Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens on a Canon EOS R5 was an optimal choice for the dunes. While focal lengths outside this range had compositional opportunities, the 24-70mm angles of view enabled emphasis on the close subjects while keeping the background details relatively large in the frame.

Of course, the 52mm focal length selected for this composition is not optimal for keeping near-to-far details in focus. The R5's focus bracketing feature was the solution to that problem.

With focus bracketing enabled, the smallest increment specified, and the number of shots set far above what was needed (the camera automatically stops at infinity), the R5 proved itself foolproof, automatically delivering the complete required range of sharp focus bracketed images at nearly a 100% rate (except when I impatiently picked up the tripod before the stack was finished to hurry on to the next composition).

With that strategy implemented, my task was easy. Walk up to a scene, select the composition, position the focus point on the closest subject (the closest sand), and press the shutter release with the 2-second self-timer enabled.

My first focus stacking pass for this image was in Photoshop. This process is easy. Here is how to focus stack using Photoshop:

  1. Open the set of images with sharp details covering the entire depth of field as layers in Photoshop. To do this using Bridge, select the images (click on the first image, and shift-click on the last image), then menu > Tools > Photoshop > Load file into Photoshop layers.
  2. Select all layers in the Layers panel (click on the top layer, and shift-click on the bottom layer).
  3. Menu > Edit > Auto-Align Layers, select Auto in the dialog, then click OK.
  4. Menu > Edit > Auto-Blend Layers, select Stack Images in the dialog, then click OK.
  5. If the result looks good, select all layers in the Layers panel, and press control-E to consolidate the result into a single layer.

That mindless process usually works great. However, I wasn't satisfied with the result in this case, so I manually stacked the images using layers masks.

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