Stack ’em high and blend ’em fast!
Once you’ve got your photos, it’s time to merge them in the digital darkroom
01 Action stations!
First we’ll record an action, then we’ll automate it within a second action so that it runs on a folder of images. Open the Actions Panel (Window>Actions) and click the flyout menu at the top-right. Make sure ‘Button Mode’ is unticked, then choose New Set. Name it Timestack and hit OK.
02 Start recording
Open the first two images in your sequence, then click the New Action icon at the bottom of the Actions Panel. Name the action ‘Copy and Close’, then hit Record. From now on, everything you do will be recorded in the action, but you can hit Stop at any time to pause it, and Record to continue.
03 Take shortcuts
When recording actions, it’s usually best to use menus and keyboard shortcuts whenever possible, so every command remains universal. Press Cmd/Ctrl+A to Select All, then Cmd/Ctrl+Shift+ ~ (tilde key) to switch to the previous document. Hit Cmd/Ctrl+V to paste the layer in.
04 Lighten up
Go to Layer>Layer Style>Blending Options and set Mode: Lighten. Next go to Layer>Merge down to combine the layers into one. Press Cmd/Ctrl+ ~ to switch back over to the other document and go to File>Close. Click the Stop button in the Actions panel to stop recording.
05 Test it first
To check the action is working, open another image, click on the action and press play, then close the document. Next we’ll create a second action to automate the task. We’ll use a dummy set of images to test it, so just copy 10 random images from your sequence into a separate folder.
06 Take more action
Click the New Action icon again. Call it ‘Timestack Lighten’ and hit Record. Go to File>Open and open the first image in your sequence. We need to make a fresh copy, so go to Image>Duplicate and hit OK. Next press Cmd/Ctrl+Shift+ ~ to switch back to the first document and go to File>Close.
07 Automate it
Go to File>Automate>Batch. Choose Set: Timestack, Action: Copy and Close, Destination: Save and Close. Next, set Source: Folder then click the Choose button and navigate to your folder of 10 random test images. Hit OK to automate the action and watch as Photoshop copies, pastes and blends the layers for you.
08 Build in pauses
Press the Stop button to stop recording. To make sure the action will work on other images in the future, take a look at the Timestack Lighten action and you’ll see square boxes to the left of each step. Highlight the boxes next to ‘Open’ and ‘Batch’. Now the action will pause at these points, allowing you to specify the correct start image or source folder.
09 Add a reminder
You can also add reminders or ‘stops’, for future reference. Highlight the Open step, then click the Action Panel’s flyout menu and pick Insert Stop. Type ‘Open the first image in the series’, check ‘Allow Continue’ then hit OK. Drag the Stop step above the Open step. It will then remind you to open the first image the next time you want to use the action.
10 Run the action
Now the action is ready to be used on your proper, complete set of photographs. Highlight the set then click the flyout and choose Save Set. Close any open images, then highlight the Timestack action and hit Play. Choose the first image and specify the source folder with your full sequence of shots in, then sit back and watch the action run.
11 Try different options
The effect might work first time, or you may need to experiment by using every other frame. To do so, expand your grid in Bridge, then hold Cmd/Ctrl and drag down columns to select alternate rows. Copy and Paste the selected files into a new folder, then run the action again.
12 Keep experimenting
We’ve used every sixth shot, then combined two versions (one for the sky, one for the water) using a Layer Mask. We used the Camera Raw filter to boost the tones. If you need to remove jet trails, make a new layer, grab the Spot Healing Brush, check Sample All Layers, and paint to remove.