Tag Archives: Advanced Stacker PLUS

Look What You Did!

First we really appreciate the mastery of Matt Molloy who has been using the Advanced Stacker PLUS to reach creative new heights in “TimeStacks”.  This is one of his images below in which he stacks part of the image with Comet mode, and the rest with lighten mode. Click the image to read more.

Reach for the Clouds by Matt Molloy

Reach for the Clouds by Matt Molloy

We invited users of the Advanced Stacker PLUS to give us feedback on their experiences with our Photoshop Add-in. We asked folks is if they had an image that they made with the software that they’d like us to see. Wow. We are impressed! Take a look for yourself. We used the links provided so none of the images shown are on our server. In other words, if an image does not load properly, there is nothing we at StarCircleAcademy can do to fix the issue.  Where possible, clicking the image will take you to the photographer’s site.

Version 14E is available now, by the way.

If your image appears here and you’d rather it did not, let us know and we’ll remove it.

Exit Criteria

Exit Criteria by Steven Christenson (channeling Matt Molloy)

Rocky Mtns

Rocky Mountains by Bob Gibbon

The Chalice by John Mu

The Chalice by John Mumaw

Church by Bob Edwards

Church by Bob Edwards

Lassen Campfire Pano 1

Lassen Campfire Pano 1

Red River Camping Spot Star Trails by Jeff Stephens

Red River Camping Spot Star Trails by Jeff Stephens

Starflight over Pointy Land

Starflight over Pointy Land by Steven Christenson

Chapel in Starlight by Keith Doucet

Chapel in Starlight by Keith Doucet

Philosophy of Advanced Stacker PLUS


Coming soon…

Our 14e release is imminent. But after looking at our survey results and the most recently reported issues, we thought it wise to provide some hints to help you use the current software and to help you understand tradeoffs we made.

Our most commonly reported issue is something we struggled with. In an attempt to help users understand features we caused confusion. What are we talking about?  There are pop up windows: some of which should be Continued some of which should be Stopped. The only notification tool that works across all versions of Photoshop reliably doesn’t allow much customization, so when confronted with each of these dialogs, its understandable why some people click Stop when they should Continue and click Continue when they should Stop. The pop-up window below was the worst. We added highlighting to make it easy to see the difference, but we can’t use color or graphics on the actual pop-up without creating compatibility problems.  Do you notice the difference?


This dialog indicates that the Watermark Alignment is not set… click CONTINUE


If you stop on the first dialog, the layers needed to do stacking are not created and you will get errors the first of which is usually “Move is not currently available”

Move Not Available

Move Not Available

Once there is any kind of error it’s time to Stop and restart because manipulating layers in Photoshop is a little fragile.  The good news is the first pop-up can be turned off. The better news is that in 14e we have already turned it off for you. In fact in 14e we’ve trimmed down interaction as much as possible but still kept the awesome extra features.  Here is how to turn off the first pop-up (the one regarding Watermark Alignment) in version 14d and earlier.

Stop the Pop

Stop the Pop – disable the “Stop” step in Align My Watermark

Power of the Batch

The Advanced Stacker PLUS derives much of it’s power from two key things: Photoshop’s ability to batch process images AND Photoshop’s ability to open just about any image format on the planet.  Batch processing works because it is possible to use File -> Automate -> Batch to hurl a handful or a folder full of images at customized scripts and actions.  While Adobe Photoshop Elements has a “batch processor” there is no way to do operations other than those that are built-in to the software and that’s why ASP doesn’t support Elements.

One of the weaknesses of using Photoshop’s captive power is that it requires exploiting the tool in ways that are “allowed”.  While we like Adobe Photoshop CC, there are still many people who are very happy with older, non-cloud versions of Photoshop like CS3 or CS4.  We chose to not abandon that 35% of our customers so we support ALL CS versions of Photoshop on both Mac and PC. and that means we limit our actions and scripts to features that are common across all those versions and platforms. Readers may not be aware, for example, that while Adobe has published tools for customizing the interface, those tools have generally only supported the “latest” version of software. Indeed one of the most used tools (Configurator) has been abandoned and is no longer supported.

Another tradeoff has been in how we document our features. For example the File -> Automate -> Batch method of stacking a folder full of files is workable, if inelegant. But we use the Photoshop Bridge method of feeding the stacker and like it much more for several significant reasons.  One huge advantage of using Bridge is that you can actually see the content of the files. Another obvious advantage is that you are not constrained by what’s in your folder. If you have 29 shots from one sequence and 120 of another sequence you don’t have to split those shots between folders. And, in fact, with Bridge to select files you don’t have to use the same stacking method for all the files of one set, or have files from only one folder!

A word about 14E

As noted above, version 14E is imminent. Surprisingly the biggest obstacle has not been the additional features, the primary obstacle has been packaging and delivering the content. Windows 8.1 and Mac OSX 10.9 have gotten very protective of their machines and throw up many roadblocks to try to keep your machine safe from viruses and trojans. This means we had to invest $1500 dollars to become an LLC, get signed up for the Mac developer plan, get a Mac code signing certificate and get a code signing certificate for Windows, too! That doesn’t include acquiring a Mac or polishing the scripts and installers on each machine. Here is what the problem looks like on a Windows PC using Internet Explorer without signed code (it’s just as bad with Safari on Mac).


In fact, on both machines even though the code is signed (proving its provenance), you are still likely to get a warning like “This is not a commonly downloaded file”. It might be easier if we could email it to you, right? Except that Google, Yahoo and many others will not deliver an email that includes any executable content.

Both PCs and Macs have reached this point described in a Mac advertisement from 2009 that pokes fun at Vista’s intrusive safety system. Guess what… both machines are becoming like this because there are so many, uh, jerks out there eager to harm you electronically.

Our holy grail has been to create a single deliverable package that works both on a PC and on your Mac that we can document clearly, simply and as completely as possible.  That was probably too high a goal.

What’s coming in 14e?

  • Installation now is as simple as clicking.
  • EXIF data for the first image is preserved
  • New stacking mode of Ultra Streaks
  • Streamlined pop-ups to the minimum
  • Fully supports paths on both PC and Mac
  • Installation works for ALL versions of Photoshop CS you have installed on your machine
  • A price increase. But current owners will get the upgrade for free.
  • Some features we’re keeping under wraps for now.

Doing things Backward in Advanced Stacker PLUS

Push Me - Pull You

Star Trails tapered in TWO directions… read on for how.

First we confess… Doing things backward applies to all manner of operations, not just Advanced Stacker PLUS so this technique is useful for almost any kind of batch processing.

By far the most IMPRACTICAL way to stack your shots in reverse order is to reverse time before taking your shots so that they will be numbered as you wish. Another eminently impractical way to shoot star trails backwards is to reverse the earth’s rotation before shooting that sequence of shots. 🙂

We’re pretty sure you are looking for a more practical solution, though! And here we offer a strategy that takes full advantage of Photoshop’s relentless bent on processing photos in alphabetical order.  To make everything run “backward” we need to reverse the alphabetical order of the photos.  Unfortunately, there is no number these files backward feature. We wish! There are some standalone programs for doing sophisticated file renaming but here we will use a tool you already have: Adobe Bridge. Adobe Lightroom can be used too – if you are anxious to know how, leave a comment and we will elaborate.

Here is a quick comparison. The first shot is “reversed” causing the stars in the Northern Hemisphere to be rotating clockwise instead of the counter-clockwise direction that they ACTUALLY move in.  While exactly the same shots were used in each case, the photos reveal one reason why you might want to reverse the order – to get a sky flavored with a bit of twilight blue.

130-41ReversedComet 130-41Comet

We have a lengthy article on how to use Adobe Bridge to feed the Advanced Stacker PLUS, so let’s start with using Bridge.  Below is what our directory of files looks like. We compacted our Bridge display to make it easy to get a reasonable size screen capture. We slid the  leftmost divider (normally it shows filters and folders) to the left.  Notice the “content” pane contains thumbnails and the Preview pane shows the two files we selected – one obviously taken earlier when there was yet some blue twilight, and the other taken later.

Reversing the File Order – Adobe Bridge



Arrows below indicate places where we can control the view that Bridge shows us.


Some key controls for manipulating the Bridge display are shown.


NOTE: You do not have to change the view, you can use the Sort option and uncheck the “Ascending” order.

We find that the easiest way to reverse the displayed order is to change to List view. And then click on the header to reverse the sort order. While we can change the sort order directly (see sidebar) we prefer the neater view we get in List mode.

Clicking the triangle on the Name column at the top of our content pane reverses the sort order and results in the display as shown at the right.


Unfortunately Photoshop will not be swayed by the different sort order… it insists on processing files in ALPHABETICAL order. Our solution is to change the names of our files to reflect the desired ordering.

Batch Rename


Batch rename (under Tools) gives us the ability to copy or move files while renaming them.  Fortunately when we use the rename tool, it DOES respect our sort order. Our strategy is to use our reversed-order file list and place an increasing sequence number at the beginning of each file name. By prepending to the file name we can force the first file in our sorted list to become first alphabetically.  Bridge has a built in “Sequence Number” which automatically increments.

We do this often enough that we took the extra step to save the configuration as a preset.

Adding a 3-digit prefix followed by a dash character. To add or remove items from the rename click the + or – icons.

The important points are:

  1. We must prefix a sequence number.
  2. We strongly suggest “Preserving the current file name in the XMP data” so we can return the files to the original name if we wish.  Or instead of renaming them, select “copy” and place the result in a separate folder.

Once we have our renumbered files, we can feed them to Photoshop just as we described in the Stacking with Bridge article.  And, if use the “preserve file name in XMP” option, we can easily rename the files back to their original names using the batch rename. The small trick for this is described at the end of the video below.

Batch Renaming – The Video

Reversing the ordering of files for Advanced Stacker PLUS (Using Adobe Bridge)


Using Lightroom To Rename

Using Lightroom has many drawbacks as we previously described.  Lightroom also has a rename function (F2), it is, however a bit more tedious to set up.  The other important thing to remember about using Lightroom for stacking is that Lightroom insists on exporting files before you are able to stack them.  And because of these two complexities, we decided to stop writing here.  If you really want to know how to use Lightroom to accomplish the same task, plead with us in the comments below.  Or better yet, offer us bribes!

Added Spiff! Advanced Stacker Version 14 Available!!


A sequence created using the Comet stacking mode. Click the image to see the timelapse.

We didn’t want to put too many exclamation points here, but hundreds of hours of work writing , testing, documenting and creating instructional videos for the new Advanced Stacker PLUS have reached fruition so we have to use at least a few exclamation marks!!!

The changes and additions here are largely based on the way I use the Advanced Stacker PLUS plus the patient, persistent requests of several of my most engaged clients (yes, including you, Marsha!).

Here is an example of what the Advanced Stacker PLUS Version 14 can do. Watch it in HD.

12 Minute Star Trail using Advanced Stacker PLUS version14 from Steven Christenson on Vimeo.

I demonstrated this live during a Creating Star Trails Webinar. Here I am going through all of the steps including some advanced masking techniques which will be covered in detail in the next Night Photography 150 Webinar.

Here is an example of the six of the different stacking modes. Notice how the “flash” of the tree light painting and the passage of the airplane show differently in each mode. Watch in FULL SCREEN and HD for best viewing.

The beast is now released and available in our store.  Here is PARTIAL list of what we’ve spiffed up.

New Features

  • New stacking modes: Elastic Stars and “Fat Heads” (aka Blobulous)
  • New Stacking mode: Average – continuously averages the last 8 frames and can be used by itself, or in conjunction with other stacking to reduce noise
  • Foreground Masking mode: Got one frame with the perfect foreground and want all of your results to feature it? You can do that. See this timelapse where the foreground mask was a lightened version of the sum of several frames.
  • Dark Frame Subtraction – and even better, you can run your dark frames through the lighten mode (or averager) and use the result to remove hot pixels from all of your frames.
  • Really cool Watermarking options. Helps you create and apply your own Watermarks to images with a single click.
  • More resizing options including sizes targeted for Facebook, Google and 500px.  You can also add your own custom cropping and sizing too, and apply as a batch.
  • Use the Foreground Mask group to add additional curves and corrections to bring pop to your timelapse.
  • Allow the automatic averaging to flow through any of your stacking modes to reduce noise.
  • The stacking actions now keep track of the NAMES of the first and last files loaded. And there is a new option to create a file based on those first and last names so you can keep your stacks organized.
  • Installation Check action: make sure everything is installed properly.
  • Installer batch script for Windows (Mac installer is under development).
  • Even more usage videos (http://starcircleacademy.com/advancedstacker)


  • Watermarks can be done once up front for the whole stack. You can then restyle or move them if the nine automatic placement options aren’t enough!
  • Even more video help (see here), and more documentation.

Bug Fixes

We found a few issues that affected operation.

  • Under some circumstances, Advanced Stacker PLUS would not properly handle stacking of complicated files like other .PSD documents.  We may have been the only people doing that!
  • Introduced a bug that caused some operations to fail on PS CS2 and CS3.