Macro Photography - The advantages of focus stacking

Discussion in 'Photography Talk' started by Ademission, May 14, 2021.

  1. Ademission

    Ademission Gardener

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    Hello all, I'm a newbie here so please be gentle.

    I thought I might explain the concept of focus stacking and show some of my examples.

    Taking good photos of small objects is difficult. An example would be small flowers. For years I used a macro lens but always suffered with the lack of depth of field. I could focus on the back (or front) of the flower but even with small apertures and a tripod I could not get the whole flower in focus. Now, flowers don't move a lot if you are careful (unlike live insects) which gives another avenue to exploit.

    Focus Stacking allows a photographer to take a sequence of pictures with each picture having a slightly different focal point. The sequence might be any length depending on the severity of the focusing problem. Typically for small flowers, it can be 4 to 40 and sometimes a few more. To get the whole flower in focus, the sequence should start with focus at the flowers nearest point (or the furthest point) and proceed taking shots in the direction of the furthest point (or the nearest point). The focus step should be less than the depth of field. Alternatively, the camera can be moved forward (or backwards) by small increments usually on a slide.

    Ok, now we have a sequence of pictures which is often referred to as a stack. we now need software to pick out the correctly focussed bits and piece them together to make the finished photograph. Anything that was not in the range of focus will stay blurred.

    Specific software is available for performing this procedure. I use Helicon Focus and Helicon remote. I think Helicon is specifically aimed at Canon and Nikon cameras (correct me if I'm wrong). Photoshop can also be used and there are many tutorials on YouTube showing how to do this.

    I should also mention that when taking photographs of flowers, I sometimes don't want everything to be in focus. Some of my more arty shots rely on blurry bits of the flower. Stacking is just a tool that can be used to get sharp photos of small items.

    I'll finish now with some examples of stacking: -

    Dianthus 4000.jpg
    Picture 1
    Indoor, kitchen table shot using 30 pictures and flash. Camera was set to manual mode to get equal exposure on all frames. There was a bit of trial and error to get the exposure right.

    Red Orchid 2 4000.jpg
    Picture 2
    Indoor, on the kitchen table using a Sigma 105mm macro lens, all settings as above with focal range from front tip of main flower to rear of buds. Main flower was only 3cm across.

    Nuts and Bolts 4000.jpg
    Picture 3
    Nuts and bolts on the inside of a biscuit tin. Sigma 105mm macro and screws are M5 for scaling.

    Single Red White Tulip 4000.jpg
    Picture 4
    As 1 & 2.

    Spring Fanfare 4000.jpg
    Picture 4
    As 1, 2 & 3

    Xmas Cacti 4000.jpg
    Picture 5
    Recent picture of a flowering cactus (Xmas Cactus). A little closer than some of the others which meant the stack was bigger than in some of the other pictures.

    If anyone has any questions, please do not hesitate to ask and I'll try to answer them.

    Best Regards

    Ademission

    Stay safe.
     
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    • Perki

      Perki Total Gardener

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      Interesting . You take some fabulous pictures , I usually struggle with close up pictures not getting it to focus on the whole flower like you mentioned. Can this been done with a ordinary camera which the macro lens are do you need a mirrorless /other camera with the lens.
       
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      • Ademission

        Ademission Gardener

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        Hi Perki,

        Before I answer your question, can I ask you what camera you are using so I can tailor my reply.

        Oh, and do you have a tripod?

        Regards

        Ademission
         
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        • Perki

          Perki Total Gardener

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          I've only got a compact camera - Sony Rx100 V . I don't have a tripod but I don't think they cost so much
           
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          • Ademission

            Ademission Gardener

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            Hello Perki,

            I just had a quick look at the specification of your camera.

            In order to perform stacking with your Sony Rx100 V, it would need to be capable of taking a string of pictures with exactly the same exposure. A manual exposure setting would be best and the Sony's specification suggests this is possible. The actual setting would have to be achieved by taking a number of manual photos until the correct exposure was found.

            For focusing, there are 2 alternatives. Manual is possible according to the specs but I don't know how easy it is to get good control of the focus. Its easy to get it to focus on something but harder to get it to focus incorrectly as you move through the depth of the flower. Better might be to move the camera backwards and forwards on a slider using a manually set fixed focal point. This way you can accurately change the point of focus in small increments through the depth of the flower. Of course, the slider would need to be mounted on a tripod and the camera on the slider.

            A cheap (and maybe nasty) example slider is linked below though I cannot vouch for its quality: -

            2 Way Macro Sliding Focus Focusing Rail Slider For DSLR Camera Tripod Bracket | eBay

            As an example of taking the stack, you may need to take 20 pictures, each with a 2mm increase of focal position (this assumes the flower is 40mm deep). The slider usually has a knurled wheel and a scale to make this adjustment accurately.

            When you have your 20 pictures (as in our example), you will need to process them.

            Helicon Focus works with any stack and although its not free, a 30day trial is available from the Helicon website. You can decide later if you want to pay for it when you've tried it. Helicon Remote only works with Canon and Nikon cameras, but this allows you to control your camera from a computer (automating the taking of the stack photos).

            My last comment is about the minimum focus distance. I have assumed you can get close to the flower or zoom in to compose the picture. The zoom setting must stay set for the entire duration of taking the pictures for the stack to be correct.

            Let me know if you have any other questions.

            Ademission
             
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            • Scrungee

              Scrungee Well known for it

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              I can do it all in camera, automatically stacking up to 15 shots and selecting a range of field to be in focus, and sometimes handheld without a tripod. The resulting OOC image is a jpeg, but 999 bracketed images can be automatically taken and then stacked using software. Useful when there's a really shallow DoF using extension tubes with a macro lens.
               
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                Last edited: May 15, 2021
              • Ademission

                Ademission Gardener

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                Scrungee,

                That sounds excellent. What clever camera do you have? Do you have any examples of Focus Stacked photographs? If so, what software do you use to combine the stack? Always interested in alternatives to Helicon software. I've used Photoshop but its not quite as good as it produces more unwanted artefacts on the final image.

                I like your shots of lepidoptera, it was also one of my hobbies in years gone by. Less so recently but I am still fascinated by moths and butterflies though I haven't photographed them in a very long time. A shame really as only now do I have the correct equipment to do it properly.

                Best regards

                Ademission

                Stay safe.
                 
              • Scrungee

                Scrungee Well known for it

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                Olympus OMD EM1 Mk iii & ii & EM5 Mkii which all do focus stacking/bracketing, together with Oly 60mm macro, 12-40 f2.8, 40-150 f2.8, 300 f4 which all support focus stacking, plus extension tubes, achromatic lenses, twin macro flash, etc., but I'm probably too busy sowing and growing until fungi season.
                 
                Last edited: May 15, 2021
              • pete

                pete Growing a bit of this and a bit of that....

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                I'm not really that well into photography but usually just use a smaller aperture on my SLR if I want more depth of field.
                But a couple of years ago I bought a compact, and it has a setting where it takes multiple shots, but I've never really gone onto why that setting is there.

                Could it be for this reason?
                 
              • wiseowl

                wiseowl FRIENDLY ADMIN Staff Member

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                Hi @pete I always use multiple shots when I am taking birds in flight or fast moving action images:smile:

                I sometimes use focus stacking, which is a technique used to blend several images focused at different points so that the depth of field can be increased beyond that of a single image. It can be used for multiple types of shots, but is typically used with close-ups or macro images:smile:
                 
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                • pete

                  pete Growing a bit of this and a bit of that....

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                  The question is, why does it take multiple shots, but you only end up with one image?
                  I'm just wondering if the compact is doing stacking on this setting.

                  I'm not thinking about the multiple shots I can do on my SLR, whereby I gets lots of separate images just by holding the shutter down.
                   
                • Ademission

                  Ademission Gardener

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                  Hi pete,

                  It may be taking an exposure sequence to produce 1 HDR picture. Let me know the camera make and model and I'll have a read at the manual.

                  Regards

                  Ademission
                   
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                  • pete

                    pete Growing a bit of this and a bit of that....

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                    Hi Ade, its a Sony DSC-HX60 it has an Auto setting called Superior Auto.
                    When I take a picture with it on that setting I can here the shutter taking more than one shot in rapid succession.
                     
                  • Ademission

                    Ademission Gardener

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                  • pete

                    pete Growing a bit of this and a bit of that....

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                    OK, thanks, yes I've never been good at reading instructions, but that does make it a bit clearer as to what is going on.
                     
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