Focus Stacking

/ in Photography by Marek

In 2015 I carried out similar DSLR testing in low light conditions in the moth house, as published in my previous post, and concluded that the best results I could expect were with ISO set to 1600 maximum, Shutter Speed at 1/60 or above and the highest F-stop possible.

The downside with these settings is that the likelihood of all the image being in focus was unlikely.

This was in fact the case and I knew that I was never going to be totally satisfied with the pictures as I wanted my displays to look like the images seen in the field guides, which are in fact hand drawn by some very clever and dedicated people.

It was at this time I reflected on the research I had done prior to purchasing my DSLR and Macro lens in relation to extreme Macro photography.

I had read that focus stacking was extensively employed to achieve the detailed images on the sites I had visited.

Learning that in the field manual focus stacking is quite a difficult art to master as not only have you got to keep the camera on the same horizontal or vertical plane but also contend with movement caused by wind subject etc.

Added to that the ability of keeping focus on the subject due to its location and surroundings can also prove difficult.

I concluded that the problems of focus stacking in the field however would not be quite the same for me as my subject would always be in a closed environment and on a set background.

Anyway, the whole concept intrigued me, so I decided to download a trial version of a focus stacking software and give it my best shot.

All I can say it that I was completely overwhelmed with the ease of use and the stunning results I could achieve especially on the horizontal plane for side shots as I could run the lens hood along the photography table towards the moth.

The vertical plane was rather trickier especially for shots with a ruler, which I use exclusively on my site, due to a shaky hand and the low shutter speeds but can be overcome with practice.

I had no hesitation in purchasing the software and with various innovations and techniques employed (to be covered in a future post) am still using it today.

My approach is to set my camera to high continuous shooting, best settings possible and manually moving the camera from a starting position at one extreme of the subject and move along whichever plane to the other extreme.

If I am lucky the moth during this small period of time will not have moved sufficiently to prevent a quality stack but unfortunately this is not always the case

Some species have antennae that always seem to be active which requires some additional retouching with the software to correct.

In fact, the only downside to focus stacking within my arena is the time taken for post processing which includes the stacking of images (again to be covered in a future post) but well worth the effort in my opinion and now has become second nature really.

2x2 grid of photos showing the output of multiple image stacking to clear up the image and noise reduction to clean up the background
55 and still looking good

With luck my son will be helping with the next post to bring things up to speed in relation to my website.