Sunday, 29 May 2011

Focus stacking spring flowers

One of the great possibilities with digital macro photography is depth of field control using focus stacking. In this, rather than trying to control depth of field when photographing very close up by using very small apertures (e.g. f/32), you choose an aperture where the lens works best (e.g. f/8), without necessarily trying to cover very much of the depth of the subject. A series of pictures is then taken from the front to the back of the subject, and then the images are combined using software that will select the sharpest region from each picture. This offers the possibility of getting a subject sharp all the way across, with the added advantage that there is less chance of background clutter coming into focus.

I have been trying out the software Helicon Focus, and I am delighted by my first results. Here are some examples from the last couple of months using spring flowers and blossom from our garden.

These were all taken indoors under studio conditions with controlled light: as much as I would love to have photographed them in their native environment, the wind was simply blowing too much for this. The lens was the 60mm AF-D micro-Nikkor, an older lens, but extremely sharp, and a perfect focal length for flower photography on a crop-frame (DX) sensor.

Helleborus niger
Flowering blackcurrant (Ribes)

For the last example, the flowering blackcurrant, I actually did a focus series all the way through both flowers. But after stacking the whole lot, the appearance of both flowers fully sharp looked simply unnatural, and there was no way for the eye to settle on one or the other. So I simply stacked the front flower, and left the rear one out of focus - I like the resulting look.

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