Macro Focus Stacking

Started Apr 8, 2013 | Discussions thread
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Duncan C Veteran Member • Posts: 7,667
Macro Focus Stacking

I've been dabbling with focus stacking lately.

I like to shoot extreme closeups, and find the very limited DOF challenging, and wanted to see what I could do to improve.

In all my attempts I merged the images using Photoshop's Align Layers and Merge Layers commands.

I shoot with a D600 and have a Tamron 90 mm f/2.8 macro lens. I sometimes also add a Canon 500D closeup lens and/or a set of Kenko extension tubes, and also sometimes reverse-mount a 50 mm lens on the front of the 90 mm to get extreme closeups.

In my first tries with focus stacking I set the lens on manual focus and tried to turn the focus ring by small increments between shots.

However, I could not help but move the camera slightly, so I got ghosting and artifacts when I merged combined the images.

Here is a single frame from my first attempt:

And the composite "stack":

It looks pretty good at screen resolution, but that's not the goal here. The goal here is to get full-frame images that I can print large.

If you zoom in you can see some serious defects:

I bought Nikon Camera Control 2 shortly after getting the D200, and to my joy, discovered that it does have computer-controlled focus fine-tuning. That lets me do 2 things: Change the focus without touching the camera, and change the focus by controlled increments.

I made another attempt, and the results were much better:

I don't see any ghosting or other artifacts from the image layering.

I did not get the closest and furthest focus points quite far enough, so the closest and furthest points are still OOF. I also found that Photoshop did not do a perfect job of selecting the layer with the sharpest focus for each part of the image. The good news is that it creates a stack of layers with layer masks, and you can paint into a layer mask with white to expose the pixels for that layer, or paint with black to hide those pixels. However, it's quite tricky to figure out which layer contains the sharpest pixels and create an improved mask.

I'll have to do some more experimenting.

This work requires a fast, multi-core computer with lots of memory. The composite above contains 20 layers, and I think it needs half-a-dozen more at least. I'm still getting a feel for how much I need to change focus between shots.

Cool stuff overall.

My favorite macro subject is insects, spiders, and other "creepy-crawles," and I usually shoot them "on the wing" in my garden. Focus stacking won't work in that case, since you need everything to stay totally still for a whole series of exposures. Now I need to decide if I'm willing to kill some bugs in the interest of capturing really good photographs. I'm the kind of person who rescues bugs, bees, spiders, etc. and puts them outside rather than killing them (biting/bloodsucking insects excepted. Those I kill.)

I guess I need to be on the lookout for freshly dead bugs in good condition. (Images of Marty Feldman from Young Frankenstein come to mind).

Canon EOS 500D (EOS Rebel T1i / EOS Kiss X3) Nikon D200 Nikon D600
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