Focus stacking #Thursday’s Photograph #photography

Some time ago I found this European rhinoceros beetle lying dead on my porch. It is huge, about 1,18 inch in length.
For weeks I kept it in a airtight plastic box with some silica gel.
I wanted to photograph it but hadn’t a clue how. After all it is dead and there is nothing special in making an image of it.

I decided to use the insect to show you a technique called focus stacking. It is a great trick to use on inert objects to overcome the problem of a shallow depth of field.
I mounted a Sigma 180mm macro lens on my sturdy studio tripod and added a 20mm extension ring and the conversion ring for Nikon mount to MFT.
On went the Olympus OMD E-M10 set in full manual mode and 2″ timer to avoid any camera movement when pressing the release button.

At the left side of the bug I placed a flash on full power and at the right aluminum foil.

I moved the tripod back and forth until I had a composition I liked and focused on the closest part of the insect. Even closing my lens to f8 gave me a very shallow depth of field. On the image below you can see how the claw is sharp but not the horn or the rest of the bug.

Detail from the first shot.  Only the claw at the right hand side of the image is in focus as everything else that lies in the same focal plane. Notice the very shallow depth of field.
Detail from the first shot. Only the claw at the right hand side of the image is in focus as everything else that lies in the same focal plane. Notice the very shallow depth of field.

Moving my focus point a few millimeters each time I made ten images. The idea is to blend the sharp parts together into one photograph thus extending your depth of field.

After selecting the 10 images I loaded them into Lightroom where I retouched the first image. I changed the color temperature, opened the shadows and closed the highlights, did some noise reduction and masked sharpening.

When I was satisfied with the result I synchronized the 9 other images with the same settings and exported them to Photoshop in one layer.

In Photoshop I scaled down the image to reduce the overall file size. After selecting all the layers I first did an Edit -> Auto Align Layers. Even when using a tripod I do this first just to make sure everything is properly aligned.

With the 10 layers still selected I cropped the image to my likings.
I finished this project by blending the images with Edit -> Auto-Blend Layers.
After cleaning up the masks for each layer a little I merged them and did some more cleaning up like removing some dust particles.

Focus stacking is a very useful technique not limited to close-up or macrophotography. It can be used for landscape photography as well when you are in a situation where you cannot get enough of your foreground in focus because of optical limitations. Simply get a tripod and make a few images with different parts in focus.

Tip: to make your life easy when you are back in your digital darkroom try to take your images in manual mode. This goes for panoramas too.

Questions? Please PM me.

A tutorial using the free image retouching software Gimp for focus stacking can be found here : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3HxEAxLszbg

European rhinoceros beetle - Finished image
European rhinoceros beetle – Finished image

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