First foray into focus stacking macro photographs

On 30 August 2015, I spotted a large, mutant damselfly at Huntley Meadows Park. Kidding! It’s actually a small toy damselfly finger puppet that I bought at the HMP Visitor Center gift shop last year.

I used a Raynox DCR-250 close-up filter with my tripod-mounted Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 superzoom digital camera to shoot 13 focus layers, moving from front-to-back across the head and thorax of the toy damselfly. The toy was placed on an 8″ square sheet of white 1/8″ thick 40% translucent acrylic plastic. The subject was lighted from the side using a Sunpak LED-160 Video Light, and from below using a Qudos Action Waterproof Video Light for GoPro HERO by Knog. In retrospect, I should have used a third light source to illuminate the subject from the front, such as an off-camera external flash unit.

The Raynox DCR-250 close-up filter is a relatively inexpensive solution that enables my Panasonic superzoom digital camera to be used for macro photography. Set-up is quick and easy — the filter simply clips on the front of the camera lens using a universal adapter, just like a lens cap. I use a 52mm-to-43mm step-down ring to mount the Raynox close-up filter more securely. (See “Editor’s Note” at the end of this post.)

Since depth-of-field is very shallow with a close-up filter, I used Adobe Photoshop CC 2015 to create the following composite image in which the entire subject appears in focus.


Composite image (13 focus layers)

Look closely at the full-size version of the preceding composite image and you can see the toy is a little dusty — I should have used my Giottos Rocket Blaster Dust-Removal Tool before I started shooting photos!

The Raynox DCR-250, like other close-up filters and extension tubes, reduces the minimum focusing distance between the lens and subject. Each focus layer was taken using 6/24x zoom telephoto at an estimated working distance of six-to-10 inches (~6-10″) from the subject. It’s worth noting the in-camera manual focus digital distance scale incorrectly showed the working distance was between three and six feet!

A toy damselfly finger puppet, purchased from the Visitor Center gift shop, Huntley Meadows Park.

Focus Layer 1 (of 13) | ISO 100 | 29mm | f/6.3 | 1/8s | -0.33ev

The composite image isn’t perfect. For example, the nose seems to be slightly out-of-focus in Focus Layer 1. Also notice there is some “flaring” (for lack of a better term) on the sides of the thorax shown in both Focus Layer 1 and 13 that was retained in the final version. Overall, not bad for a first effort.

A toy damselfly finger puppet, purchased from the Visitor Center gift shop, Huntley Meadows Park.

Focus Layer 13 (of 13) | ISO 100 | 29mm | f/6.3 | 1/5s | -0.33ev

Imagine how cool it would be to create a focus stacked image of a real odonate! Easier said than done. I’m exploring several solutions, one of which seems do-able in the field. In the meantime, experience gained from my “studio” experimentation should help when it’s time to photograph several odonate evuviae I have collected.

Related Resources:

Editor’s Note: The generic step-down ring I use is currently unavailable from Amazon. A more expensive version of the step-down ring is available from B&H Photo.

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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2 Responses to “First foray into focus stacking macro photographs”

  1. Mike Powell Says:

    Fascinating exploration of another approach to taking photos. Focus stacking is one of those things that I have read about, but have never attempted to do myself. You might consider including a shot of your setup (maybe with your phone), to help us visualize a little better your setup. By the way, I love your choice of subjects for your experiment!

    • waltersanford Says:

      Admit it, Mike — you just want to see a better picture of my toy damselfly finger puppet! 😉 Seriously, my next post will feature a few photographs of my setup. (Good suggestion.) The technical detail in this post may make the rig seem complicated; I think you will be surprised to see how low-tech it is.

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