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Macro Focus Stacking

Updated for 2013

I’m using a new macro technique (new to me) today called focus stacking; essentially, you take a bunch of frames with manual focus at the same exposure and bring focus to different areas of your photograph in each shot. you need the following setup for the best results:

First, set your lens focus to the desired macro scale. Once its set, do not touch it again.

Your lens probably has markings for 1:1, 1:2, 1:4, and so on. Line up your focus scale mark to the center and nail down your distance away from the subject.

Now you’re ready to set your exposure and start shooting some frames. Start at your subject’s closest features and work your way to the back by sliding the focus rail forward. Small movements make dramatic focus differences so move the rail carefully and take your time.

Depending on your subject distance, you may need to slide right or left and stitch a panorama so it’s a good idea to make sure you have x and y axis rails on hand.

Import and Stack

After importing the set, you merge the frames together and a focus stacked photo is born.

In the case of the daffodil, I wanted to emphasize the petal and leave other features out of focus. So, I took three shots at f/4.5 – one for the closest petal edge, one for the center petals, and lastly, one for the top of the petal ring. Adding focus to more frames generally creates a sharper photo when merged together, but since this is my first time, I opted to merely test the technique.

Yellow Daffodil to Kick Off Spring

Oops, I flubbed. I mistakenly shot this yellow daffodil with the focus stacking technique at ISO 3200. Luckily, my camera sensor resolves great detail with little noise through ISO 3200 and is generally acceptable at ISO 6400. I lose some dynamic range at higher ISO, but all is not lost. ISO 3200 is totally unnecessary, though. Especially in daylight. So, if you’ve been away from shooting for a while, remember to reset your camera before you use it again.

A focus stacked yellow daffodil reveals beautiful petal texture while leaving soft green stems out of focus.  The contrast of the black background with the yellow flower accentuates its beauty.

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