Tuesday 14 April 2020

Lockdown Photography - Macro Stacking

Lockdown continues and while I was tempted to capture more images of the birds visiting the feeders in my garden, I felt it might be more productive to learn something new, and try a technique I had been considering for years now, after meeting and becoming friends with Oliver Wright. Now if you haven't seen Oliver's work, check it out on his website (here) and dive into some of the macro images he's captured.

Some of you will be thinking, hang on Pete, you've done loads of macro already. And you'd be correct, but all such images were from one single shot. With macro, the depth of field is so narrow, that bright conditions are needed to capture details, using a small aperture. Even then, using perhaps f11 for images, only a small portion of a subject might be in focus.

What Oliver does, is stack images. There are loads of other macro photographers out there that do this of course, but what appealed to me from his brief demonstration to me, was that he does it hand-held, without any tripod or slider, so it'd be something I could potentially do when out and about. Summer for example can be a time when birds seem to vanish during long stretches of the day, or perhaps the light is too harsh or heat-haze is killing focus on other opportunities, and has been a time in previous years when I have turned my attention to the invertebrates around where I am standing.

So with lockdown in force, I grabbed my Canon 7d mk2, 100mm f2.8 IS macro lens, extension tubes and headed out into the garden. The pond is a hive of activity most of the time, and I have photographed the small wolf spiders that hunt on its fringes before, but now I was trying something new. Didn't take long to locate one, so now it was down to me putting into practice what I had seen Oliver doing several times before.

The idea is simple. With the lens wide open (at f2.8), you obtain focus on the subject, then without changing it, rock the camera back and forth whilst taking shots. In theory capturing tiny sections of the subject with each shot. Sounds simple enough, until you realise that the rocking has to be the same length as the creature, so barely registering on your muscles as movement, the light can change of course during the process and the main issue, the subject can move too. And when it does, it's usually something you don't realise has happened until post-processing later on.

Mooching around in the vegetation in the garden started to reveal a hidden world. As well as spiders and flies, there were small beetles and shield bugs too.

And the garden wasn't the only place to look for creepy-crawlies. I recalled several times having seen a spider on the wall of my porch, so went out front to look, and sure enough, found it near where it normally is.

It was a nursery web spider, and it was hiding in the small pocket of shade offered by a bolt protruding from the brickwork. And it was kind enough to remain motionless while I faffed around beside it, taking numerous sets of shots.

The benefit of working on subjects around the house and garden is that I have access to my PC immediately, so can look at what I've captured, and if I need to try again, I can.

Post processing stacks of images is in itself quite fun. There's a procedure for it, which might seem daunting at first, but is actually dead easy, and PhotoShop does all the work for you.

I decided to help others learn this skill by writing an article on my website, and it can be seen here:

Pete Walkden Photography - Focus Stacking

And some of the results from recent sessions can be seen below.

These were all captured with the Canon 7D mk2 (though one was with the Canon 1DX) and 100mm macro, plus the Kenko extension tubes. I am tempted to get the 5x macro lens, the Canon MP-E 65mm for much more detailed images, as the revealed detail on these images of the tiny creatures is what fascinates me. But lockdown also restricts deliveries, so I might have to wait for a while on that, and perhaps hold on to my pennies, just in case.

One unexpected bonus I found yesterday when crouched down low in the overgrown or "wild" section of my garden yesterday was the presence of birds, also looking for invertebrates. Whilst I looked, I had a very close encounter from a willow warbler, and then moments later a dunnock hopped by. Raised a smile to see so close.

Let me know if you have any questions on this technique, either in the comments section here, or via email (info@petewalkden.co.uk).

Lastly, for anyone interested in finding out about macro photography in general, before going on to tackle this technique, please take a look at this great article below:

Pixpa - Macro Photography - A Complete Guide