Friday, April 11, 2014

Tutorial Time - Focus Stacking

Spring is right around the corner and one of the most interesting things to me is photographing the budding plants and little things that make there way to take delight in the warmth of the spring time sun.  If your photographing a flower, but just not getting everything in focus like you want.  Well, I have your answer...focus stacking.  Focus stacking is a major tool in the macro photographers arsenal when we want more depth of field (DOF) that what we can get by using our regular settings.

The trouble with digital photography is the ever present restrictions of Defraction.  Defraction, in basic terms, is when your aperture is greater than what your lens and sensor can handle.  You reach a point of diminishing returns and will actually make your photo less sharp by increasing your aperture past a certain point.  For me, I shoot with a Canon 7D.  With the 18 megapixel sensor and combining in the crop factor (for Canon it is 1.6x) I reach my defraction limiting aperture (DLA) at f/6.9.  Bryan at The-Digital-Picture has a great chart for refraction and I suggest checking that out if you are at all interested.  Full frame sensors are much better at handling defraction, but you gain some DOF by having a crop sensor so it all kind of evens out in the end.

Back to my point.  Shooting at macro distances, your DOF becomes smaller and smaller the closer you get to your subject.  The only way to get your DOF larger is either increase your aperture and risk the effects of defraction or take multiple pictures and combine those photos in software (Focus Stacking).  My method of choice is Focus Stacking.

I previously wrote and brief tutorial some time ago on focus stacking.  This article included multiple pictures of a fly.  I know that isn't a subject the majority of people want to see so I have decided to use one of my bubble photos to illustrate focus stacking.

To illustrate the process and what can be achieved here is the final image.  This is an image stacked with 12 different photos of the same bubble.

I will display the process with the bubble wand photo, but it all follows the same principle.   The photos below were the 12 photos I used to stack and make the photo above.  Each part of the bubble had a different section in focus and when combined, all photos create the final image. 

 This is the final image composed of the 9 photos that follow.  Here is how it is done.

First we need to make the images.  Find a subject is the first step.  Then we get our settings as we would like and begin to make the photos.  Many people choose to use a tripod with a macro rail which definitely would make the subject and the process more accurate, but I have found them to be cumbersome when it comes to trying to photograph things in nature.  The tripod and focusing rails would work great if you were using them in a studio and didn't have to worry about your subject moving or you having to move yourself.  I brace myself as sturdy as I can, focus on my subject using the manual focusing ring, and shoot anywhere between 10 to 20 photos of the subject.  Getting different parts of the subject in focus requires you to move your camera back and forth while shooting your burst.  I do not refocus the lens due to a different perspective it could give when focusing which would mess up the stacking in software later.

Next, we import the photos into a photo editor of your choosing.  I prefer to use Lightroom for my Raw file editing.  It is a simple way to keep your photos categorized and organized.  Plus copy and pasting your settings is super easy.  After the files are imported into your editing software, I flag all of the photos I think will want to combine into the final image.  I select one of those photos and edit it in the develop module.  Once I have the single photo as I like, I select the files I am using and sync settings for all of the photos I am including in the final image.  

Then I export them into Photoshop by choosing the photo tab, then selecting export to photoshop as layers.

Once the files load into photoshop the process gets pretty simple.  Select the top photo of the layers stack in photoshop, hold the shift key and click on the very bottom photo.  This should select all of the layers.  Then move your mouse to the edit tab and select auto align layers.  After a couple of seconds your files should all snap into alignment.  Next, go to the same edit tab and select auto blend layers.  

 A pop up box will show and you will want to select stack images.  This will take a couple minutes to complete depending on the processing power of your computer.  Once it is done, you will see the magic of focus stacking before your eyes.  The images will combine and the photo will automatically snap into a perfectly focus photo.  I usually combine them all into a single layer by command(control on PC)-alt-shift-E.  Clean up what you would like about the newly stacked photo and save away.  

I hope you have found this informative and simple to use.  Now go photograph something and give it a try.  Trying is the only way to learn!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Jelly Fishing

By far one of the best parts of the zoo is the newly remodeled aquarium.  One of the coolest parts, once you get past the big walk through shark tank, is the jelly fish aquariums.  I have taken many photos of this area and each time I get something a little more unique.  The kids absolutely love this area.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Seagulls in the Midwest???

Yep, you read that correctly.  Ring-billed Gulls have invaded the midwest.  Just as most birds migrate during the spring and fall, so do Seagulls.  The usual group that comes through the area are called Ring-Billed Gulls.  You can tell the Ring-Billed Gull by the black band around their beak.

What's interesting is that during the migration through the city, they tend to stick close to the parking lots of large retail stores that are bordered by restaurants of the fast food variety.  They scavenge the parking lots for bits of food in the trash that people throw out of their cars or make their way to the parking lot.  Why these guys were flying around I noticed them pick up a bun of some kind and stop to have a snack on a bag of cheetos that had fallen to the parking lot.  They are very large birds so they are pretty hard to miss.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Landscapes and Interesting Things

Schramm Park provided many interesting things to photograph.  They had the ducks and geese I posted previously in the wet areas.  Then, as you take the trails you find a whole bunch of other things that come into focus.  During the trail walk, my friend and I did more talking than shooting due to the time between our excursions.  What we did photograph was pretty cool.  Wonder what spring holds for this area????

Friday, March 21, 2014


The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, or NICU as it is commonly referred to, is a place of wonder.  For any who haven't had the experience of being in this section of the hospital, it is a very special place.  Most who are hear, or were here at one point in time, are part of a very special community.  The babies here are little ones in need of the most care the first days or months of their lives.  Some spend there entire life here due to complications that are too much for them to overcome.  Some, like the cutie I have pictured here, are in need of a little help from the specialized doctors and nurses to get them back on their feet.  

For me, the experience was new.  Seeing the babies in the NICU and having children of my own, the experience brought back many memories of their first days.  That alone was emotional, but then seeing the little ones in total incubation and attached to various monitors stirs a whole bunch more.

Some parents experience this area first hand when they have a newborn, but I sincerely doubt there have been many photographers that have had the opportunity to view this special area.  For me, it was a blessing to capture some of the first moments that mom and baby were able to spend together.  

These first couple are the very special people that are in charge of this area.  They work hard to make sure the little ones are in the best care they can be.  

You can't take baby photos without getting a good look at the little fingers and toes.  Newborn fingers and toes are so tiny and delicate.  It is fun to see the little digits compared to the hands of their parents.

Hugs & Kisses
We even managed to get a little smile from the little darling.

Being there for the first time mommy got to hold her little one was an extra special moment I was able to capture for this family.  

Finally, my favorite picture from the experience.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Silly Goose

Promising some silly photos and I am here to deliver.  This was another Canadian goose coming in for a landing.  I didn't get the camera around quick enough to photo his flight down to the pond, but I did catch him as he was coming to a halt on the ice.  You may recognize him from a previous post.  He was the guy who fell through the ice shortly after this graceful landing.

If you would like to see larger photos or more from the nature outing, please visit my website at or just click on the picture to be taken to the gallery.

I'm Batman!

Feel free to comment as I have reactivated the comments on this page.  Don't know how they were shut off, but that mistake has been rectified.  You can also visit my nature gallery at to see other shots from the day. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Geese on the Pond

Continuing with my post from last weekends shoot at Schramm Park State Recreational Area, we have some Canadian Geese.

If you would like to see more from the geese, please visit my website at or just click on the picture to be taken to the gallery.

This is a 50% crop of an image taken from across a pond with the Canon 500mm f/4L IS II.  I couldn't believe how sharp the drops on the feathers were in every shot.  

This guy took a tumble in the very thin ice, but came out strutting like a boss.

Feel free to comment as I have reactivated the comments on this page.  Don't know how they were shut off, but that mistake has been rectified.  You can also visit my nature gallery at to see other shots from the day.