Focus Stacking – Powerful Macros

Macro of a wasp, 3:1, stacked from 49 frames

Most people who start taking macros come to the point where they have to decide between depth of field, exposure time and the brightness of the picture itself. Of course, the latter issue can be dimmed when you shoot in RAW, but you will eventually come to the point where even a lossless file format fails to keep you from making a decision. Usually, when photographing at an image ratio of 1:1 the aperture has to be closed down to a higher F-Stop in order to generate a deeper depth. But, as you probably already discovered, higher F-Stop means less light. If you decrease the shutter speed as a counter measuer, the insect or whatever subject you’re trying to capture might move and leave you with a disappointing blurry picture. But if you increase the ISO, you soon start to have a grainy picture, especially if you don’t have a professional-grade 2500£ DSLR at hand.
The problem gets even worse, when you use a lens like the Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x. This is a specialised lens, with which you can magnify a subject up to 5x. But it requires a lot of light, a steady tripod and a lot of practice to create stunning pictures. One big problem with this lens is the shallow depth of field, which, even at F/16, produces a DOF of 0.269 mm in 5x magnification. This is, of course, an extreme that doesn’t appear in this magnitude with a “normal” macro lens, like the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM. But it is perfect to illustrate what I mean. So how do you shoot a picture like the above macro of a wasp in 3x magnification with such a DOF? The answer is a technique called Focus Stacking. With this technique you don’t need to worry about DOF anymore, because you take one picture with every level of focus depth and stack them to one picture. This requires special software, a special tripod head and a lot of experience, but the results are stunning.
To get an idea of the technique, watch our video below:

tobias Knöpfli

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