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

How a silhouette works

Sparrow Singing In The Sunset // tobias.knoepfli

Have you ever wondered, why some silhouette photographs are absolute magic, while others just don’t seem right? Well, take the image on the right, for example. It’s not a special occasion, no fancy shot of a motocross biker jumping over bench on which a couple is kissing or anything. No, I took this photograph with my Nikon Coolpix P1000, which, as you probably know, has an extreme focal length of up to 3000mm. It was one of the last shots of the day, and I didn’t really have time to compose it properly. So, why does it work?

One word: Minimalism

Yes, it’s that simple. I’ve seen tons of silhouette pictures that were simply overloaded. General rule of thumb: if the black parts of the picture, hence the silhouette, fills more than half the frame, it usually doesn’t work. There are always exceptions, but for a beginner it’s always a good thing to have a few rules in mind, right?

As you can see, I’ve kept my photograph to a minimum. You can see some houses in the background that give the shot some structure, but the eye wanders along the wires to the silhouette of the bird. You might notice a few basic rules of composition, such as the rule of thirds and the diagonals, but what I want you to focus on here is the simplicity. It’s a bird sitting on some wires, singing. These are the key elements of the picture. You might notice some details on a closer look, for example that there is some piece of wire sticking out of the pole on the left, or that the bird is actually singing, because it opens its beak. But the theme itself is a bird who’s sitting on some wires. Very unspectacular. But the backlight reduces everything to a mere silhouette, and our brain has to figure out what these two-dimensional shapes might be. Experience tells us what it is, if the photograph is made well. So don’t overload your shot with unnecessary objects, or the viewer has to think too much and gets bored or even overwhelmed.

Tobias Knöpfli