Photo by Heather Angel

Behind the Shot with Heather Angel

Photo by Heather Angel

Behind the Shot
With Heather Angel

Focus stacking is a great technique for gaining maximum depth of field for three-dimensional macro subjects. Essentially, a series of focus slices are blended together using a software program.

During the last three years, I have taken many hundreds of focus stacks of flowers for a book I have just completed on pollination for London’s Kew Gardens. Here, the pitcher plant flower failed to make the cut, simply because I did not get the pollinator in action.

The essential factors for a tack sharp stack are:

  • a static subject
  • a constant light source with a consistent intensity. It can be natural light, an LED light, or flash or a mix of these. It needs to be in a fixed position, otherwise the shadows will vary between one shot and another.
  • manual focus
  • a focusing rail to move the camera forward in equal increments

My preferred light for flower portraits inside is indirect window light, with maybe a reflector fill or fill-flash (or both). For this shot, I used our conservatory with an outer glass wall. A Nikon SB-800 Speedlight supported on a high level Benbo tripod that extends to 2.56m (almost 8½ feet), enhanced the back-lighting softened with a Honl Photo Traveller 8 Softbox and a cheap reflector provided the fill light.

Set up for Sarracenia focus stack

Set up for Sarracenia focus stack


The simple set-up above shows the flower secured in a milk bottle with Magitape, and aluminum foil wrapped around a card held in place with a Wimberley Plamp. Proof you don’t always need expensive props to tweak the light for the shot you visualize.

The camera is mounted on a RRS L-plate on a B150-B macro-focusing rail – surely the Rolls Royce of focus rails – which is attached to a BH-55-LR ballhead.

Self-adhesive tape is fixed to the knob used to advance the camera, marked with a black line (visible) and a red line (180º below) to speedily advance the rail a full turn (black to black or red to red) or a half turn (red to black, then black to red).

RRS B150 macro-focusing rail with marked advancing knob

RRS B150-B macro-focusing rail with marked advancing knob

After the camera was manually focused on the nearest part of the flower, 35 images were taken by advancing the camera one full turn for each shot, the final image was stacked using Zerene Stacker software, which can be downloaded for a 30 day free trial.

The original was composed as a vertical format with negative space for type above the flower. Here it is cropped to square.

Focus stack of pitcher plant flower with maximum depth of field from 35 images.

Focus stack of pitcher plant flower with maximum depth of field from 35 images.

Lighting
Soft window light with back flash from Nikon SB-800 Speedlight fitted with a Honl Photo Traveller 8 Softbox and a reflector fill.
Photographer:
Heather Angel
www.heatherangel.co.uk

Camera and Lens:
Nikon D4
Micro-Nikkor 105mm/f2.8

RRS Gear:
BD4-L plate
B150-B Focusing Rail
BH-55-LR Ballhead

Settings:
ISO 200
1/40 sec
f/11
Copyright ©2015 Heather Angel. All rights reserved.

2 Comments

  1. Drake says:

    Very nice work. Inspiring, to say the least!

  2. philip says:

    good gears. clean image.
    but other than that, hard to find anything else inspiring. sorry been direct, just fact.

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