Learning How to Create a Macro Image with Focus Stacking

Tuesday 4 August, 2015 | Nikon D5100 | AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G | 1/200 sec at f/1.8 | ISO 100

I created the header image of the pink flower from a bouquet my wife cut from the field of flowers at the local organic farm (CSA). I staged the flower on a stool I placed in my living room. I used a FotodioX extension tube with a Nikkor AF-S 85mm f/1.8 lens and a Nikon SB-600 flash. I mounted the camera on a macro rail. I set the flash on manual, and the shutter speed was 1/200s at ISO 100.

I focused the lens at the near edge of the flower pollen area, and I adjusted the rail incrementally toward the far end of the pollen area. I took about 30 images, but I used 28 photos to make this final image. I pulled the 28 images into Photoshop and used the Auto-Align Layers function. I then used the Auto-Blend Layers function and then flattened the layers. I exported the final image back into Adobe Lightroom.

The capture, import, blending, and re-import took about 30 minutes. At this point, I was tired, and I just wanted to be done with the effort. As seen below, some of my earlier attempts were not good.

PMax | Tuesday 4 August, 2015 | Nikon D5100 | AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G | 113 sec at f/1.8 | ISO 100

This attempt is my second serious try at doing macro and, so far, my best result. I used a focus stacking technique from a blog post by Don Komarechka. The technique uses Photoshop CC's Auto-Align and Auto-Blend Layers feature. My initial results were mixed. I don't think I shot enough images to stack, and I think something moved slightly between captures.

PMax | Tuesday 4 August, 2015 | Nikon D5100 | AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G | 1500 sec at f/1.8 | ISO 100

I re-read the blog post a few times, and after searching the web, I discovered a software package called Zerene Stacker. I used the same set of images. However, instead of Photoshop, I used Zerene Stacker focus stacking software. The images were exported as TIFF to the hard drive and imported into Zerene Stacker. Zerene Stacker did all the work of auto-aligning the photos and creating the stacked image. I imported the final PMax image back into Adobe Lightroom.

I am somewhat proud of my final result. I learned a lot. I learned to overcome some vanity. I had to use reading glasses to see the LCD screen clearly so I could focus. I had to be patient as I made slight adjustments on the rail and shot each frame. I had to think through what I wanted to accomplish and what I needed to do to get a good result. I learned that I could operate my camera entirely in manual mode.

Personal insight: For live outdoor subjects, macro photography is 10% focusing, 40% patience and 50% dumb luck.