Macro Magic

Golden Iris Macro using Focus Stacking.

This Golden Iris photo employs a cool technique called “focus stacking…”

It’s one of the neatest stunts you can pull with the remarkable Olympus EM1 Mark II camera and it feels almost magical to me. Now I can make macro images with a depth of focus that would have been pretty near impossible before.

HOW IT WORKS. With focus stacking, the camera’s computer combines images from several different focal settings. The result is a macro in which every detail of your subject is in focus —paradise for any photographer trying to shoot that perfect floral macro.

PLUS, focus stacking can also give you the beautiful “bokeh” (blurred background) that ordinarily comes only from using the widest stop (f2.8 here) on your lens. In sum, all the parts you want crisp will be razor sharp, and the parts you want blurred will be creamy as a dream.

It’s the best of both worlds! An effect that’s well nigh impossible to achieve with conventional techniques.

Now look at the following images side by side, On the left, here’s the same Iris shot at a relatively tight f11 without focus stacking. On the right, for comparison, here again is the same Iris shot with focus stacking.

Double-tap any image to enlarge it and start a slide show:

See what happens? In the left-hand image, significant parts of the Iris are still out of focus, plus the bokeh is not nearly as creamy. But on the right, with focus stacking, those previously blurry parts are quite sharp, yet the bokeh is much improved as well!

So why not use this setting always? Alas, as always with any cutting-edge technique, there are big tradeoffs. Focus stacking usually requires a tripod and you must wait for even the slightest breeze to subside, lest your subject move. Even then, many different shots with different settings are advisable, as focus stacking doesn’t always happen as expected. Cumbersome to say the least.

Plus, as you probably know, you can fake bokeh in post, selecting the flower with a program such as Pixelmator and then using a Gaussian digital filter to blur the rest of photo. However , this “simulated bokeh” doesn’t match the beauty of the real thing, at least not to me. And, if my tripod is at hand on a calm day, getting the shot right is bound to be more satisfying than sweating it out in post, and still getting a bit of an artificial look,

But which of these two shots do YOU prefer? Do you think focus stacking might be worth the trouble? Please let me know by leaving a REPLY at the bottom of this page!

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