Foundations of Photography: Macro and Close-Up

Creating a focus stacked image using Helicon Remote


Foundations of Photography: Macro and Close-Up

with Ben Long

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Video: Creating a focus stacked image using Helicon Remote

In the last movie, you saw how I was able to shoot multiple images, each focused in a different place, and then combine them in Photoshop using some layer masking. That works great for a simple subject. But if you really want deep depth of field all the way through a subject, with a lot of depth to it, then you are going to need to resort to a more sophisticated process. And, that's what I am going to do here. I've got a flower here that is much deeper than what I shot before. It's got all the stamens on it. There's a lot of detail in it that I like. Let me give you a quick shot, just showing you how . . . what I can get with my 100 millimeter macro and a single shot.
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  1. 3m 54s
    1. Welcome
      2m 17s
    2. What you need to know for this course
      1m 37s
  2. 20m 33s
    1. What is close up?
      2m 21s
    2. Understanding minimum focus distance
      3m 55s
    3. Comparing wide lens and telephoto
      1m 55s
    4. Understanding depth of field and focus
      2m 11s
    5. Working with extension tubes
      4m 30s
    6. Working with close-up lenses
      5m 41s
  3. 28m 7s
    1. What is a macro photo?
      4m 15s
    2. Understanding how to shoot macro with a reversed lens
      5m 37s
    3. Using a point-and-shoot camera for macro
      1m 55s
    4. Working with backdrops for macro
      3m 45s
    5. Practicing macro by shooting in the kitchen
      12m 35s
  4. 58m 38s
    1. Choosing a macro lens
      2m 4s
    2. Exploring macro lens features: Focal length
      3m 16s
    3. Understanding macro lens shutter speed
      7m 6s
    4. Shooting basics with a macro lens
      8m 24s
    5. Getting closer with macro lenses and extension tubes
      11m 13s
    6. Working with depth of field and macro
      5m 1s
    7. Understanding depth and composition in macro
      6m 43s
    8. Working with subject holders and support
      6m 36s
    9. Shooting with the Canon 65 mm
      8m 15s
  5. 13m 12s
    1. Working with macro stabilizing options
      5m 45s
    2. Working with sliders for macro
      2m 44s
    3. Working with a bellows
      1m 55s
    4. Working with viewfinders in macro
      2m 48s
  6. 52m 59s
    1. Working with direct light
      6m 13s
    2. Macro and the angle of light
      2m 24s
    3. Augmenting direct light with reflectors
      6m 42s
    4. Continuous lighting to add fill to a macro shot
      5m 55s
    5. Lighting your macro scene with continuous light
      4m 50s
    6. Lighting the macro scene with strobes
      4m 59s
    7. Setting up a macro-specific flash unit
      3m 21s
    8. Shooting with the Canon Macro Twin Lite
      7m 56s
    9. Shooting macro in a light tent
      3m 31s
    10. Shooting macro on a light table
      7m 8s
  7. 19m 44s
    1. Field shooting for macro, starting at home
      7m 5s
    2. Managing backgrounds in the field
      7m 39s
    3. Shooting macro water droplets
      5m 0s
  8. 56m 19s
    1. Creating a simple manual focus stack
      4m 40s
    2. Creating a focus stacked image with manual merge
      6m 17s
    3. Creating a focus stacked image using Helicon Remote
      11m 6s
    4. Working with a StackShot rail for focus stacking
      11m 46s
    5. Merging a focus stack with Photoshop
      11m 12s
    6. Merging photo stacks with Helicon
      6m 53s
    7. Understanding the aesthetics of depth of field
      4m 25s
  9. 1m 5s
    1. Next steps
      1m 5s

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Watch the Online Video Course Foundations of Photography: Macro and Close-Up
4h 14m Intermediate Mar 29, 2013

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

It's a small world, and capturing it with a photograph can be challenging. In this course, photographer, author, and teacher Ben Long takes you on a fantastic voyage into the realm of the tiny, detailing the gear and shooting techniques necessary to capture extreme close-ups of everything from products to posies.

After touring the possibilities of macro photography, the course details essential gear at several price levels, including lenses, flashes, and other accessories. Next, Ben explores the special challenges of macro photography: dealing with moving subjects, working with extremely shallow depth of field, focusing, lighting, and more.

The course also explores advanced close-up tools and post-processing techniques, such as using Adobe Photoshop to "stack" multiple shots to yield wider depth of field than a single shot can convey.

Topics include:
  • What is a macro photograph?
  • What is a macro lens?
  • Finding good subject matter
  • Evaluating macro gear like extension tubes and tilt-shift lenses
  • Composing and framing shots
  • Exploring depth of field
  • Lighting macro shots
  • Working with light tables
  • Editing macro shots
Ben Long

Creating a focus stacked image using Helicon Remote

In the last movie, you saw how I was able to shoot multiple images, each focused in a different place, and then combine them in Photoshop using some layer masking. That works great for a simple subject. But if you really want deep depth of field all the way through a subject, with a lot of depth to it, then you are going to need to resort to a more sophisticated process. And, that's what I am going to do here. I've got a flower here that is much deeper than what I shot before. It's got all the stamens on it. There's a lot of detail in it that I like. Let me give you a quick shot, just showing you how . . . what I can get with my 100 millimeter macro and a single shot.

So, I framed up something here. What you just saw me do is switch the lens to Manual, because I want to make sure that I focus on a particular location. I am going to put it at f/11. Much further than that, I might get some softening from diffraction. I just want to see how deep the depth of field can go. And, here's what I get. It's actually deeper than I was expecting. But, it's still not razor- sharp all the way through. The pollen-covered bits that are a little bit further back are soft. The spots down at the back of the flower are soft. The lines on the petals are a little soft.

It would be nice to have a really strong depth of field all the way through. So, what I need to do is shoot a bunch of slices. Now, if you think about the aperture that I have now, it has a certain amount of depth of field. Maybe it's 2 millimeters. So, I want to shoot a slice focused here at the front, and then focused maybe a millimeter-and-a-half back, and then a millimeter-and-a-half back from there, and then from there. Now, those overlapping shots, when they are merged together, should give me depth of field through the whole thing. So, I could take a shot, and then try to manually focus forward a millimeter-and-a-half, and take another, and focus forward.

There are two problems with that. One: handling the camera. As you've seen, at macro distances, any handling of the camera can mess up your shot. And, more importantly, there's just no way I am going to accurately focus by a millimeter-and-a-half, it's just not possible, particularly over, and over, and over. So instead, I am going to let the computer control it for me. I have a program here called Helicon Remote. Helicon is the name of a software company. Helicon Remote is part of a bundle that includes another program called Helicon Focus. So, I am going to launch Helicon Remote here, and I am going to take this USB cable that's plugged into my computer, and I am going to plug the other end into the USB port on my camera.

And when I do, first thing is Dropbox tries to import a bunch of pictures. We'll stop that. Here we go! Now, you can see it's found my camera. You just heard the mirror go up, because I'm now getting a live feed from the camera. Here, I am going to wave my fingers in front of the lens, so you can see that this is a live view of my camera. And, watch what that cool, live histogram does when I do that. It moves all around, anyway. What I've got here is complete control of my camera from this simple interface. Now, that shaking you are seeing is because I just put my hands on the table. I'm down here at the other end of the table from the camera. The camera is firmly rooted on this gnarly desktop tripod thing, and still, even just that little bit of shaking.

This is why I've been so adamant that you've got to be careful about camera shake when you're working. So, I can control my Exposure, my ISO, everything. I can also define a start point and an endpoint for focus. So, I am going to do that now. I'm already focused right here on the tip of this thing. Let me just double-check that. It looks . . . oh! I can't see through there; that's live view. It actually looks pretty good. I am going to store that away as my start focus point. I just click this button right here, and it pops this little thing, little padlock showing that that is locked down.

These controls let me focus in; these controls let me focus out. The different buttons simply go different distances. So, for fine control, I would use this one. To simply cover a lot of ground in a hurry, I would use this one. That's what I want to do, so I am going to click it. And, you should see the focus in the image changing. What's going on over here at the camera is the lens barrel is actually turning. The computer can control it through the cable. What I'm aiming for is to get these dots down here in focus, so I am going to do another jump. I'm going to use that Medium button, because I don't think I need to go as far. But, I was wrong.

So, I will click it again. Then, I am just going to try and zero in on the area that I want to have in focus. That looks pretty good. So, I am going to set that as my endpoint. Now, notice that as I do this, this stuff is all defocusing a lot. So, in the merging process, it's going to have to figure out . . . it's going to have to pull data that's behind these blown-out areas from images that it was picking up along the way. So, the merging is a pretty sophisticated process. I am going to hit that. Now, right now, it doesn't know how many shots to take.

I am going to hit my Depth of Field button here. And it's saying, "Okay, you're at f/11. You're at a focal length of 100." It's got this Correction value that you can tweak if you find that it's not getting the overlap quite right. It's suggesting a depth of field and focusing steps of 6.3 images. In other words, it's going to take 6 shots. It thinks that that's all it needs to get the amount of overlap that it needs to get complete depth of field. With all that stuff dialed in, I'm ready to start.

Now, it's a good idea -- and I learned this the hard way, a little bit ago, -- it's a good idea to shoot in RAW or JPEG, not RAW plus JPEG. That will confuse the stacking process. So, I've switched over to RAW. I am at ISO 800, as you saw. everything looks ready to go. I am going to try and stand back, because that sounds really dramatic, doesn't it? I am standing back. This could be dangerous. Actually, I am standing back, because I really don't want any camera shake. And then, I am going to just say, "Start shooting." First thing you are going to see is the focus rack back towards the front. This is Helicon Remote moving the focus to my start point.

And once it gets there, it just took a picture. So, it took a picture. Now it's moving forward, and it took another picture. So, it's going to do that 6 more times. While it's doing that, let's talk about a couple of more tips for focus stacking. First of all, this is just one way of doing focus staking. This is focus stacking through focus changes. There's another way to do it, which is focus stacking through camera movement. And, we'll talk about the differences and the advantages of that in a little bit. Either way, however, you're doing focus stacking, even if you're doing it manually. I really recommend not using natural light if you don't have to.

If you are just grabbing a couple of shots quickly by hand out in the field, that's great, but if you're setting up a really deep shot with a lot of steps, you want controlled lighting. If you're working even through a window with this diffuse light, just the movement of the sun could create a change in lighting that could trip up the merging process. Helicon Focus, which is what we will use to do the merge, doesn't like a brightness differential between images. So, we want to be sure we've got constant lighting on. That means that I am either going to work at night after the sun goes down, or I am going to work in a room that I can close off completely, and I'm going to set up continuous lighting.

Now, you may think, "Oh! No problem, I've got one of those cool twin light flashes that I can put on the front of my lens." That's not a good idea either. They don't necessarily produce predictable, continuous output. And, if you're going to be moving the camera, then you're moving the light source at the same time. So, we've got continuous lighting setup, we are in a controlled environment, and here Helicon Remote has finished. It says 9 images were saved. Would you like to view them in Helicon Focus? That's the merging software. So, I am going to say Yes. It's going to launch Helicon Focus, and automatically load all of my images.

We are not going to go into every control on this piece of software. There are lot of them. It's a deep application. It does a very good job with this kind of stuff, with what it's intended to do, which is just to merge depth of field stacks. So, these are my images. I could, if I want to, turn some off, if I had decided that I had shot too many, and my computer was bogging down. I am just going to leave them like this. I have a few different algorithms that I can use for doing the merge. By default, it chooses Depth Map. I'm going to leave it there, and I am just going to tell it to render.

Some strange things are going to start to happen on screen. You're going to start to see it build up a depth map of the image, or what you might call a Z map, starting out black, black being the most distant things in the scene. And here, you're seeing flower outlines start to appear. It's all in grayscale. Don't panic over the fact that this looks nothing like what you want in a final image. It's not showing you image data right now; it's just showing you this depth information. Now, what's cool about it is that because it's gathering this depth information along the way, in addition to presenting us with a final image with deep depth of field, it's also going to be able to give us a 3D model of this flower.

Now, if that sounds like too amazing to be true, it kind of is. It's not a great 3D model of the flower, but it's still awfully impressive, and kind of fun to watch. So, here we go! Here's my final result. And check that out. This is in focus. All of these are in focus. The dots on the flower back there are in focus. Look at all of the detail that I have on the petals going all the way into the background. Helicon Focus has some other great features. There's this Retouching Tab here that lets me clone things away. It's much easier to do this in Helicon Focus than in the Focus Stacking feature that's built into Photoshop.

And of course, I can save an image. So, I am going to do a couple of things here. I am going to save this as a TIFF file. And, I will just spit that out to my desktop. I am also going to save this as a 3D model. And when I do that, it will open it up in this 3D viewer, and start rotating it around for me. And, you could see that, actually, it didn't do a bad job. There's some weirdness in here, and that's possibly an indication of places where maybe I don't have enough overlap.

It didn't gather enough data. It could just be that it doesn't have the right angle on them. But look at this thing. It got this done really well. It actually looks correct, as we pan and rotate it around there. I have not found a use for these, but I still think they are really cool, and it's a fun way to look at your data. So, this is a great way of getting deeper depth of field. However, it requires very controlled conditions. I need to have my camera firmly mounted. I've got to have a computer, and a cable attached to it. Well, nothing in here, but the fan just came on my computer. I need a pretty beefy computer.

at least if I want this done in a reasonable amount of time. I need controlled lighting. One of the things that's difficult about focus stacking is you often can't see all the details of your final result until you build a stack. And now that I've got this built, I can see some ways that I might want to refine this image. I'm not crazy about the lighting. I'd like to get more light into the center. I maybe could have seen some of that ahead of time, but now, seeing the final result, it's a lot more conspicuous. When I am looking at shallow depth of field, I don't necessarily see that there might need to be some lighting, more lighting in a particular location.

You don't have to use dedicated software like Helicon Focus. If you've got Photoshop CS6, 5, and possibly 4, you can do it there. And, we are going to look at how to do that, as well as use some more sophisticated rigging, in the rest of this chapter.

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