Blossoms From a Distance

It can sometimes be a challenge to photograph blossoms such as water lilies… from a distance… and still get the entire flower in focus. Often we don’t have the physical access needed to get close to subject flowers. As a result we can be forced to use a longer focal length telephoto zoom lens for our compositions. This can create depth-of-field challenges.

I recently visited the Royal Botanical Gardens with the intent of photographing some water lilies. These blossoms are situated in two rectangular display ponds. Depending on the shooting angle chosen the flowers are approximately 2.4 to 4.7 metres (7.9 to 15.4 feet) away from the edge of the walkway that surrounds the ponds.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 276 mm, efov 552 mm, f/8, -0,3 EV, 1/1250, ISO-250, handheld in-camera focus stacking, subject distance 2.8 metres

From a photographic style standpoint we all have our own approach when it comes to blossoms. Some folks like to use shallow depth-of-field, while others like to have the entire blossom in focus. One approach isn’t better than another, but is simply a  difference in creative interpretation.

If we examine the EXIF data for the image above we can see that the subject distance was 2.8 metres (~9.2 feet). A focal length of 276 mm was used along with an aperture of f/8. These shooting parameters would create a depth of field of 2.23 centimetres, or slightly less than 1 inch. The two blossoms illustrated were much deeper than that so if I wanted both blossoms to be in focus those camera settings were not going to get the job done for me.

I had the option to stop my lens down further to f/16 or f/22. Even at f/22 that would only increase my depth of field to 6.3 centimetres… or about 2.5 inches. This still would not have been deep enough to create my desired depth-of-field. Plus, I would have run the risk of some potential image softness caused by diffraction when shooting at f/22..

The solution was to shoot handheld using my E-M1X’s in-camera focus stacking technology. I used my standard settings of 10 focus stacked images with a focus differential of 4. The out-of-camera result was a jpeg. I could have chosen to do additional work in post by using software to do the focus stacking for me. For my purposes the quality of the out-of-camera jpeg was completely acceptable.

Let’s have a look at a few more images of blossoms from a distance. In all cases I shot handheld and used in-camera focus stacking to create these photographs. Out-of-camera jpegs are illustrated.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 236 mm, efov 472 mm, f/8, -0,7 EV, 1/1250, ISO-250, handheld in-camera focus stacking, subject distance 2.4 metres

The photograph above is another example of when the shooting parameters of a focal length of 236 mm at f/8. with a subject distance of 2.4 metres (~7.9 feet) would have created a depth of field of 2.24 centimetres, or less than 1 inch. This was far less than what was required to get the entire blossom in focus.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/8, -1.0 EV, 1/1250, ISO-100, handheld in-camera focus stacking, subject distance 3.9 metres

The image of the white blossom above was captured using -1.0 EV exposure compensation to help reduce the risk of blown out highlights. This example of blossoms from a distance was 3.9 metres away (~12.8 feet). A focal length of 400 mm was used with an aperture of f/8. These shooting parameters would create depth-of-field of 2.05 centimeters, or about 3/4 of an inch… obviously not sufficient enough to get the entire blossom in focus.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/8, -1.0 EV, 1/1250, ISO-200, handheld in-camera focus stacking, subject distance 2.8 metres

The above example of blossoms from a distance was 2.8 metres away (~9.2 feet). A focal length of 400 mm was used along with an aperture of f/8. These shooting parameters create a depth-of-field of only 1.01 centimeters… or about 0.4 inches. This is far too shallow for the entire blossom to be in focus.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 361 mm, efov 722 mm, f/8, -1.0 EV, 1/800, ISO-400, handheld in-camera focus stacking, subject distance 4.7 metres

Our final sample images was situated 4.7 metres away (~15.4 feet). A focal length of 361 mm was used, along with an aperture of f/8. These shooting parameters create depth-of-field of 3.76 centimeters, or about 1.5 inches. And, once again too shallow for my photographic objective. As with the other sample images, using handheld in-camera focus stacking provided a practical solution.

Handheld in-camera focus stacking is wonderful technology that can be used for a range of subject matter. I most often use it when shooting handheld macro images. It is always good when I remind myself that this technology can be a wonderful solution when I want deeper depth-of-field in a composition… but do not want to stop my lens down too far as to risk diffraction.

Photographing blossoms from a distance is one of those situations where handheld in-camera focus stacking works very well.

 Technical Note

Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data.  Images were produced from out-of-camera jpegs using my standard process. This is the 1,294 article published on this website since its original inception in 2015.

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6 thoughts on “Blossoms From a Distance”

  1. Tom,
    You used Focus Stacking, where you focus on the center of the subject. This results in an immediate JPEG. I believe you can use OM Workspace to stack the RAW files, but your JPEGs look so good it may not be worth it. You state that 10 images with a focus differential of 4 is your standard setup. What other subjects do you shoot with this setup that makes it a standard?

    Have you ever used Focus Bracketing, where you focus on the front of the subject. I am interested in using Focus Bracketing with my OM/Olympus system for landscape photography, but I can’t find anything on-line that suggests what setup might work.

    1. Hi Jack,

      Here is a link to some information which you may find of interest. It was prepared by Peter Baumgarten, an OM Ambassador in Canada:

      It terms of my choice of a focus point with focus stacking… it is typically about 1/4 to 1/3 of the way into the composition. I’ve used my standard settings of 10 images with a focus differential of 4 for flowers, frogs and snakes. I think I may have done some dragonflies as well. I’ve yet to try it with landscape compositions… although it is on my list of things to try as time permits.

      My understanding is that with focus bracketing you would choose the closest point you want in focus. I’ve never used focus bracketing so I have no experience with how well this feature would work handheld. If it requires a tripod it may be one of those things that won’t be a priority for me.

      I still haven’t figured out how to use OM Workspace or download the manual for it… so you have me at a disadvantage with that program. You can use various software programs to stack the RAW files. I’ve been more than happy with the out-of-camera jpegs, and since I hate spending time in post I haven’t bothered doing any stacking of RAW files with software.


  2. Hi, Thomas … interesting article, as usual.

    I shoot full frame (I know, I’m a glutton for punishment), and DoF is an even bigger issue. I recently acquired a camera with focus stack capability and I must say I am loving it for macro.

    I typically shoot at 5.6-8, occasionally 11, and have the kit locked down on a tripod, but I am intrigued by your hand held approach.

    Do you do anything special to hold the camera dead still so as to create a focus stack set that will be acceptable for processing in 3rd party software (Helicon, Zerene, PS)? They can sometimes be a bit fussy about out-of-register images.

    1. Hi Martin,

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article… 🙂

      My E-M1X has outstanding IBIS performance of up to 7 EV with standard lenses and up to 7.5 EV when a Sync-IS lens like the M.Zuiko PRO 12-100 mm f/4 IS is used. So, I really didn’t do anything out of the ordinary in terms of my usual handheld technique for the images in this article. Like you, I love focus stacking for macro. With my M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro I often shoot focus stacked images at f/2.8 but will go to f/5.6 if necessary. I may have done the odd image at f/8 but I can’t remember doing that very often with my macro lens.

      I’ve been so pleased with my handheld in-camera focus stacked results that I rely on the out-of-camera jpegs. I’d have to look on my computer system to see if I even have any old focus stacking software on it. I suppose my old copy of PhotoShop CS6 would do focus stacking… but I haven’t used it for that in a dog’s age.

      I had quite bright sunlight when I was creating the images for this article so I was able to shoot at pretty fast shutter speeds like 1/800 to 1/1250 and still maintain a low ISO value. So, handholding for these images was pretty easy and straight forward.

      I must confess that I never really liked shooting with full frame equipment when I owned that format of gear. It was pretty inefficient for my client video business and I never liked the issues with depth-of-field, especially since I usually want deep depth of field for the work that I do. Full frame is a good choice for many photographers, but just didn’t suit me. I sold all of my full frame equipment back in July 2015 and haven’t missed it for even a second since that time.


      1. Thanks, Tom. I’ll just have to give it a shot and see what happens. I stick with full frame because I have steam-shovel-sized hands and just can’t get comfortable with the more compact camera bodies. I tried the Olympus OM system back in the analog era, but just could not get it to feel right. Full frame has certain drawbacks for DoF and weight – those are the prices I have to pay for my special “gift”. But as I get older … I just might have to bite the bullet.

        1. Hi Martin,

          I also have large hands and I appreciate that finding a really comfortable and ergonomic camera can be difficult.

          As soon as I held an E-M1X in my hands for just a couple of minutes I knew that I had found the right camera for me. It is simply the most comfortable camera body I’ve every owned… regardless of sensor size. I needed a back up camera for my client video business and bought another E-M1X as I knew that I would simply not be happy with anything else.


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