Macro Style Choices

This article discusses macro style choices as they apply to some specific photographs recently created at the Floral Showhouse in Niagara Falls. Our photographic style begins with how each of us see the world around us. What attracts our eye. What intrigues us. Where we find visual meaning in our experience of life. Then we make decisions on how to bring the images that we see in our minds to life through our photography.

All of the photographs featured in this article were captured handheld using an M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro lens and in-camera focus stacking. Individual photographs were created by my camera combining a series of 10 images using a focus differential of 3. All photographs were captured in available light without the use of flash.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

OM-D E-M1X with M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/5, 1/50, full frame capture, ISO-200, handheld in-camera focus stacking, subject distance 865 mm

As I walked by the blossom in the image above, I was intrigued by its shape and the cascading nature of its petals. Rather than photograph it at an angle I chose a head-on view as it gave me the best display of petals. This shape also nicely fit the 4 X 3 format of my camera’s sensor.

I underexposed the blossom somewhat to help ensure deeper, richer colours. I did very little in post with the resulting focus stacked jpeg, other than using the “Levels” adjustment in PhotoShop to further darken the background and also bring a bit more brightness and ‘snap’ to the petals.

OM-D E-M1X with M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/4, 1/40, full frame capture, ISO-200, handheld in-camera focus stacking, subject distance 630 mm

I loved the strong right to left visual flow of the blossom above. I used ‘rule of thirds’ composition technique to position the centre of the bud to the right hand side of the composition, and slightly above the vertical mid-point of the frame. This helped enhance the overall visual flow of the blossom. I left the understated, partial blossom in the bottom right corner to act as a colour anchor and provide a bit more colour balance to the composition. If this detail would have been brighter it would have been visually distracting and I would have removed it in post.

I allowed some of the individual petals to bleed off the top and bottom edges to help pull a viewer’s eye into the centre of the flower bud. Almost nothing was done to this image in post other than adding a tiny bit more contrast and a minor amount of structure in the Nik Collection.

OM-D E-M1X with M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/4, 1/25, full frame capture, ISO-200, handheld in-camera focus stacking, subject distance 265 mm

I captured this image from a side view so I could accentuate the left to right downward eye flow of the blossom. The edge of the leaf and the out-of-focus highlight that flow into the bottom right of the composition act as a subtle corner exit.

I liked the slight yellowish hue that is visible at the top edge of the photograph. To my eye it helps define the bright yellow anthers of the flower, and appears to be the source of some natural light illuminating the flower.

OM-D E-M1X with M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/5, 1/30, full frame capture, ISO-200, handheld in-camera focus stacking, subject distance 535 mm

Part of my macro photography style is to get in close to subjects in such a way that I can leverage contrast and simplicity whenever possible. I used ‘rule of thirds’ composition technique to position the centre of the blossom on the left hand side of the frame. I purposely did not allow any of the petals to bleed off the frame as this helped to maximize the contrast in the composition.

Although I seldom do spot adjustments to most of my images, macro photography tends to be the exception. With the image above I used the ‘burn’ tool in PhotoShop to eliminate some faint details on the right hand side of the photograph. This helped to enhance contrast and give the image additional drama.

OM-D E-M1X with M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/5, 1/50, full frame capture, ISO-200, handheld in-camera focus stacking, subject distance 285 mm

The composition above is another example where I did a bit of burning with PhotoShop to remove some hints of details on the left hand side of the image. I purposely left some of the purple and green hues underneath the pair of blossoms as this helped to ‘lift’ them visually and provide a hint of 3-D effect.

OM-D E-M1X with M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/5, 1/50, full frame capture, ISO-200, handheld in-camera focus stacking, subject distance 575 mm

As I’ve been experimenting with in-camera focus stacking I’ve kept my settings the same, i.e. 10 images with a focus differential of 3. This helps my old, porous brain learn how to use this feature under different situations. 🙂

With the photograph above it was important that the petals in the foreground were out-of-focus. Otherwise they would have competed for viewer attention with the centre area of the flower. This would have caused some visual confusion. As a result I chose a focusing point deeper in the image.

From an eye flow perspective I wanted everything to flow in towards the centre. To help accomplish this I used image bleeds on all four edges. Our eyes typically ignore out-of-focus areas in a photograph, so the out-of-focus petals in the foreground are skipped over visually.

OM-D E-M1X with M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/4, 1/40, full frame capture, ISO-200, handheld in-camera focus stacking, subject distance 515 mm

The photograph above has a strong left to right eye flow. To accentuate this flow I used image bleeds on the left side and on the bottom edge. These bleeds help to force a viewer’s eye up and to the right, towards the centre of the flower.

From a creative standpoint I wanted to take advantage of the strong eye flow created by the overlapping rows of petals on the right hand side. To accomplish that I captured this photograph using a front quarter view.

To maximize contrast I did some burning to eliminate some subdued details that had been visible on the right hand side of the composition.

OM-D E-M1X with M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/3.5, 1/50, full frame capture, ISO-200, handheld in-camera focus stacking, subject distance 760 mm

I also did some burning with the image above to darken the background to enhance the contrast in the composition. In this case I left a hint of the background still visible to provide some context. I also recognized my own limitations and interests in post as I would not have considered doing any masking with this image.

The more that I’ve been using my E-M1X’s in-camera focus stacking feature, the more impressed I’ve become. Since the output of this technology is a jpeg file I originally didn’t pay much attention to in-camera focus stacking.

This was a mistake on my part. I’ve found that it is very easy to use in-camera focus-stacking handheld, which suits my shooting style perfectly. The jpegs are of high quality. Plus, if I need to tweak them in post they respond well and only need a modicum of work. Suffice to say that I plan to use in-camera focus stacking more in the future.

Technical Note:

Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced using in-camera focus stacking technology. All photographs are displayed as full frame captures that have been resized for web use. This is the 1,089th article published on this website since its original inception.

OM-D E-M1X with M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/5, 1/40, full frame capture, ISO-200, handheld in-camera focus stacking, subject distance 680 mm

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6 thoughts on “Macro Style Choices”

  1. It is easy to determine what the Focus Stacking function is doing by reading the Focus Step Count values in the EXIF data. The focus changes linearly in approximately equal steps. For example, for an 8-frame focus stack the sequence is:
    0 -2 -1 1 2 3 4 5
    For a 15-frame stack the sequence is:
    0 -5 -4 -3 -2 -1 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
    where negative numbers indicate steps closer to the camera and positive numbers steps farther from the camera. The focus range appears to be approximately 1/3 in front and 2/3 behind the focusing point. This is much easier to see when plotted on a graph, but I don’t know how to include one here. For Focus Bracketing the focus point only moves farther from the camera.

    With the E-M1 Mk II I would use Focus Bracketing with a tripod and stack the frames using Zerene Stacker, because the success rate handheld was very low. With the improved stabilization in the Mk III I now use Focus Stacking handheld. Hand holding is more convenient but less precise than a tripod, so you need a wider focusing range including some frames closer to the camera. I discard the in-camera jpegs and stack the raw files with Zerene Stacker. This is a lot more work but produces a much better result than the camera.

  2. Very nice Tomas. One question I’ve never been able to find an answer to re in camera bracketing or stacking. What is the pattern of focus that the camera uses? Does it focus both in front of and behind the original focus point or does it just focus front to back. In other words, where should the initial focus point be to be sure the whole subject is in focus?

    1. Hi James,

      I’ve also been looking for an answer to the question you posed. I had the same challenge you did in terms of finding a definitive answer. Even amongst Olympus Visionaries there seems to be differences of opinion. Robin Wong suggests focusing in mid frame and he indicates that the focus stacking is done in equal parts both in front of the focusing point as well as behind it. Another Olympus Visionary, Peter Baumgarten, suggests focusing on the closest subject point to the camera, and when doing that the first two images of the stacking will be out in front of the subject completely, i.e. that the focus stacking covers both the foreground and background but is skewed to the background.

      I did some rudimentary experimentation and I tend to agree with Peter’s assessment, i.e. that focus stacking does focus on both the foreground and background, but it seems to be skewed somewhat to the background. To my eye it is about 2/5 foreground and 3/5 background… maybe even 1/3 foreground to 2/3 background. This is when using a focus differential of 3 and shooting at a low angle. I also discovered that one needs to be careful with the strength of the focus differential used. Depending on the subject matter and the shooting angle of the camera, using too high of a focus differential can result in focusing gaps in the resulting image. Peter suggests using a differential of 3 for most typical macro subjects and I tend to agree that this setting seems to work very well.

      For the images in this article I tended to focus on the most critical part of the flower that I wanted in focus. If I needed more of the foreground to also be in focus, I’d place my AF point slightly in front of the critical element. If I wanted less foreground in focus I’d move my focusing point slightly deeper into the composition.

      I still have a lot more experimentation and learning to do with regards to focus stacking, so all I can do is share my experiences. Hopefully this has been of some assistance.

      Tom

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