This article discusses using slow shutter speeds with handheld focus stacking (HHFS), and shares some new macro snake images captured with shutter speeds from 1/20 to 1/4 of a second.
Yesterday I visited a special frog display at the Royal Botanical Gardens… which also happened to have a trio of water snakes in one of the exhibits. The event gave me the opportunity to get some practice time in doing handheld in-camera macro focus stacking.
I should mention that the frog display at the Royal Botanical was very busy as there was a “PD” day for the area school board that day. As a result all of the glass enclosures used in the display were quite soiled with lots of finger marks from the young children in attendance.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
I always keep a small stool in my car and use it whenever I need some extra handheld stability… or when my old body needs a bit of additional comfort when I’m out for extended periods of time. I find a small stool like this far more practical and easier to use than lugging around a tripod/head combination. I used this stool for many of the images featured in this article.
As you examine the images and accompanying EXIF data it is important to consider that an aperture of f/2.8 was used for most of the photographs in this article. There are a couple captured using f/4. Except for one image, my E-M1X’s base ISO-200 was used along with slow shutter speeds that ranged from 1/20 down to 1/4 of a second.
All of the images in this article were captured with the in-camera focus stacking technology of my E-M1X set to 10 frames with a focus differential of 4. Over the past number of months I’ve been attempting to improve my handheld skills when using this computational photography technology. I’ve kept my number of frames and focus differential consistent. This allows my old brain to (hopefully) learn how to best use HHFS.
When I initially examined the trio of water snakes inside the display I determined that they should be somewhat easier-than-normal macro subjects to photograph using handheld in-camera focus stacking. There were two main reasons for this assessment. The snakes were reasonably motionless most of the time, and their scales would provide numerous potential high contrast focusing points. So, I started off using a slow shutter speed of 1/20.
As expected, that slow shutter speed worked very well so I decided to reduce my slow shutter speed setting down to 1/13 and continued to capture handheld in-camera focus stacked macro images. When attempting to use a slow shutter speed I practice common handheld techniques such as bracing my body as much as possible, and taking very slow, shallow breaths… letting my abdomen expand rather than my chest. I never hold my breath as this can cause some very slight body tremors.
When capturing handheld macro images… and especially when using HHFS… I always use the rear screen of my camera. I find this approach allows me to be much more stable than when composing using the EVF. I also adjust my shutter release technique in these situations. When capturing my macro HHFS image I fully depress the shutter release and keep it fully depressed for the entire period while my E-M1X is utilizing its in-camera focus stacking technology. This slight change to my shutter release technique helps to keep my camera a bit more stable.
I was still reliably capturing handheld in-camera focus stacked macro images at 1/13. So, I moved my slow shutter speed down to 1/10. As noted earlier, I made sure to select a high contrast focusing point for each image. I used a single, small auto-focusing point for all of the photographs featured in this article.
Still having success at 1/10 I decided to challenge myself further and took my slow shutter speed down to 1/8. The snakes were cooperating my remaining motionless most of the time. It also helped that they were not flicking their tongues very often.
Over the years I’ve always enjoyed pushing myself and my camera gear. After shooting successfully at 1/8, I once again reduced my slow shutter speed downward. This time to 1/6. The image on the rear screen was still looking good. So, I decided to try a handheld in-camera focus stacked macro image at 1/4 of a second.
Whenever I’m using a slow shutter speed there is another important technique that I always use… and it is even more critical when capturing handheld in-camera focus stacked macro images. Once I have achieved my desired composition I totally ignore the overall framing of my image.
The only thing on which I concentrate is the exact position of my single, small auto focus point. I channel every bit of concentration I have into ensuring that it remains dead still as I fully depress my shutter release. If I detect even the most minute movement, I will reacquire auto-focus… then channel all of my concentration again.
Obviously being at a frog display, I did capture some macro images of frogs. Those photographs may appear as a subsequent article and serve as additional examples of creating handheld in-camera focus stacked macro images at slow shutter speeds.
Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Snake images were produced from out-of-camera jpeg files using my standard approach in post. The in-camera focus stacking of my E-M1X was set to 10 frames with a focus differential of 4. This is the 1,247 article published on this website since its original inception in 2015.
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