Sunday, 29 May 2011

Focus stacking spring flowers

One of the great possibilities with digital macro photography is depth of field control using focus stacking. In this, rather than trying to control depth of field when photographing very close up by using very small apertures (e.g. f/32), you choose an aperture where the lens works best (e.g. f/8), without necessarily trying to cover very much of the depth of the subject. A series of pictures is then taken from the front to the back of the subject, and then the images are combined using software that will select the sharpest region from each picture. This offers the possibility of getting a subject sharp all the way across, with the added advantage that there is less chance of background clutter coming into focus.

I have been trying out the software Helicon Focus, and I am delighted by my first results. Here are some examples from the last couple of months using spring flowers and blossom from our garden.

These were all taken indoors under studio conditions with controlled light: as much as I would love to have photographed them in their native environment, the wind was simply blowing too much for this. The lens was the 60mm AF-D micro-Nikkor, an older lens, but extremely sharp, and a perfect focal length for flower photography on a crop-frame (DX) sensor.

Helleborus niger
Flowering blackcurrant (Ribes)

For the last example, the flowering blackcurrant, I actually did a focus series all the way through both flowers. But after stacking the whole lot, the appearance of both flowers fully sharp looked simply unnatural, and there was no way for the eye to settle on one or the other. So I simply stacked the front flower, and left the rear one out of focus - I like the resulting look.

Monday, 16 May 2011


When Anthony, Philip and I went to Rock in March I wanted to get some action shots of surfers. Despite what appeared to be favourable conditions, the beach at St Ives was devoid of any activity apart from a few body boarders. I vowed to have another go next time I was down in that area.

I went to Widemouth Bay (just south of Bude) on Saturday in anticipation of some more action, arriving just before high tide and staying the two hours that my parking ticket allowed. At first it was not looking too promising; the surf school was full of beginners and even those not in school were not really cutting the mustard. I was getting quite disillusioned when I suddenly became aware of a chap who could actually surf, not only was he the only one of about 50 out there that could stay up for more than a few seconds but he really looked the part too - even managing some tricks!

Composed and stylish - a man in control
Making it look rather easy
Being a bit more daring. He did some sort of summersault - probably a technical surf term that I'm blissfully unaware of - and landed it too! Sadly I missed the shot.
Love the wave in this one
Finally losing it...
There was bags of light so I could shoot between 1/2500 and 1/8000 second at ISO 800 with apertures between f/5.6 and f/8. Exposure compensation +1/3 to +1.

All shots with Canon EF 500 on 1D Mk IV, some with 1.4x converter.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Lapwing chicks at Elmley marshes

Last weekend I took a leisurely drive along the long track at Elmley RSPB reserve. I was lucky enough to see some little fluffy balls on two dark legs scuttling around.

Lapwing chicks

Lapwing Parents

Yellow wagtail

A stickleback at dinner (not where he eats, but where he is eaten...)

Grey Heron


Cock pheasant

These pictures are all of "the usuals" - and the light was not very distinguished - but nonetheless enjoyable to watch and to make pictures. Most frustrating moment - a hare close to the track, lying still in the field in a perfect position to photograph; the second I started to lower the window to poke a lens out, it got up leisurely, stretched and strolled off into some deep grass never to be seen again. Similarly, the Egret didn't play ball - as soon as the car approached it was off.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011


Lydden Circuit, 2nd May

We were guests of the Kent Car Club for the day at Lydden on Monday for the BHP Performance Show 2011 - thank you. I shot over 500 images on the day and here's a taster from the drifters who were burning excess rubber around the 1 mile circuit. And yes, before you ask, their tyres only last four minutes!

Motion blur captured in camera, no Photoshop here
Canon EOS 1D Mk IV; EF 70-200 f/2.8 II at 70mm; 1/50th second at f/16; ISO 200
Even some of the regular drivers were getting in on the act!

Nice controlled understeer coming out of the hairpin

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Trying something different

I visited King's Wood, Challock on Saturday with fellow members of Ashford Photographic Society to photograph the bluebells. It was pretty windy so getting close up shots was somewhat difficult so I decided to see the wind as an opportunity rather than a threat.

I wanted to get an image where the solid objects in the photograph were stationary and capture the movement of the bluebells as a mist of blue. It worked to a degree but a longer exposure was necessary! A stronger ND filter or smaller aperture would have given me the scope to expose for the 10-20 seconds that was probably necessary.

Canon 1D Mk IV; EF 16-35L lens at 28mm; 3-stop ND filter; 3.2 seconds at f/16; ISO 50; mirror lock-up; 2-second shutter delay; +1 EV
A different spot and different lens and aperture. f/2.8 with 100mm macro lens, focusing in the mid-foreground