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Focus Stacking

December 19th, 2017

Focus Stacking

Collecting rocks was a hobby I got into some time ago. I stopped collecting and had several drawers of specimens hiding in the closet. I decided to make photographs of the specimens and ran into a problem with depth of field. The images were sufficient to show off the rocks except portions of the rock were out of focus. The solution was to use a technique called “focus stacking.”

I shoot the rocks in a light box on a tripod and used a Tamron 90 mm macro with a 2x converter. The converter allowed for auto focusing. For the focus stacking project I used extension tubes instead of the 2x converter and manually focused each slice. I used the focus ring to carefully move the focus point. A shutter release was attached to the camera to prevent shake.

Starting from focusing on the front of the specimen I shot a frame, then moved the focus ring to focus on the next section of the specimen. This was repeated for a total of seven frames. I shoot in RAW then convert all the frames to PSD.

ON1 doesn’t utilize a convenient focus stacking method so I used Photoshop CS5 to perform the task. I understand that this method was available since CS2.

The RAW frames are stored in a separate folder then processed to PDF without any corrections applied. In Photoshop click on “File”, then” Automate,” then “Photo Merge.“ Either “Add Open Files” or “Browse” to load in the frames. Be sure the Layout choice is “Auto” and none of the check boxes are selected before clicking “OK.”

This will take a few moments for Photoshop to process. This process automatically aligns all the photos in case the camera moved a bit. For a large amount of frames it will take a longer time. Open up the Layers window to see all the frames in separate layers. Select all of these layers then from the “Edit” menu click on “Auto Blend Layers.” Then on the “Auto-Blend Layers” dialog select the “Stack Images” selection. Then click OK. Again Photoshop will take some time to blend these images. When the process is complete, the resultant image is displayed. The “Layers” window will show the masks created for each of the layers. Each layer masks out what is out of focus. This is why focus stacking software is required.

The image is ready for enhancements, cropping, etc. if desired.

The final image is completed and fully in focus. Note this specimen is 3/4” long and approx. ¼” diameter. There is a bit of care and work involved but in the long run it is worth it.

If you don’t have Photoshop available the following software is available for either free or purchase:

Affinity Photo $49.99 Raw editing, HDR merge, Panorama stitching, Focus stacking, Professional retouching, Batch processing, PSD editing, Digital painting, 360° image editing, Multi-layered compositions

Zerene Free for 30 Days. Personal license $89, Prosumer $189.

Combine ZP is both free & reasonably capable. Originally written for use with microscopes but seems to work fine at lower magnifications too.

Picolay Free Focus stacking - slim and fast - stereo images from a single z-stack - image processing - slide shows - animated gif images etc. - portable freeware - easy installation - (May be difficult to use, noted some users)

Gimp is available for free but requires to download separate plugins. Search the internet with “Gimp focus stacking plugin” for more information.

HDR and Panorama in ON1 Raw 2018

November 26th, 2017

HDR and Panorama in ON1 Raw 2018

There has been a lot of talk about substitute software to replace Adobe post processing software. My preference for post processing software is ON1. I am using Adobe Photoshop less as ON1 updates its software. For 2018 ON1 has added HDR merging and panoramic stitching amongst other features like cataloging your images such as what Adobe Lightroom does.
High dynamic range or HDR is a technique to reproduce a greater dynamic range of luminosity than what is possible with standard digital imaging. ON1 software automatically aligns your images and removes ghosting from motion between exposures. Panorama stitching is the process of combining two or more images to form one cohesive image. ON1 goes one step further to embed panoramic metadata for Facebook panning so you can show 180 degree views!
The reason I make panorama images is to simulate a medium format (or larger) camera. Instead of holding the camera horizontally to make one long narrow image, I hold my Nikon full frame vertically and stich two or three frames to produce a nice sized image. My Nikon creates 6,016 w x 4,016 h pixel images. By holding the camera vertically and taking three consecutive shots I can stitch them together to make a possible single 12,048w x 6,016h pixel image if I use a tripod and keep the horizon level and the ends of the scene just meet that would be impossible to achieve. I hand held my camera for the shot above so the alignment of the three images created a cropped size. Yes! I hand held my camera to take all the images required including the HDR frames.
To take the picture above with a 50 mm lens, I set my camera for aperture priority at f/11 and a three frame bracket of -.07ev, 0ev, and +7ev at an ISO of 400. I had to compensate for the shade and didn’t want too low of a shutter speed for the higher ISO. I also set the camera for continuous shooting so I can get three rapid shots. I shot the first three frames for the right most image, then moved the camera for the center three shots, then moved the camera for the last three shots on the left.


Macro and Depth of Field

August 21st, 2017

Macro and Depth of Field

Getting really close to a subject is not only more interesting it can be fun and frustrating. I have used extension tubes attached between the camera body and the lens, and close-up lenses attached to the front of a zoom lens. The results weren’t too bad but I noticed the depth of field (DOF) was noticeably shallow. Extension tubes worked best on something where the depth of the object wasn’t that deep. I thought that maybe if I had a macro lens I could get different results! After all there are plenty of images out there to prove it even though some were focus stacked.
After considerable research I decided to purchase a used macro lens from The price of the used lens was half of a new lens supposedly in excellent condition so I opted for the Tamron 90 mm macro. If this didn’t work out the loss wouldn’t hurt my pocket too much. It turned out that this was the best decision I made. The lens performs beyond my expectations!
Of course I immediately started shooting everything from bolts and nuts to flowers, insects, and my rock collection. I did notice that the depth of field changed as the distance from the camera to the subject increased or decreased. When the distance was at its smallest the DOF was the shallowest. The other thing I noticed was the DOF would change when the aperture changed. By how much did it change I wondered, so I did a little experiment.
In my light cube, I placed a ruler vertically on a slant at an angle of about 20 degrees where the far end of the ruler laid towards the back of the light box, then marked off the focus point with a piece of tape. I then took four images at aperture settings of f/4.5, f8, f18, and f36 with the lens at about 14 inches from the mark. I didn’t use a tripod but the camera was hand held with my arms braced at the edge of the platform.


Civil War Reenactment and PP Software

July 31st, 2017

Civil War Reenactment and PP Software

Civil War reenactments are popular from Spring through Fall held in many towns and cities in the U.S. The one I attended was sponsored by the Lombard Historical Society at the Four Seasons Park in Lombard Illinois. There were artillery demos, skirmishes, battles, drills, plus the encampments of the rebels and union soldiers.

These events are a photographic delight, a challenge, and loads of fun! Both woman and men wore period costumes. What was really cool, is the actors did not pose for any of the shots. They just went about their business as if you weren’t there. That made images more authentic looking.

The best part is left to the last. Post processing all the images by adding layers and converting to black and white with sepia and other tones, scratches, and other effects to give the image a period effect.

Besides, Adobe products, ON1 Photo Raw and NIK, there are a few other photo editors worth looking into.

GIMP is open-source and free. It does a decent job of replicating Photoshop’s recomposing and manipulating your photos, applying effects, and cropping and resizing images. GIMP supports editing PSD files, and its arsenal of tools: Filters, brush tools, text tools, layers, distortion and color-correction tools, cropping, resizing, and effects options. GIMP doesn’t match up to Adobe’s editing software when it comes to advanced features and color management but does have a selection of plug-ins including content-aware painting (removing strange objects) and RAW support.

Corel PaintShop Pro features a full array of photo-editing tools including layers, filters, one-click HDR and other filters, retouch tools, and more RAW-format support than any of the free packages (including 16-bit RAW). Corel PaintShop Pro can create vector graphics and exchange brush tools.

Cyberlink PhotoDirector has features similar to Lightroom providing tools to make raw conversions and process JPEGs, TIFFs, and PNGs, layers, cloning tools, HDR, presets to apply effects and more. Cyberlink PhotoDirector will import up to 4K (UHD) video to capture still images, and create panoramas. The best part of course is it is very affordable from $35 on

The Western Japanese Garden

July 14th, 2017

The Western Japanese Garden

Water is a major component of any Japanese garden. The ponds and waterfalls are located in precise orientation with respect to the sun to determine how it will be reflected by the water.

The sound of waterfalls adds to the soothing nature of Japanese gardens. At the Chicago Botanical Gardens (CBG) the cascading waterfall is very unique. You start at the top and take a path down to view separate parts of the cascade. Take the bridge to the island then turn around and observe the waterfall from further away. Along the path you come across a fountain with slow dripping water from a bamboo pipe. It is located in a dark corner for you to contemplate the sound and observe ring pattern and light from each drop.

For pictures and more text go to or

Old Cars and Hot Rods

June 16th, 2017

Old Cars and Hot Rods

You know its summer time when the community opens the streets for antique and specialty cars! Downers Grove in Illinois is no exception. Every Friday night “Cruise Night” presents a different theme including live music. Sometimes the cars overflow onto more than one street and parking lots. You can shoot full body images of the vehicles like the one above but I prefer to shoot close-ups and details.


Making The Quintet - Altered Reality

May 27th, 2017

Making The Quintet - Altered Reality

I took a photograph of my collection of wooden bird sculptures with the idea of creating a new acrylic painting. When I cut the figures out and placed them in a 20 x 16 canvas, I changed my mind and decided to go nuts! For a complete description read my blog "Making "The Quintet" Altered Reality.

Flower Photography Getting Close

April 29th, 2017

Flower Photography Getting Close

This year, the spring flowers are showing off dazzling displays of color and form. Besides backyards, there are roadsides, parks, botanical centers, and even indoor events. Many images of flower beds are taken for one reason or the other but what I especially like to photograph are the color contrasts, shapes, and shadows of blooms close up.
The best time to take photographs of flowers is at dusk and dawn. Skies with a light overcast during the day helps reduce overexposed highlights. Under bright sunlight you could use a hand held reflector to direct light to lighten shadows or a screen to shade or tone down the brightness of the sunlight. The screen I used is a shade for rear windows in an automobile to filter the bright sunlight for your passengers. It is hand held about a foot or so from the flower. When the dark screen hovers over the flower the brightness of the edges of the flower become reduced allowing detail of the flower edges to appear. These images are shot in Aperture mode. The ISO setting was automatically adjusted to compensate for the reduced light.

There are plenty of images of flowers taken only on the top and centered. Images with a lot of interest in color or shape exhibited within the top of the flower are ok for this approach. Consider examining the entire flower, the sides, the bottom, or at an angle to show off the flower’s beauty.

Another point of consideration is composition. Rule of thirds, Dynamic Symmetry, and balance play an important role when composing and cropping flower images just like all photographs should have.

You can also take extreme close ups for abstraction, add textures, and other techniques in post processing.
The important thing is take your camera out of the closet and shoot some of your own fine art flower photography.

Nevada Desert Landscapes

April 14th, 2017

Nevada Desert Landscapes

Touring the desert of Nevada has its rewards. A stop at the Churchill Historic State Park is not only interesting but a quiet place full of mystery and history near the end of the summer. This piece of the desert will be remembered for a long time especially with these two landscapes "Nevada Oasis" and "Fort Churchill"

“Nevada Oasis” is a landscape of the Carson River at the Fort Churchill State Historic Park located 30 miles East of Carson City. The Fort Churchill State Historic Park is known for its ruins of an old army fort.

Two of the ruined fort buildings painted in “Fort Churchill” above are the original of six officer quarters. They had a parlor, dining room, two bedrooms, indoor privy and attached woodshed as well as an upper story low ceiling attic. Officers could visit on the post at all hours and visit Virginia City at least once a month. The third building in the background is enlisted barracks. The barracks had dirt floors with crude furnishings. Low pay in this isolated, dreary frontier outpost resulted in many desertions to Virginia City for higher paid mining jobs. Deserters were punished by reductions in rank and pay and spent a month in the guard house.

The site of Fort Churchill was more than 100 feet below the surface of prehistoric Lake Lahontan 16000 years ago. The lake extended over much of western Nevada. Pyramid Lake and Walker Lake are remnants of Lake Lahontan. The hills immediately south and southwest of the Fort displays wave-cut terraces making the lakes highest level at an elevation of 4,300 feet

Both paintings are acrylic on a 20” x 16” Carson “Canva-Paper.” The paper has a texture that resembles linen cloth. It is primed for oil and acrylic paints. The sheets are treated with a high-performance barrier to absorb oil, bonding agents, and water evenly to provide resistance by the surface paint layer.