With the fall season rapidly approaching, I decided to try some close up photography of some of the early changes to the plants in our neighborhood. Rather than outdoors in windy conditions I decided to try and bring a few items into my mini studio (also known as my spare bedroom) and give it a try. Using a black background for the shots and two small LED light panels as my light source – it was time to experiment.
Rather than use a very small aperture to get the depth of field I was looking for I used the in camera focus stacking feature to make sure everything stayed nice and sharp. This feature is found in the Camera 2 menu under Bracketing on my E-M1X.
By shooting anywhere from 10 to 15 frames and having the camera take the “sharp section” from each image and combining them in camera I was able to get the desired results of having an extended depth of field to capture all of the detail. Although these were shot at apertures ranging from F3.5 to F5.6 it gives the appearance of an image shot at a much much smaller aperture.
Some of the options available in the Focus Stacking mode give you the choice of how many images to combine ranging from 3 to 15 (with the E-M1X, E-M1 Mark III, E-M1 Mark II, E-M1, and E-M5 Mark III), and how much of a change between shots to your focus point. The change in focus “jumps” between images varies between 1 and 10 with the smaller number giving you the smallest change.
For closeup shots like these I chose the #2 setting to keep the focus changes very slight. For shooting scenery outdoors, or larger interior shots you would select larger jumps in focus to get the desired results.
Placing one light panel behind the leaves helped bring out the detail of its structure while using a little less powerful light in front to make sure the colors stayed accurate. For best results, a solid tripod is essential so the camera can accurately align the series of shots.
For this series of images, I used the M.Zuiko 12-40mm F2.8 PRO lens or the M.Zuiko 12-100mm F4.0 IS PRO lens while shooting in aperture priority at 200 ISO. With the dark background using exposure compensation was the key to getting the exposure correct in camera and not overexposing the subject.
Two quick tips on using Focus Stacking, first you can shoot your images as jpeg or RAW files, as well as JPEG + RAW. Your final combined image is saved as a jpeg, however you also have all the individual images saved in case you want to use other software on your computer to combine the images. This allows you to fine tune the individual shots before making your “stacked” image if desired. A quick word of warning: if you use the maximum 15 shots to make your image and shoot as JPEG + RAW you end up with 31 individual files per press of the shutter button! That can fill a memory card quickly!
When you make your stacked image in camera you will lose a bit of the outside portion of the image as the camera aligns the individual shots. When you put the camera into the Focus Staking mode it will show you how the image will be cropped in the viewfinder and rear LCD in the final image to insure accurate framing.
Steve Ball is an Olympus Educator residing in the Pacific Northwest, where he found his love of bird photography while working for Olympus as a National Account Executive. Steve photographs all types of birds; both trained/education birds and birds in their natural environment. Steve's favorite camera and lens to shoot with are the OM-D E-M1X and M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm F4.0 IS PRO.