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Handheld stacked macro

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Since my little weevil has generated some interest I thought I'd start a topic and show some other examples of handheld stacking.

My tips - your subject does have to be relatively cooperative - at least enough to stay pretty still for 5 or 6 to a dozen shots. You don't have to use every image you shoot in your stack and it's always better to have more than less, so over shoot rather than undershoot. The technique you use will vary with the equipment you are using - but your stacking software shouldn't care. If you use a tripod you'll have to readjust your focus to create your images. Handheld -  move the camera. Tripod with a rail - move the camera.

If you hand hold try to be as steady has possible it will work out best if you only move in one plane- tiny variations up/down side/side won't hurt you too badly, but changes in perspective (tilting the camera) will make for some strange artifacts.

Post processing - I've only used Photoshop for this, so can't comment on other software packages. Put your images into layers in a single file - choose the layers you want to blend. In the "edit" menu use the "auto-align layers" function then "auto-blend layers" (choosing stacking in the options) Be prepared to go in and do some hand adjustments to the masking - and save your stack file as invariably (as you'll see below) you'll find some little glitch you missed the first time through.

I'll try to answer any other questions that you might have.


This crane fly was one of the first stacks that I tried. There are some spots on the  legs on the that I definitely could have adjusted better..DSCF8287

The other two are fairly old - so I'd have to go onto my backup hard drive to dig up the info on how many shots I took to make the stack, but this one is pretty recent. There are 5 shots in the final stack and 3 I didn't use. I can recall taking a bit of time to correct the antenna though looking at it now, I can totally see a few glitchy bits in the grass I could use to fix.




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Interesting method

I use a focus rail on tripod for focus staked images but I wouldn't attempt this. Not sure whether the (perhaps) less fraught time in the field is worth more time in pp. I use LR which seems to work fine and I can run the raw files through IXT first.

What lens and aperture did you use for these.

I wonder of if using CH and E shutter to shoot bursts while attempting small movement back and forth would work. I've successfully used that technique for shooting with my MF Canon 300mm + X1.4 TC but then I'm just looking for one very sharp result rather than several.

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They were all taken with my 1980's vintage Nikon 55mm macro.

Aperture... since I have a dumb (non-electronic) nikon to X adapter, I'm afraid that information doesn't get recorded.. they all say F0.. and I've never been in the habit of writing down my exposure details. I'm sure it varies with the lighting conditions - as much depth as I could get for the light. I've never worried much about losing clarity by using the "wrong" f-stop with this lens as it is described as "...hellaciously sharp at every aperture and distance", though I will admit I do try to avoid f32 just out of practice as usually the far end of a lens does lose some definition - though it's not like I need to worry too much - lighting conditions that would even allow me to shoot at an f stop that high are rare.. f 8-11 or so is usually as high as I can get in the full sun and wider open is certainly more common, when hand holding and using a shutter speed no lower than 1/125th - unless I can really brace well, I can't hand hold a macro shot without obvious camera shake under that and often enough I'm so contorted or stretched to get to where the critter is that I need 1/250th.

I've never tried using burst mode - truth be told it makes me startle and jerk the camera... I might be better off getting used to it and using it with birds and the like though. For these tiny things, I don't know, but can't imagine that it would work all that great - I'm usually visually fine tuning the focus as I go to be sure I get all of the features I really want sharp in good focus in at least one frame- legs, antenna, eyes. The DOF is generally very, very shallow in each individual image. If you left it to chance by just moving the camera a bit during a burst, I can't see that it would much more than very lucky to get the right "slices".

One reason I don't use a rail system - most of my images are made on long hikes 10-16 miles in a day, often with a good amount of elevation gain and usually in pretty remote areas - I don't necessarily go out looking for anything in particular. I go out to walk and I record what I find. I chose an X camera in the first place to keep my gear weight down.. (being about 1/3rd of the weight of my Nikon gear..) My backpack and gear without water weighs in at 18lbs, my lightweight tripod that I don't always carry (I always have a Joby Gorilla pod - but it's only a foot tall and so limited to low subjects) adds 3 more, and water around 3 more, until I've drunk it at least.. so I'm already up to 24lbs.. which may not sound extreme, but I'm only 5' tall and weigh not much over 100 lbs... so I'm about at my gear carrying tolerance limit - usually the longer and more strenuous the hike the less camera gear (and more survival gear...) goes in the pack too.

I don't know that not using a tripod (for me at least) means more adjustments in post - usually the things that I find I am fine tuning are not because of my movement, but because the subject has shifted a leg or a antenna or perhaps a bit of stem or grass has moved in the breeze - this would all happen regardless of having the camera in a fixed position. I does mean that in the end I get less depth than I would with 10's or 100's of images, but I doubt most of the subjects that I've used this technique on would have stayed put long enough to do that anyway...

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On 2017-6-16 at 7:31 PM, morpheme said:

I've never tried using burst mode - truth be told it makes me startle and jerk the camera...

I tried a couple of times do what you did - take ~10 handheld shots of a bug and then stack them in post. Never really got any descent results but I also found that taking single shots works much better than using burst mode. This is probably the EVF problem as it blacks out after every shot and by the end of the burst I would normally lose the bug from the frame :)

Should go back to my shots and try blending the images manually. As you say, there is a lot of variation between the images because the leg/wing/antenna movement. This does not make it easy to focus stack.

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Yeah - this would never work with a quick or busy insect - ants, bees, darkling beetles, jumping spiders - things that just never quit moving aren't viable subjects, even working with a hand held camera

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