Take a look at these before and after photos. The first photo shows a roughly corrugated gold flake no more than two centimeters across. With my fancy new macro lens the lower middle is squarely in focus. And that’s it. This was quite a disappointment to me after spending money on a new camera and lens. The whole point of my photography project was to get good images for my articles in Rock&Gem Magazine (internal link). What’s going on?
The depth of field at such high magnification renders everything flat. So if there is a high and a low to your object, no matter how tiny that variation, the macro lens just can’t handle it. I’m learning one way to get around this and it’s called automated focus stacking (external link).
Basically, you take four or five photos at different focal points and blend them all together. That is, you take several shots, each at a high and a low and a middle. You focus correctly for each shot, each variation, even if the rest of the field is out of focus. Then, using Photoshop black magic, you gather up your photos into a single file, have Photoshop align them, then watch as they are blended together. See the image below.
Notice the improvement? It’s amazing. I feel like I am practicing some dark art or witchcraft. Yes, there are areas that need improvement in the photo but this is just my second try. With a steadier tripod, more focal points, and more practice, I might just get this down. I can at least see there is a path toward a perfectly focused specimen. And I am gaining a deep appreciation for the professional photographer.
This points out, too, that this is the product of a home studio or spare bedroom. No way could you cruise through a rock and gem show and hope to duplicate this method on a vendor’s shaky table with poor lighting. Click on the photos if you want to see the full sized images.
Some people complain about the impact Photoshop has had on modern photography, but I think the program is awesome. Just like your post shows, you can do great things with it.