What's it all about?

This blog is about photography and photoediting. Its purpose is to provide hints and tips and links to interesting and useful resources for digital photographers, regardless of their level of expertise or experience. It is aimed at people who use digital SLR cameras and who process their images using the latest versions of Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

The author of this blog is Glenn Springer and you can read more about him at his web portal at faczen.com. Information on workshops, and links to everything is at photography.to. Glenn's original blog, which is an ongoing journal of his photographic meanderings goes back to 2006 and contains many additional hints and tips, as well as representative images that he has made. Gallery quality prints are available through his Smugmug gallery site. It is an interesting place to visit to see a variety of quality images, as well as an ongoing general journal of photos going back several years.

Photography workshops are scheduled every few weeks starting in the Spring. For an overview of what's happening, please visit the photography.to website.

The most recent blog post is below. Scroll down to the bottom to see the list of previous postings or search for any particular topic.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Shooting Macro on a budget

As long as I'm on a "budget" theme, I thought I'd continue with an approach to shooting wee little things without spending a lot of money. One approach is with a bellows attachment.

I bought this one on eBay. It came from Hong Kong or Shanghai (I forget which) and cost the princely sum of $35 including shipping to Canada. The lens is an inexpensive Nikkor 28-80 f/3.5-5.6 D that I bought on Kijiji and did the deal in a Tim Horton's parking lot!
The bellows has no way to link the autofocus or aperture adjustment from the camera. So you're on manual control. The problem I had was that all of my lenses are "G" type with no aperture ring, so I had to find a "D" version. FWIW, it works better at the longer focal length because distances are REALLY short otherwise.

The bellows works by increasing the distance from the back of the lens to the focal plane. The further away it is, the closer you can focus and the more you can magnify an image. But focusing is EXTREMELY critical; depth of field is measured in millimeters!

Focusing with the bellows can be done 4 ways. With the setup you see above, you can
  • use the focusing ring on the lens
  • zoom the lens, or
  • extend or contract the bellows
The fourth way is to move the whole camera/bellows/lens array closer or farther from the subject and the right way to do that is with a focusing rail. They're also available on eBay and I ordered one but it's not here yet.

I did some light tent shots yesterday, sometimes using a strobe fill, sometimes not. This series was with the strobe but dialled down considerably and through the light tent to diffuse it.

In this setup shot, the strobe is behind the black sweep, so it only illuminates the tent, not the subject. Sometimes I had the strobe further off to the right, but I don't have a setup shot of that.

As I said, focusing is tricky. I would focus using LiveView with the lens wide open so I could see, then carefully stop down without moving anything. Of course without autofocus or exposure adjustment with the bellows on, everything was manual.

I tried doing a focus stacked sequence but it didn't work. In this case I had 8 exposures but they wouldn't blend. That will be helped by the focus rail (I hope!). If anythng moves in the frame, the layers won't merge right. This was just one image:

This flower is a little under an inch in diameter. The red you see in the lower left corner is a plastic bit on the A-clamp I'm using to hold the flower in place. And it's worth noting that the background is not PURE black, not even close. I dealt with that in post.

Exposure was 2 seconds at f/11, ISO 200. Why so long? As I said, I was shooting with and without flash fill and I forgot to change the setting. If the illumination was flash only, I wouldn't have to; although there's still not a lot of light when you're shooting at f/11. You can see the depth of field when you look at the stem or the furthest petals.

Camera shake and movement is CRITICAL. I used the self-timer function, or Mirror-Up, and a cable release to trip the shutter. Do I have to say it was on a tripod?
Here's the final image:

Name that flower in 3 notes. I dunno, it's like a little daisy but it's yellow. I'm not a flower expert.

Now let me tell you what I did to get there.

I took the 8 images into CS6 and tried to focus-stack them but as I said, it didn't work. So I ended up deleting all the layers except this one. Step 1 was a hi-pass filter layer to bring up the detail. After stamping a merged layer, I opened Topaz Adjust 5 (I'm sure you figured that out when you saw the results!) and used the "Psychedelic" preset. I tweaked that some, especially doing some noise reduction. Back to CS6.

Now to get rid of the red bit and some of the background light spill. I created a mask and masked out the flower so it wouldn't affect the content-aware fill, and that's how I removed the extraneous bits. When I was done that step, I discarded the mask. In order to see what was going on with the background, I created a Levels adjustment layer and cranked it WAY up so I could see the mess in the background. I selected the flower and stem, and used the selection to mask the image, then filled what was left with black. After deleting the mask, a few strokes with a brush and the background was monolithic. Next I discarded the levels adjustment layer, it was only there for visibility.

The new crop function in CS6 is neat: I reframed the image, adding room to the left and below and filling the added portion with the same black. Then I used the healing brush and the clone stamp tool to extend the soft focused stem to the left and up. Pretty well done, I took it back into LR4, where I tweaked the crop and added a post-crop vignette, then took out a bit more of the noise. I brought the saturation up a bit and done.

Keep an eye on this blog for more: I'll add more to this tutorial as I experiment a bit more. I especially want to learn to use focus stacking and different lighting. But you can do this stuff on a budget if you want to.

PS: for more images and writeups, it's probably better to subscribe to my other blog – www.faczen.blogspot.com – or drop in to see it regularly. I post there every week, whereas this one is more sporadic. For instance, the lily in the setup picture is going to be interesting but I haven't finished it yet. It will be on the Faczen Image blog.

Edit: I added this picture to give you an example of the scale you can achieve with the bellows. This is not cropped.

This is nowhere near the maximum magnification. I guess the bellows was about 1/3 of the way out, the lens was zoomed to about 70mm, I think.

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