Studio camera setup – FOCUS STACK macro photography

Studio camera setup – FOCUS STACK macro photography

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit Digital Transitions in New York City to do some photography in their studio. In this video, Doug Peterson shows us his method of focus stacking on the Phase One XF with the IQ3 Trichromatic back.

You can do this with any camera. The challenge of macro photography is working with an extremely shallow depth of field. Phase One will do automatic calculations for the photos you want to stack but this can be done manually with any camera.

The software we used for stitching the final image is called Zerene Stacker. It does have a 30 day trial if you want to try it out.

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Ted Forbes
The Art of Photography
2830 S. Hulen, Studio 133
Fort Worth, TX 76109

My name is Ted Forbes and I make videos about photography. I’ve been making photographs most of my life and I have a tremendously deep passion for photography that I want to share with you on YouTube.

The Art of Photography is my channel and I produce photography videos to provide a 360 degree look into the world of making images. We all want to get better so lets do this together!

I make videos covering famous photographers, photography techniques, composition, the history of photography, philosophy and much more.

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okay so this is my man Doug who is helping us set up the little tabletop rig that we've got going today what's the important thing about tethering is what it provides you for functionality so provides you an instant review provides your organizational capabilities like ranking star rate and color tagging it allows you to check the images like zooming into a hundred percent or checking the exposure and do so from some position other than within two feet of the screen of the back of the camera the arguments so generating is um kind of a broad word it means some ability to review other than from right here right right so we can do tethering by USB or firewire that would be the traditional kind of most signal from a table tethering okay and then another option you have here is directly from the digital back without the cable so we get on plug the cable without the cable we can still do Wireless to the iPad iOS device so could be a phone it could be an iPad and an iPad pro Wow what that allows us to do is cut the cable right so if I'm shooting handheld in the street so it's now switched over and out to the wireless and if I jump in there I can still do all the things I would normally do that well I can still do most of the things I've stood on the computer for example I could still rate the image sure rating I can still jump better to see live view I can still jump in and shut focus 100% I can do those sort of things but without any cable and here we have a physical static set up you know tripod and arm could also be lanced and I could be running down the city sidewalks and I old camera we'd still have that communication so the word tethering here I would still use but what's really important to understanding our space is not at different routes a space one makes the back body lenses and the software and the wireless transmitter that's built in already to the back yeah we don't have the limitations you normally have on camera mic honors so they use it those plugins yeah right those are good plugins they provide some cool tools the limitation is that it's a third part in making the physical hardware and then making the software so the image has to be written to the card but it has to be sent over to the device the device has to receive it in full and read it and show you here the moment the image is captured it's already transmitting the resolution over to here so if you're working with a client this gets them off from over your shoulder they can relax they can go sit on the sofa or just saying that's a wine glass of wine and and not be at your computer station or where you're shooting but they can still comment they can still see what's coming up yeah you showed us the camera control features so I'm just doing it so let me show that speed alright so now that we go I'll do a lizard turn here click wizard turn pops up wizard turned click pops right back up so it's not late estimate because about 100 minute pixel file if I had this if I had to wait for the card to write 100 mega pixel wrong oh yeah and then send the JPEG or a row over it could take substantial amount of time yeah one of the ways you can get around out with those little plugins is to send a small JPEG and that could actually work pretty fast the problems that you're only getting up eliminate resolution here this time on that image it's now gonna request the screen resolution version of it if I double tap it'll then request that part of that image 100% oh my god you can see it loading in 100% detailer and that just moments out the capture at a hundred percent 400 pixel file so you're getting a speed of sending a small file but you're getting the quality of sending the full file well you're not sending any files also worth noting is how Wireless we got the working with the Profoto would you say these were the beanie want be ones so there are no wires other than that's plugged in something else but like this entire set up is pretty much Wireless right now right light itself has a pro photo air receiver that light has a proclivity receiver and they're controlled from the camera and the cameras out as a profiler transmitter built in so we can actually we can not only control to fire the flash but we also get it here the Profoto controls directly on the digital back so I can say turn my main light up by a stop or two stops oh man you saw the light flash behind I mean I did I'll take another picture now will be overexposed presumably yes and now you see our exposures come up on our main light a second so come on I do wireless triggering the transmitter we can enable the second he have a huge set and maybe or Nicole yeah whatever great so I'm getting my channel too so if you turn that on channel 2 to English test so now those transmitting from his hand on channel 2 its receding on channel 2 and triggering the camera but then extruding the lights on channel 1 so that when he pushes test doesn't fire the flash otherwise the flash will fire when he hits right but I also in the pictures tape we are set up to do some tabletop and we are working on some tulips here and what we're gonna do is Doug is going to roll us through focus stacking focus on this so in this I'm gonna pull this up so they can see it this if you look at the side is a wide depth there you could conceivably get all of that in focus if you wanted to it would take we're talking maybe a hundred shots something like that artistically though we were looking at this and maybe that's not the right solution right here what we're doing is extending our depth of field so to speak is is that the right people tend to sort of jump when you say that we're focused at they jump to the extreme end of everything I say just yeah you're gonna have using 50 shots to go over the very very first thing in the frame the very very bad thing on the frame right and sometimes that's probably the right answer to the image problem that you're trying to solve but a lot of the time the focus tacking is two or three frames and the focus tagging is not to get from front to back but to get a little bit more than you otherwise would got your hand before we talk about focus stacking we should probably kind of quickly touch on why the heck don't we just set it to f/32 or a 45 or a 64 a reasonable question sure and the answer is that for all cameras this isn't about phase is about any camera with a lens and a sensor once you get past a certain number you get softer again so as you're wide open you're maybe a little bit soft because of lens aberrations because the lens isn't perfect yet as you stop down to f/8 f/11 lens really sharpens up as you get to 16 or 20 to the left starts to become diffracted business concept you know you can is basically google lens diffraction or any way and start to see image of this the point is we can't just say hey if we want the first five bulbs in this image in focus we'll just keep going well here is you know here's this shot at f12 and you can see that we're already in focus from the first bulb to the second bulb but that third and fourth bulb are out of focus I can't just keep going I can't go from 12 to say 32 or 22 just because the fraction right yeah so I still don't even have something soft exactly everything is gonna be equally softly afraid so we'll get the quality part but we won't get the Schurmann out like we want it right so what we're gonna do instead is we're gonna use the focus tack tool built into the phase 1 XF I swipe across to that tool okay got you where si where are we currently focused it's gonna find our car point of focus we're gonna use either Live View or through the lens come to modify the focus until in the right spot we're gonna save that as the front we're gonna go back till the last bulb is in focus we're gonna save that as the back and that is not the back bulb of all of the balls to the back bulb that I want to be in folk we're right and we're not doing the whole thing we're just doing almost half maybe not even that yeah exactly and so now it's complicated for us that's gonna take seven frames okay guys favorite things about the focus tact tool in the XF is it lets you fail quickly if I don't want to take seven shots to get this in focus I know come back to the homescreen change the aperture of f/16 I'll lose a little bit the diffraction capsule it has a diffraction correction they'll help get some of that detail back so 16 is gonna be a little bit less advantageous than 12 but that would drop the number of frames from what did it just say it once 7 7 down to find its now I'm at 5 frames I push the button to capture and it just does it's magic and it's moving the lens to each time capturing that image you see those images could then be thrown in to capture one processed out tips and here I have them open into durian stacker mm-hmm and we run those software through and right now we're at the stage where we're telling it what to ignore because this background that's what that black is indicate lock is indicating so I don't want to include anything very much black at all on the flowers right I do want to make sure there's some black in the background let me push OK and it will start to now actually go back through the images and build the image from back to front or from front to back it'll build the image up as we're watching it so there you go there's the first frame second the name third Wow looks a little bit cartoonish during this phase as it's illustrating it's sack as it finally comes into the final limit it was this actually really helpful to be able to see where it is exactly a now it's not a really complex going yeah you'd need to be able to double check hey this didn't work or whatever and now we can zoom into a hundred percent Wow we can see the the detail continues from this front bulb back through the leaves or back in capture one and we have two different focus stacks that we have in this folder one of the nice things about character one is that using the phase 1 XF focus tacky and actually tagged the stack with a metadata ID so we can say hey just show me the five shots from the first focus stack or the seven shots from the second focus stack and you'll just deal with those files at a time very cool so that's for example jump in here take a look at these seven if we look at these images and we were to say zoom in to a hundred percent we can see where this shot wasn't focused mm-hmm and then we come forward to the next frame your ceilings you know sequence that's the next one yep and the next one and the next one yeah you see another ball kiss and then this comes in focus now we're at the very end the very last frame the front bulb will come in focus so you can see between the previous and the next just small controllable discrete overlapping steps so there's the the bottom line of focus stacking is that in these seven images one of those seven images has everything from here to there and focus that's we have smoosh them together before and after focus stack and you can already see here sharp sharp sharp sharp whereas over here it's only sharp along that's the Cynthia I mean it's dissolved in the front yep so it's a big difference between focus tackling the single friend here and it's done with very little reason mentioned a lot of automation you're making the point earlier about HDR you know in the tools that people have and the bad rap that that's gotten because it's just overused you know and you take a tool to its extreme purely for the fact that you can use it to that extreme I think you're giving up some of the art of craft of photography you want to first ask how will this image be improved and will this tool help me do that right now I think that's amazing looks good so we also had just shot with a very special lens this is the IMAX 130 f/2 lens this lens is the lens that I picked up and we did a blog article on called big buttery bokeh and it's all about lenses that have extraordinarily shelled at the field but also interesting characteristic in the autofocus right so this lens has somewhat of a head spell swirl that creates a little bit of a spherical deformation in the out-of-focus areas it's not that pronounced at macro businesses like this so as you can see here it's a little bit more just creamy but look at the sort of halation and look at the sort of distortion we get as things go from end out-of-focus this is not an optically clean lens it's not a lens that has perfect pristine characteristics it's a lens that has a lot of character it's got some soul right yeah that's cool I can't wait to see what you do with this lens tomorrow

This Post Has 40 Comments

  1. Very amazing video Ted. You did a great job my friend.

  2. The OpenMemories app has something similar to this for Sony cameras. It's called Focus Bracket (it's free) and you can install the app on your camera, use it in the same way and then import the images into Photoshop and merge them there.

  3. For all those asking about photo assignments, could I suggest that there's always a default photo assignment – think of something you've never done with a camera before, do it, then examine the results. See what you're happy with, if there's anything you don't like, and reflect on how you could do it better.

    If you normally shoot landscapes, try macro or portraits, if still life is your thing, then walk around your neighbourhood and try street photography. You get the idea?

  4. This was great. Like your montages of my town against the hiphop jazz.

  5. Wow – I may never be in the market for A Phase One Camera kit, but this was so exciting! Thanks so much Ted

  6. I use zerene stacker at work everyday…. love that program. (we work on stacking from 13 to 16 pictures a time for ultra macro of seeds and even smaller. I would so love to play with phase one for that part of my job).

  7. Hi Ted, my work has tasked me to buy a camera we can use for taking photos of our events. I know there are so many out there to choose from so I'm hoping you can give me some advice. I will be in charge of taking the photos during our events. I have some experience taking photos but my skills in photography is just a beginning level. We are looking for a camera that can take good pictures of people under low lighting ( example, people in a meeting room or conference space with low lighting). Our price range is up to $3000. Any suggestions? Thanks!

  8. I might be drooling ..

  9. Nice and cheap. I enjoyed the old days! Out of my league by a factor of millions.

  10. Another great vid, Ted – any idea which ipad holder Doug is using?

  11. I tried focus stacking once, but it didn't work at all. Even though the camera was on a tripod I couldn't get the photo software to align it correctly. I guess it's not for everyone.

  12. For every one having a whine about the camera my Olympus OMD EM1 MK-1 will do auto focus stacking and processing in camera just need the ideas to be thrown out there my camera is better than Ansels as is the phase one is better than mine.

  13. Photo Assignments? I've been having a bit of a lack in creativity and need some ideas!

  14. Amazing tech! Thanks for sharing it.

  15. Did he mention what lens they were using?

  16. Go easy on that lizard man!

  17. Thanks, Ted. Really good stuff!

  18. Macro is so much fun

  19. when this showed up on my sidebar I thought it said "stupid camera setup" for a second. great vid

  20. This is quite an interesting tour de force, but for those of us on more limited budgets, the Olympus focus stacking and tethering system which is available on the E-M1.2, the E-M5.2, and the E-M1, works well indeed. I have used it for several months now for studio shots of flowers in conjunction with the 60mm macro lens with each of these cameras.. Everything is done in camera, and results are excellent. I did have a learning curve, because I have never shot tethered before this. The advantage of shooting tethered is that I can shoot an entire floral arrangement in studio; outdoors I can only use focus stacking on one blossom, or a very tight bunch (e.g., climbing roses).

  21. I miss the deep dives into obscure photographers, thats why I subscribed.

  22. Over my head! I’m out!

  23. I can hear out everyone's complaints about never being able to afford this, but ultimately even though I will never own this kit, I still learned something so that's cool.

  24. Great video! When are the medium format assignments starting?

  25. haha it's becoming a PhaseOne channel (not that it is bad)

  26. This makes me curious to see if somewhat of a focus stacking equivalent could be done with film

  27. Finally something I know!!!! I am a product photographer for some smaller vapor companies and i shoot coils i make in 22-24mm products. Please look at my Instagram for nothing but macros

  28. Nice video Ted!

    I can’t believe that Canon and Nikon haven’t yet put out their own software for Tethering. Olympus has been doing it for years and it’s just great. I use it all the time when my camera is on a tripod for long exposures in night shots.

    As for “focus stacking”, I sometimes use it to “extreme” in landscape photography – to get everything in focus. I never thought of using it in macro shots as shown, limiting the focus range to your own taste and selection. I will surely do so now.

    It was intuitive to talk about both “Tethering” and “Focus Stacking” because your best choice for making “Focus Stacking” is using a “Tethering” method avoiding any camera movement.

    Here, it seems the Phase-One in-camera “Focus Stacking” app is not available through “Tethering” – I’m I right in thinking so?

  29. This is a nice infomercial for Phase One. Too bad no one that can afford one is actually watching it.

  30. Ted , get back to the real world where most of us are. Never mind the .00001% who can afford a Phase system.

  31. Are photo assignments still a thing?

  32. Very nice and clean integration, love it.

  33. he missed that first bulb. but I get it 🙂 very cool

  34. What a camera. Will never afford it but wonderful to see it in use

  35. I’m a film / darkroom enthusiast but I really enjoy learning about other techniques like this. We should never close our minds to the art of the possible. Thanks for another great video.

  36. I just purchased a macro lens! I love it. Awesome video.

  37. damn i need some cash for this ! =D I really like focus stacking it just take a lot of time

  38. Loving the buttery bokeh at the end. Mmmmmm.

  39. If I had that camera, this video would be extremely useful.

  40. Haven’t watched you for quite a while

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