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BY GERAINT RADFORD

Howdy! Geraint here, Olympus Ambassador and biscuit addict. Here’s a little blog post to discuss my favourite feature on my E-M1 Mark II and E-M1X – inbuilt Focus Stacking. I use this feature to capture handheld images of the macro world.

Every subject is photographed as and where they are found with no harm or manipulation to my little bug buddies.

For those who don’t know what on earth I am talking about when I mention focus stacking, let me quickly explain…

Working close-up to a subject reduces the depth of field quite a bit, which can be lovely, but sometimes we need a bit more of the subject in focus to do it justice. During a focus stack, we shoot multiple images, each frame focusing deeper into the scene.

In this first image (above), notice how only the very front area of the mushroom is in focus.

This frame (above) is the last of a 15 image sequence and the focus is at the furthest area of the mushroom. The camera will now blend all of the files and overlap the in-focus areas.

OM-D E-M1 Mark II, M.Zuiko Digital ED 60mm F2.8 Macro, 1/15 F5 ISO 200, 15 images, focus differential – 5

The final result (above) is a perfectly sharp subject. The whole process takes around a second or two (which is just enough time for me to snack on a bourbon biscuit).

A huge benefit of shooting this way rather than closing the aperture down to F11 (or more) is that we don’t lose ambient light or introduce diffraction, and we still maintain a nice smooth background so that our main subject stands out. Lovely!

With the addition of Firmware 3.0, we can now choose from between 3 and 15 frames and the camera will automatically shoot and blend them together to produce a JPEG output. We also have the option to combine the RAW files later. The JPEG is useful because we have instant confirmation that a focus has worked, saving a lot of time and heartache when we get home. But wait…it gets even better! We also have the flexibility to choose how large a step the focus should take between each frame; giving us total creative control over our photography.

It’s important to remember that if you choose a large focus differential, you may need to select a narrower aperture to increase the depth of field. This helps to make sure that the in-focus areas overlap properly.

Alternatively, you may want to use a wide aperture with a small focus differential to isolate subjects at a distance.

QUICK TIP:

I often use this technique in low light situations instead of increasing ISO and F-stop to achieve a cleaner file with extra depth of field (biscuits in the post please).

Typically, at 1:1 magnification I would aim to use 15 frames with the focus differential set to 5 and set an aperture of F5.6. With a little practice, we can get some really cool results by experimenting with different settings.

OM-D E-M1X, 1/250 F6.3 ISO 200, FL-900R Flash, 6 frames, focus differential – 6, handheld

When I spotted this Robber Fly resting on the railing, I was made up! This was the first time I’d managed to see one and I always hoped that one day luck would be on my side and I may get a portrait.

I manually focused the lens at 1:1 and slowly moved the camera closer and closer until the eyes became sharp. The camera was set up to take 6 frames at F6.3 with a focus differential of 6.

This combination allowed me to get enough of the insect in focus, with fewer frames so that I would have a greater chance of getting a picture before it flew away.

When we use the in-camera Focus Stacking feature, the camera will capture the first frame at our chosen focal point, then jump two steps closer to the lens before making its way back to complete the stack. With this in mind, I would recommend starting at the eyes if you are photographing insects, small animals or potatoes.

OM-D E-M1 Mark II, M.Zuiko Digital ED 60mm F2.8 Macro, extension tubes, FL-900R, 1/250 F4.5 ISO 64, 3 frames, focus differential – 3

This adorable little ladybird was walking along a fallen tree in my favourite patch of woodlands.

Using just three frames grouped closely together, I captured the above image just as the ladybird paused for a moment. The settings used allowed me to balance the exposure for the reflective shell and achieve enough depth of field to show its cute little face. I like to keep a shallow depth of field for this kind of image because it has an otherworldly appearance and still has a sense of movement. That’s my excuse anyway!

OM-D E-M1 Mark II, M.Zuiko Digital ED 60mm F2.8 Macro, FL-900R, extension tubes, 1/250 F5.6 ISO 250, 15 frames, focus differential – 6

One wet and soggy day I found this Ladybird (above) resting on a leaf near my home. As it wasn’t moving, I set the camera to shoot 15 frames with a larger focus differential and an F-stop of 5.6, so we can see the raindrops on its shell. The recycle speed on the FL-900R – especially set to low powers – means that the stacking process is very quick I was amazed at the time that the stack worked, even with two sets of extension tubes attached!

OM-D E-M1X, M.Zuiko Digital ED 60mm F2.8 Macro, FL-900R, Extension tubes, 1/125 F5.6 ISO 250, 3 frames, focus differential – 1

Weevils are one of my favourite creatures on earth. One day I was wandering around the woods seeking out some cool macro opportunities. The light was fading and the woods were getting spooky when out of the corner of my eye, glistening like a jewel was this tiny weevil (above) resting between the petals of a bluebell.

I wanted to keep the dreamy feel of the picture so I shot just three frames and grouped them very closely together. This was just enough to make sure that there was enough depth of field on the weevil while at the same time limiting the foreground and background sharpness.

I hope that this was helpful to you and that you enjoy exploring the Macro world as much as I do.

Insects are struggling lately and need our help more than ever. So when we are out and about let’s take great care of them!

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