Back to the stack

A while ago now I posted some articles on my learning curve for macro photography. One such post was this one .

It dealt with the concept of stacking, using multiple images each with restricted depth of field around a different plane of focus and combining them to create one shot with sharpness only on the key subject. The rest of the image is rendered pleasantly (hopefully) out of focus. It is quite common in studio work, less so in the field as even the slightest breeze can ruin the sequence. All the images have to align perfectly.

Well here is today’s effort. Shot in the field of course 🙂

This is 15 photographs blended in Helicon Focus. It can be done in Photoshop but PS takes far too long for me. I have zero patience and if I can get the job done in 30 seconds I see no reason to faff about whilst Photoshop allows me to watch paint dry.

Oxalis corymbosa

Oxalis corymbosa

I think it turned out ok but I’d like feedback.

NB: Following feedback I have substituted a slightly cropped version to take out a distracting leaf.

Stacking the grasshopper

If you are hoping for some obscure Japanese game show then I am sorry but you have come to the wrong place. There are indeed some decidedly odd games shows in Japan but I think they are not suitable for the audience I try to reach. Stacking the grasshopper is a rather weak follow-on from yesterday’s tale of the gropper’s outing to Shatin. I was checking the plants on the balcony this morning to see if there were any nice lepidoptera larvae to photograph but all I could find was a grasshopper. I wish I could assert that it was the same adventurous explorer, who hitched a ride on the Audi but even the most basic of ID skills tells me it is not.

Be that as it may I wanted to try to get a decent shot and I decided to try out my stacking software again. So all the images were shot at F3.5, etc. etc.  You know the routine by now. Here is my final output courtesy of those awfully nice people at Helicon Focus.

Xenocatantops brachycerus

Not too bad. I didn’t get the right hand antenna despite thinking that I had. None of the source images gave me anything good enough to copy in. Other than that though it has succeeded reasonably well. Maybe 7/10 for technical expertise and about 5/10 for interest and aesthetic appeal. I am a very generous marker when assessing my own work. Did I ever mention that I was offered fried grasshoppers in Buenos Aires once? It was over ten years ago so I honestly don’t remember whether I ate them. I suspect I opted for half a hundredweight of prime beef. I have eaten snails though.

Now this is the Photoshop CS4 effort.

Look carefully at Mr. Gropper’s rear end. See the ghosting? Yup. So do I and I don’t like it. And PS has “image align”. Now in fairness my first effort with HF also had similar ghosting:

This could of course be down to bad technique on my part but as I looked very carefully through Live View I realized that the grasshopper was breathing in and out quite visibly. This is barely visible to the naked eye. Bit when magnified by 5x or 10x it looks like an earthquake. And it manifested itself in the rear section of the abdomen. Shocking…… breathing grasshopper. Or something like that.

So I redid the HF version and retouched it by using a ‘clean’ image to sharpen up both this aspect and the near antenna, which also moved slightly. The HF effort took about 3 or 4 minutes to run the original stack and then maybe 5 minutes of fiddling to do the touch up. PS CS4 on the other hand took about half an hour to process the 14 images and still failed. The recommendation is to ‘clone out any ghosting’. Well I’m sorry but I just don’t have the time to spare. Maybe CS5 or 6 has a very quick way of doing this. Conceivably CS4 has too but if so, this user isn’t sufficiently advanced to do that and I can do without spending half an evening agonizing over the final image. I’ll take the HF 5 minute job. As John Cleese asked of Michael Palin, “is this a 5 minute argument or the full half hour?”

So there we are. HF wins again on time and faithfulness. And after going through this exercise I think I shall try to sell this to a Japanese TV channel as a game show. I think it may catch on.

Image stacking – CS4 versus Helicon Focus

Let’s start with some disclaimers. I am only using HF on a 30 day trial so I am not a whiz on this software and I am not a power user of CS4 so this is an experiment. It is not a test to see which is better for you.

I downloaded Helicon Focus because it gets very good reviews and I had a failure with CS4. It simply refused to align one of my images no matter how many times I tried.

My first effort with HF was disappointing. I found the output, even after some intensive retouching, less than pleasing. So I decided to give it a second go and here are the results.

Lichen stack 1

Lichen stack 2

I processed both images as close to identically as I could for sharpening and resizing. Stack 2 needed some brightness adding and Stack 1 needed some highlights pulled in.

When I looked  at stack 1 I was gutted at what I thought was extensive ghosting. Looking at the source images however it is clear that this is in fact out of focus bark / foliage behind the deepest plane of focus. I confirmed this by checking with my “insurance shot”, one I took at F11 in case the stacking failed. The ghosting effect is also evident in Stack 2 but HF has arguably handled this a fraction better.

In both shots the there are some soft areas in the top left quadrant where I guess I should have taken more input images.

In my view there is little to choose between them and the HF stack is perhaps a shade better here and the shortcomings are user error.

Here is the insurance shot:

Lichen F11

And herein lies the problem. I find the background on the left intrusive and the foreground is not crisp and sharp. So I would have needed to stop down further or maybe altered the focus point and focused further forward.

In some ways this is fantastic progress for me. I find myself thinking much more critically about my images and what and what is not acceptable. In the field I think a lot more about a) composition and b) what is the depth of field I want and where are the real front and rear planes? Here I got it wrong but learned from the experience. The old saying is that a bad workman blames his tools – not here. Mea culpa.

My general feel for Helicon Focus is still “the jury’s out”. It may be a useful add-on – it is certainly faster than CS4 – and I need to think about the cost-benefit of having this versus plugging away with CS4 and the incredibly slow speed at which it works for DoF extension stacks. maybe the tortoise does beat the hare.

Here, to close, is one I also took this morning and it did work – CS4 processed.

Underside of bracket fungus

Isn’t this grand?

Well, I understand this is my 102nd post so the century is already up. The “followers” are growing – thank you. You seem to prefer “straight” to “comedy” and birds to bugs but, hey, its my blog and I’ll post what I want to. I don’t do parties and I don’t cry (although I may have made an exception if Wales had not won the Triple Crown on Saturday afternoon). There may well be an interlude of a week or so as I am off to sunny Karachi on a business trip. Be patient 🙂