My name is Wei Li, and I’m a freelance portraiture photographer and photography blogger. It is an honor to guest blog for illuminate! and I hope my upcoming few entries will be of help to you.
When I am not photographing people, I enjoy going out to parks and taking a few macro photographs using a macro lens.
Therefore, in my first post with illuminate!, I will talk about the Peaking function on Sony NEX cameras. For those of you who are unaware, shooting in manual focus mode with a Sony NEX camera allows you to activate the Peaking function.
With Peaking activated, the area of sharpest focus in your shot will appear colorized and this makes manual focusing a joy to use.
The guys at Imaging Resource has a wonderful video on exactly how Peaking works.
Before I go any further, let’s quickly talk about some useful stuff that I usually bring along during my macro sessions:
A sturdy tripod
A good tripod helps you to lock your camera into position without any chances of it toppling.
A macro lens
While most lenses allow you to go close to a subject, a macro lens is one class better by going really close. For the photos that I am sharing today, I used the Sony E 30mm F3.5 Macro Lens.
A lot of patience
Patience is not exactly a photography gear but it is a well-appreciated trait in a photographer. Many times, I spent no less than 30 minutes to nail a shot.
Now back to the topic.
All the images you see in this post are taken with a Sony NEX-7 and the 30mm f/3.5 lens like I mentioned.
Now take a look at how I set up my camera for the shot.
With Peaking, I was able to get the core of the flower in focus – not exactly an easy task because it was a windy day and I had to wait till the air was still.
Check out the 100% enlargement of the shot.
Apart from being extremely helpful in manual focusing, my favorite use of Peaking is in the area of focus stacking.
In macro photography, photographers are often faced with the problem of having thin depth of field. This is caused by two main reasons, as far as I’m concerned.
Proximity to subject
Being too close to your subject will limit your available depth of field.
The traditional thinking is that stopping down your lens aperture from f/2.8 (for example) to f/11 helps to increase the depth of field. However, in macro photography, because you are so close to your subject, the aperture value has little impact in terms of depth of field.
Take a look at the shot below.
Now take a look at how close I am to the cactus.
As I mentioned, with your subject being so close to you, stopping down your lens aperture will not help much to increase the depth of field.
The cactus shot above was shot at f/11 and even then, the foreground (bottom left corner) is clearly out of focus.
This is where focus stacking really comes in handy.
Focus stacking is a technique used to increase depth of field of a photograph by taking multiple shots of the subject with different areas in focus. Next, you merge the images together in post-production to produce a sharp image from front to back.
And with Peaking, I must say that focus stacking is so much more easy to use.
To collect images for my focus stacking post-production, I took four images in succession. Each of these four images has a different area in focus and I indicated them with a ‘X’ mark.
Remember I said that my favorite use of Peaking is in focus stacking? With Peaking, you are able to determine how much of a particular shot is in focus or see if you missed out any area in the shot.
Now, with these four images, you need to bring them back home for post-production. The good news is that you don’t need special software to create stacked images. I personally use Adobe Photoshop CS5 for my focus stacking post-production and I remember it is available in CS4 as well.
Now with the four photos, here’s what you need to do:
- Create one file with all four layers stacked on each of in a linear arrangement. This means that you SHOULD stack the image from shot 1 to shot 4 and NOT jumble up the sequence of focused images.
- Select all four layers, go to Edit>Auto align layers.
- Once the layers are aligned, go to Edit>Auto blend layers.
- Let the software run some processing and you will get an image with the borders slightly out of focused. This is caused by auto-alignment and auto-blending.
- Crop the image to get rid of the out-of-focused areas.
There, just like that, you will get yourself a sharp image of the cactus.
Take a look at the file image in Photoshop and you will see that the four layers are masked in terms of areas in focus.
The white area represents the part of the shot in focus. Because the four white areas are aligned and merged into one shot, you get a shot that is in focus from front to back.
I’ve tried to do a similar shot like this with a DSLR in the past. Trust me when I say that Peaking makes a lot of difference in terms of seeing where you want your subject in focus.
Now with a little enhancement, this is the final product.
I’ve uploaded a large version of the final image here for you to download and inspect the sharpness of the image.
If you would like to try it out on your own, I’ve attached the four images of the cactus here for you to download and try. Do note that the images are meant for you to practice focus stacking and not for any commercial purposes.
Well, that’s it for this long entry. I hope you enjoyed this post and found it helpful.
Do visit my blog to find out more stuff on photography!