Wednesday 19 April 2023

Focus stacked 3D Stereo pair images - A possible game changer for macro photography?

  After joining the Allan Walls macro community I became aware of stereo imaging due to a challenge being set and a great introductory tutorial. So I threw myself into a new challenge as its just the type of photography I can do from home when Im not managing to do much.

To start with I tried photographing 3 focus stacks of the same subject - ( a taxidermy insect specimen or flower) where I rotated the subject aprox 4-8 degrees between the stacks. When viewed side by side this should produce a 3D image and I was pleasantly surprised when my results paid off very quickly. Although at first I was unaware that if the images are placed in the wrong order the 3D image can appear as if its going away from you rather that the  goal of it coming towards you. 

Now getting everything prepared, set up, lighting right, the focus stacking done correctly, then the lengthy process of stacking images in appropriate software followed by finely detailed editing to ensure each image is edited precisely the same is not for the faint hearted. I have had to learn about taxidermy insect specimens, where to obtain them, how to clean and relax and position them, followed by the fiddly process of setting them up for photos. Then the lighting  can take time as many of these subjects can be super shiny, requiring several layers of diffusion material to avoid specular highlights, plus mini reflectors made from foil to lighten up the areas light doesnt reach. All this within a very tight space, often with the lens within  inches of the subject.

I have now changed from using Michaels Z6 and using my own Sony A7iii on my new WeMacro automated rail which I do prefer for focus stacking - this is controlled on my phone. I feel that almost all my focus stacking works well with this set up, where previously I often had errors in the stacks.

I am using a variety of lens but mostly my Sony 90mm macro lens, sometimes with extension tubes, and sometimes with a Raynox 250. My other main choice of lens is my new Canon MPE 65 MPE, which is taking a bit of getting use to, but is giving me great results. This requires an adapter to fit my camera and I have had some minor issues with connectivity, but Im persevering.

Now that I have had a couple of months practicing the techniques I think Im ready to attempt getting more adventurous with my set ups and will try to add in more depth, using both insects and layers of flowers. Ultimately I want to do this to give lots of depth and interest, loads of details but whilst retaining some of the out of focus bokeh that I love. So its a journey to see what I can create. 

If you are new to stereo photography I will warn you that not everyone is able to view these easily, some people can only see the 3D image with a 3D stereoscopic viewer. I'm very lucky, I can easily defocus my eyes and see most stereo pairs within seconds.  At first I found that crossing my eyes and bringing the images closer to my eyes then very slowly moving the images away, helped me to see the 3D version. Sometimes I find it easier on my computer, sometimes on my phone. 

What I love is seeing macro images that 2-5x life size as stereo pairs as these show depth and detail like I have not seen before, this excites me and is what is pushing me to create more.

I have since come across Brian May's website where I am learning a bit more about this genre, here he encourages people to try creating stereo pairs using mobile phones and a dedicated app - something I intend to try soon. I have purchased a pair of his owl viewers but neither my partner nor I can see the stereo images using these. His websites contain many other useful links and I am working my way through these to learn more. I've not found many photographers using this technique in focus stacking macro photos, but hoping to soon as it will be good to connect with more who are interested in it. 

As for editing the pairs of focus stacked images - this can take hours if the insects are not pristine. If they are not edited identically this can throw off the stereo effect and it just wont work properly.

Watch this space for more this year as its a project I intend to work on all year. I would love to hear your thoughts on this project and any suggestion in the comments or in a message on social media. - EDIT a couple of days after writing this someone suggested that it may be easier for people to view the 3D images if I presented them as 3 images and yes, more people who could not see the 3D version with two images can now see them for the first time. So at the bottom I have added the triple image versions. 

Anemone overload

 My favourite flowers are Anemones - of pretty much every type and as mentioned in my last blog I have had a couple of bunches from the wholesale florists, next day delivery from Holland. They have lasted really well, its been 3 weeks since the first bunch of Anemone Nero and blue mistrals, the blues are on their last days but the Neros should last a few more. The pastel Anemones which arrived a week ago are so beautiful and many are quite a surprise when they unfurl their petals, showing colours Ive never seen before in Anemones.


So far I have concentrated mostly on macro photos and focus stacking, but I feel my photos are a bit "samey". Ive photographed Anemones up close before so these are not much different, although I was hoping to improve by using focus stacking and producing a better result, but Michael agrees with me on the repetitive point too. So I have decided to produce some still life images, but instead of the usual dark and moody approach which I love, I am opting for more of a light and airy, spring feel. I rarely use white in still life so I'm going to step out of my comfort zone and go for a brighter look. This is not natural for me as generally it is not what I like, but if we  don't try different things then we aren't likely to learn and grow. 

I have also been contemplating what my aims are for this year too. I am still inclined to concentrate on learning more about extreme macro and trying to hone macro skills. I was going to pull back on still life, but I am feeling a pull to try to create still life with a different feel to my usual, maybe even trying out  food photography and commercial still life - that is a huge area to explore, where lighting is so important, with lots to learn and all which I can do from home too. For now I am going to start creating still life with my Anemones and a few other flowers over the next couple of weeks and see if I enjoy that. 

My new lenses arrived and I am excited to get using those too. I did have a short test run with them yesterday. the 180 macro lens is amazing, super fast at focusing despite requiring an adapter to fit my camera. It is incredibly heavy though, so I need to use a tripod with it. I cant wait to get out and use it for shooting spring flowers, Im itching to get out amongst the snowdrops and Crocuses but its been far too windy this week and I've not had the energy. Fingers crossed for next week. 

I took a handful of images using the Lensbaby velvet 85, such as the one above, I'm going to have such fun with this out doors. Its manual focus only, but the peak focussing on my Sony A7iii and the magnifying option help a lot, especially whilst using a tripod. The image below is taken with this lens too. A friend suggested it reminds her of Easter, I think it does too.

I thought I would have a play with textures too, something I used to do a lot years ago, but again it feels very much like stuff I have done before and isn't really hitting the spot for me. 

So maybe I need the challenges of learning new skills. I am still considering pulling back from entering competitions as much as I have been and maybe only entering macro, floral and close up. I'm unsure why I feel like not entering much as it has been an enjoyable part of my life and a good driving force to learn and produce better images. For some reason I feel embarrassed about my wins, I don't feel I'm any better at photography than most photographers, I have just had the time and focus to enter. But I'm not really liking how I feel about it all. I will probably still enter IGPOTY as I love this competition and think it is a positive focus, but that might be the only one. Its a strange feeling, hard to explain. The thrill of winning is nice briefly, but the taking part is better. It is kind of resulting in me reviewing what I want out of photography, why I enter competitions and if there is another way forward that I would prefer. One route I am exploring is how I can use my experience to help others and I have started to do this more, although I need to find a better way than in messages as its quite draining on my limited energy.

Another way forward could be starting to give talks again, maybe via zoom. I am unsure on this, partially lacking confidence as it's been a long time, plus brain fog and cognitive dysfunction can be an issue for me a large percentage of time. But I think I can prepare for this by making notes. If anyone has ideas I would welcome suggestions. Obviously having M.E. has an impact on how and what I do. I feel some deep meditation and soul searching coming on :) 

My 2023 photography journey continued

 Well since my last blog I have only managed to get out to do a little photography once due to my health not being too good, so have mostly been concentrating on short creative spells sat at our dining room.  I have swapped between macro photography of insects and flowers, mostly focus stacked, a couple of still life images and even a little dabble into food photography which I really enjoyed. Its been a bit rough health wise but doing photography has really helped to distract me from how I feel both physically and mentally. It also keeps me happy 

My trip out was to Wallington hall to see their little lawn full of purple Crocuses. We set off to arrive as close to opening times as possible on a sunny morning to capture the flowers at their best, but it was busy from the start, with one of the NT photographers set up on the lawn, being rather grumpy at anyone who got in his shots - this made us laugh as he could have gone half an hour early and got the shots without people in. 

 In truth this spot was incredibly difficult for me to reach on my mobility scooter, so anyone with mobility issues or using a mobility device would be wise to check access before going if heading to the walled garden. There is only one access point for those in a wheelchair or on a mobility scooter and it is incredibly steep. 

So as my exhaustion levels have been so high and I have been feeling so unwell lately, I have kept my activities to as low energy as possible. I have enjoyed doing focus stacking sat our table and feel that Im learning more. I've photographed some spring flowers and a few insects aswell. I have also finished creating a new texture pack which I have put up for sale in my Etsy store, a few examples of images with these textures are below. 


Im am starting to get to grips with how to relax and position the taxidermy insect specimens after breaking limbs of quite a few. I never knew there was so much to learn about the care of such specimens and Im so grateful that the macro community involved with Alan Walls's following are so open to sharing and helping each other. I highly recommend anyone starting out in this area to look them up on Discord or Youtube.

Ive had a quick play with still life and hope to do more this coming week after obtaining some nice new items to use. The Cherry blossoms are blooming and I couldnt resist a simple set up. 

I've been planning to try a bit of food photography for a while and as there is a competition this month I decided to push myself to try things Ive not done before. I have to say that I really enjoyed both attempts and will be trying more this year. For the cheesecake set up I preferred  doing straight on shots to flat lay and it was good to use the focus stacking rail for the close up cheesecake slice shots too. I found these easier than doing still life. 

 I have more appreciation for food photographers and stylists after doing these, there are lots of little things to keep in mind, attention to detail is important and sometimes its better to use foods in a slightly different way to how we would eat it - for example a fresh blueberry with sauce over it is going to look a lot more appealing in a photo than a cooked blueberry. Keeping things looking fresh is important too.

This set up of pancakes was actually really easy, although harder to capture the honey dribbling exactly as I wanted in just a couple of attempts - Im sure seasoned food photographers will have several lots of pancakes and berries, and plenty of honey, I was not as prepared. The lighting was not as difficult as I had anticipated, just two lights and a reflector, plus a couple of small diffusers, although I did make a learners error in leaving the room light on.
I did try out some single shots at F8 or F11 then some focus stacked shots at F2.8 just to see which I preferred. I think I prefer the single shots

So all in all I have actually still managed to produced a fair amount of images in spite of not being too good lately.

Blessed Ostara and submerged flowers

 I am still tinkering away creating submerged floral images and thoroughly enjoying myself. Lots of people have been in touch asking questio...