Photos: Manuel Fassler
As a photographer who specializes mainly in people-photography, with nature photography (wildlife, landscape and macro photography) being only some kind of “hobby“ for me, I consider my way of shooting macros as “quick and dirty” as there are more sophisticated ways to do it. However, I think it is worth sharing how I do it, especially if you prefer to travel light and don’t carry much equipment around.
Speaking of equipment, I almost exclusively use my Canon EF 100mm f2.8 L Macro lens combined with a full-format camera (in the picture shown afterwards it is the Canon 5DsR). No matter where I go and what I shoot, that lens is always in my backpack as I use it for many other purposes as well. And that’s it, no flashes, no ringlights, no macro-slides, no tripods, nothing… just a lens and a camera.
The main problem (especially when shooting without artificial light) with macro shooting is the very narrow depth of field (just on to two millimeters) resulting from the “long“ focal length and the short distance from the sensor to the object (or in other words: the scale of the object on the camera sensor). When shooting in normal light you have to use an aperture of about f4 to f5.6 to land at some reasonable shutter speeds without pushing the ISO too much. So what I do to solve that problem is basically using the method of “freehand-focus- stacking“. As you can google „focus-stacking“ and there are many great “how-to’s“ and tutorials out there, I won’t explain the method, but just tell you how I do it.
Taking the pictures
Basically I start in manual mode with ISO 100, f4 and adjust the shutter speed until I get a well exposed photograph. I try to work with shutter speeds shorter than 1/160s, especially with the 5DsR to avoid shaky pictures. Then I set the camera to “burst mode” (five frames/s with the 5DsR), focus on the object and then switch the autofocus (AF) OFF. I then use the manual focus of the lens to adjust the sharpness to be slightly in front of the object (all while keeping the camera at the same distance to the object – that is the tricky part!). And now it gets real: while pressing the shutter (and keeping it pressed), I turn the focus ring, so that the focal plane wanders from “slightly in front of the object“ to “slightly behind the object“. If you have done it just perfect, you’ll have shot about 10-15 pictures (depending on the size of the object and the depth of field – maybe you’ll need more or fewer pics) during that.
As a little bit of shaking can’t be avoided (at least I can’t) I’d recommend leaving enough space to allow for a little bit of cropping as you’ll have to align all the pictures in the stack afterwards. I know that this process, especially the combination of shooting, focusing during shooting and keeping a steady hand, requires some practice, but it is possible.
I work with Adobe Bridge (the RAW-converter works exactly the same as in Lightroom) and Photoshop to post-process my pics. As with all my pics I only do basic corrections (lens correction, basic lighting corrections, fringing, etc.) in the RAW-converter and then do the rest in Photoshop. No matter what you do to your series, the best way is to make the exact same changes to all the pics in one series (works best with synchronizing the settings) and then load the files to Photoshop as layers.
After that just mark all the layers, press Edit- Auto align layers and Edit – Auto Blend layers and wait for the result to show up … if you’ve done a good job on shooting the stack there will be no corrections necessary, just a little cropping because you’ll get some transparent parts along the edges due to the alignment of the different pics of the stack. Now all you have to do is to merge all layers (Cmd+Alt+Shift+E) and go on like you do with all your other pics.
That’s about it – and good luck with trying out “my” method.
Photography is a chance for me to express myself and my creativity. I hope I can give you the chance to see and experience the world a little bit through my eyes and see what I’ve seen… and probably even feel a what I’ve felt, when I was taking the photos.