Favolaschia calocera, commonly known as the orange pore fungus. Image by Eduardo Libby

Close-up Photography: To focus-stack… or better not!

I think there are two basic types of photographers: those that prefer making images and those that prefer optimizing their photos in the computer. I think I belong to the first type… at least most of the time!

We all know that depth of field control is critical in macro and close-up photography. A large aperture is useful for isolating a subject from the background, but this can make it hard to maintain enough sharpness in the subject’s important sections.

The advances in image-stacking software like Helicon Focus, Zerene Stacker and even Adobe Photoshop allow us to reach the compromise between having both enough depth of field and isolation from the background that optics alone cannot accomplish.

 

Orange mushrooms in the oak forests of San Gerardo de Dota, a great destination for birdwatchers too. Image by Eduardo Libby
A one shot image in the oak forests of San Gerardo de Dota, a great destination for birdwatchers too. I used fill-in flash with a small soft box to bring out the color and used a small aperture to bring enough definition to the forest.

 

In recent months I have made a comeback to close-up photography as part of a project that will document plant life in some special habitats. When composing a photograph the first decision I have found myself making is whether I can get the image in one shot (which I prefer) or if I must resort to focus stacking. Shooting a sequence of images over several seconds is hard to do in the field due to wind or even changes in ambient lighting.

I want to share with you a few images that illustrate the two approaches. They are all fungi: the mushroom season in Costa Rica is roughly from May through October but climate varies a lot in different regions and you can find mushrooms year round if you know where to look for them.

By the way, if you could help me to name some of these species I will be very grateful!

 

Photo of a tree trunk with fungi. Photo by Eduardo Libby
One shot was all that I needed here as all the fungi are in one plane. I chose a medium aperture on a moderate wide angle lens in order to make the background recognizable.

 

White mushrooms in San Gerardo de Dota, Costa Rica. Image by Eduardo Libby.
A focus stacked image at a large aperture, with my camera remote controlled from a smartphone running the Helicon Remote app.

 

Favolaschia calocera, commonly known as the orange pore fungus. Image by Eduardo Libby
A view of Favolaschia calocera, commonly known as the orange pore fungus growing on a 5 cm (2 in) thick branch. I used focus stacking with a fairly small aperture so I would not have to take and process a lot of images.

 

 

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