I love working with my macro lens, and over the years I have come to accept that I will not get front to back sharpness for subjects that are not relatively flat. And then I started working with a CamRanger 2.
We originally purchased the CamRanger 2 to replace the clunky tethering setup I was using to connect my Fujifilm XT4 to Lightroom while we shot portraits. I noticed it has the capability to focus stack, and found the perfect opportunity to test it out on our recent trip to Hawaii.
When I saw these three orchids, I started with my usual approach, macro lens with the camera on a tripod and this is what I captured (note, this image has had a creative processing treatment using Nik Color Effects Pro and a Flypaper Textures preset). You’ll notice the front sections of the first two orchids are relatively sharp and the rest of the orchids are soft. Its hard to visually land when looking at this photo. The shooting conditions also didn’t make it easy, the sun was popping in and out of clouds, the tropical breezes were blowing, and I had a few people with eye phones placing them near my shoulders.
I decided to try the CamRanger 2, I mean, why not? I wasn’t getting the image I wanted, and things were already challenging, so why not slow down and see if I could get a step change improvement. CamRanger has many short helpful tutorials, so I won’t do the step-by-step here, but will call out one important thing that took me a moment to lock in. You set the “front” focus by touching your finger on your screen. The last or back focus is set by using the step back and forward areas – not by touching the screen. It isn’t intuitive given how long touch technology has been around, but its easy and straightforward once you remember how it works.
I took 8 focus stacked images and brought them into Lightroom. Here are my steps:
- Apply same basic adjustments in Lightroom on all 8 using the Auto Sync feature.
- Select Edit In/Open as Layers in Photoshop (this appears last in my list of selections
- Once in Photoshop select all layers in the Layers palette, and choose Edit/Auto Align Layers/Auto (nothing else checked). This will address focus drift, where the subject becomes larger or smaller in the frame depending on where you focus.
- Choose Edit/Auto Blend Layers/Stack Images and the magic begins. Once Photoshop finishes creating masks for the sharp areas on each layer, you will noticed a merged layer at the top of the stack.
For this image, I felt a portrait/vertical crop would work best, and then I removed the distracting bright leaf with Content Area Fill using the Object Selection Tool (one of my favorite new features in Photoshop).
There are things I like about the image, and things I don’t like. I like the zig-zag diagonal lines of the flowers, and I think the subjects are beautiful. I don’t like the bottom part of the flower in the top of the frame but it would have been difficult for me to remove. I wish the light was softer and the background less cluttered. When I find myself having mixed feelings about an image, I start to explore creative processing techniques (especially where there is more I like than dislike). I turned to Nik Color Effects Pro, one of my go-to plug-ins and explored the presets I purchased from Flypaper Textures. In addition, to amazing texture packs they have great preset packs for some of the Nik plug-ins. I chose the Shop preset in their Texture Pack 6, and added a Pastel and Cross-Processing effect. I decided to go with something that felt more like island tropical, playful, colorful, and upbeat. Here is my final image.