Macro Photography and Focus Stacking

Updated: Oct 19, 2020

Photo stacking the macro world of the Amazon Rainforest

The Amazon Rainforest is a beautiful place, from the vast trees that stretch to the skies all the way to the abundant amount of ants that charge the forest floors. Where the biodiversity of mammals thrive, such as the elusive Jaguar Panthera onca and the Lowland Tapir Tapirus terrestris, to name a few, the insects follow and in numbers that makes the Amazon Rainforest a vast place for a macro photographer.

Here I have dove into the world of extreme macro photography, and in particular, insects. I find it fascinating to get close to the small life that inhabits our planet, specifically in the Amazon Rainforest of the lowlands of Peru. During the hot and humid days, I spend time locating flies that are found low to the forest floor, and later, setting up my equipment, which includes a 190 Manfrotto tripod, a focusing rail, a Canon 5D Mark IV, the Canon MP-E 65mm lens, and a remote shutter release. These are the tools that make the magic happen.

How it’s done!

To obtain these unique shots, I use the Canon MP-E 65MM F/2.8 1-5X Macro lens that gains its full potential when it gets close to the subject. Now this is a useful lens when getting close to a selected subject, such as an insect, as it zooms to 5X macro, getting tremendously close. It is like working with a microscope. However, there is a problem: the depth of field is far too short. When dealing with small insects like a jumping spider, for example, the depth of field becomes shorter, minimising how much of the creature is in focus.

I solve the short depth of field problem with a process called focus stacking. This is a very time-consuming process that has to be dealt with when creating just one single image. I focus on the closest point of the subject to the lens and take the first photograph. With the focusing rail, I then focus behind the previous focused area, but at a 10th of a millimetre at a time. Slowly working my way to the back, I take up to 80-100 images to fully capture all focused points, but the subject has to remain still. The images are then loaded onto a stacking program called Helicon Focus. The images are stacked together where the focus point of each image is stitched together to form one fully focused image at 100%.

These stunning images bring out some of the unseen, detailed life of the macro world hidden from the human eye. When I obtain the final image, the detail that is hidden from our normal vision is all of a sudden made into a visual reality. I find when I produce a final image, each individual insect transforms from a small, unnoticeable thing that most people call a pest in modern society to a subject of fascination, each exhibiting its own personality.

Here I continue the dangerous search for the little critters that dominate the vast rainforest of the Neo-tropics. These insects may look harmless, but some of them can send a grown man to the hospital with just one bite or sting. I have to take extreme caution while searching for and handling these insects. Venom aside, this does not stop me from continuing this portfolio in studying the design of insects and arachnids of the macro world in the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest.

Untamed Photography's macro workshop/tour is a great way to gain those skills to get what it takes to photograph the macro world. Located in the Amazon Rainforest set in the lowlands of Peru, our award winning wildlife photographers will take you on a macro adventure where endless opportunities thrive.

Written & Images by Mark A Fernley