Three Ways to Improve Your Macro Photography


Three Ways to Improve Your Macro Photography

Macro photography can be a real challenge for any nature photographer. Getting into that tiny world opens up a whole bunch of opportunities as well as frustrations. Here are 3 Ways to Improve your Macro Photography. You'll have more fun and flexibility the next time you head out to photograph the world up close.


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Focus Blending in Photoshop CC

I just recently taught a Photoshop Layers workshop and one of the most appreciated techniques was when I demonstrated Focus Blending. So, I thought you all might enjoy seeing the technique as well. 

Focus blending is an incredible tool that is primarily used in Macro photography but can have some great benefits for wide angle landscape photography as well. The general ideas is that you take photos of the same subject while focusing at different parts of the slicing up your subject into equal parts from the foreground to the background, to maximize sharpness throughout. In macro photography, this can be extremely useful when wanting to maintain an out of focus background but having every part of your subject in sharp focus. In wide angle landscape photography, instead of having to push your aperture to f/22 which typically degrades the image and causes vignetting on certain lenses, you can set your aperture to f/8 or f/11 and simply take 3 or 4 images, changing where you place the focus point from image to image.

I don't want to go into too much detail on capturing these images as that can be an entirely different post. Here, I'd just like to tell you how to put them together in Photoshop. 

You start with however many images you need to get the entire subject in focus. In the demo below, I just needed 2. In this image, I focused on the foreground bud. In the second, on the background bud. I did not want to shoot this at f/22 because the soft background would have been in partial focus and would have become distracting. Not to mention, shooting at f/11 allowed me to use a faster shutter speed to avoid any movement due to wind.

Focus Blend 1.jpg
Focus Blend 2.jpg

I brought both photos into Photoshop CC. 

Go to File-Scripts-Load Files Into Stack

Focus Blend Scripts Load Files Into Stack.jpg

Click "Add Open Files" and then click OK

Make sure you Shift click or CMD/CTR click on all the layers in the layers panel at this point so that they're all selected. They should both/all be highlighted in the same gray color. If you skip this step, the "Auto align and Auto Blend" options will be greyed out.

Focus Blend 2 Layers selected in Layers panel.jpg

From here, if you've shot on a tripod, you can likely go to "Edit-Auto Blend Layers". If you were handholding, you have to first "Edit-Auto align Layers" and then go to "Edit-Auto Blend Layers"

Focus Blend Auto Blend Layers Menu.jpg

A dialogue box will pop up. Select "Stack Images" with the settings you see below and click OK.

Focus blend Auto Blend Layers.jpg

Depending on how many images you have, their file sizes, and your computer, this could take 30 seconds to...a dang long time! 

When complete, you'll have a new document (Untitled) that has the 2 original layers and now a third layer that is blended.

Layers Final Merged.jpg

Photoshop has been kind enough to provide you with the separate layers and their corresponding masks. If the software had any trouble, you can target the mask you need and tweak the areas that need help with brushes.

The resulting image should have the sharpest portions of all of the original photos combined. In this case, Photoshop did an amazing job and I was very happy with the results...and it only took about 20 seconds to process it. Yay!

Focus Blend Final.jpg

Have fun focus blending!!

Check out my future workshops Here!

Thanks again for all your support! It's an honor to help with your photography education.

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I Just "Have" To

When you're out with your camera trying to decide on compositions, do you ever stop in your tracks and say "I just HAVE to photograph that!"?  This has happened many times in my years as a landscape photographer. In the beginning, it was rather infrequent. This was because of lack of experience and experimentation. I simply didn't know how to make a scene look great on my little two dimensional piece of paper that I got back from the developer. Yes...that was called film! 

I didn't really understand in the beginning, that switching to a wide angle lens would emphasize distance and create space. Nor did I know that using a telephoto would compress my scene and bring elements visually closer together. When these skills are learned, and preferably practiced ( have to practice), you start to see the world a little differently. You start to pick up on possibilities before even raising the camera to your face. You start to look at objects not just for their obvious traits, but for their relationships with the objects and light around them. So when I was working with my photography students in the Narrows of Zion National Park, even though the day was getting long and we were all exhausted, I stopped at one point and said..."We simply have to photograph this wall! I'll kick myself all the way back to Charleston if we don't photograph this wall." But to simply take out a 50mm lens, which is considered the range at which things look "normal" to us, would be a disservice to this wall. It needed to be shot wide angle. I'm sure my macro lovers would spend hours photographing the minute details...and I wish I could have too...but when you just have a couple moments, emphasize the awesomeness of the scene by stretching that wall further than it actually was. A wide angle lens will accomplish this. Draw the viewer into the scene by placing it at an angle and increase the apparent size of the foreground by getting close to it. My 10-18mm (Sony a6500 1.5 crop) was the perfect tool for the job, and conveniently, the only lens I brought. Hey...this is a tough hike...carry light!

I think it was worth the stop on the way back. What do you think?

Narrows Wavy Wall lg.jpg





Are We Saying Goodbye To NIK?

Are We Saying Goodbye to NIK?

I'm sure some of you, if not all of you, have heard about the imminent death of one of my favorite Photoshop and Lightroom Plugins...NIK. Yes, it's true, NIK is not going to be never again...I mean really not at all...not ever. It's going the way of the Dodo! Some folks have already reported it being "glitchy" while others have told me that it has stopped working altogether on their systems. 

I've been exploring other software options to possibly replace some of my favorite tools in NIK's Color Efex Pro4. I have Topaz Black and White Effects which I will likely do my b/w work since Silver Efex will cease to work one day...but Color Efex was my "go-to" plug-in. I used it all the time...for practically every image. 

While it may not "have it all", there is a partial replacement for Color Efex, and that is Luminar by Macphun. A few of the creative folks at NIK are now working with Macphun and some of the technology is spilling over, albeit with a new face. 
Luminar has a good number of the filters that Color Efex had but with different names for those filters. Soft Focus is similar to NIK's Glamour Glow and "Golden Hour" is just like Nik's Skylight Filter for instance. Playing with the filters will show you the effects and some are pretty darn impressive. The new AI filter is nothing short of amazing. It's artificial intelligence analyzes the entire photo and with a push of a single slider, it can dramatically change an image. 

Here is an image of the basic interface. In case you're curious, this is a zoom blur of a peacock feather which is why it looks a little...odd. 

As you can see, the interface is pretty sleek and not at all intimidating. 

Here is an image of the interface with one of the many preset lists available to you. The presets are really great for people wanting a "quick fix" to an image without getting too involved. Hey...not all of us want to spend hours on a photo...sometimes we just want it to look better and send it out to our friends. This is a wonderful program for beginners, intermediate, and advanced photo editors.

It has a choice of workspaces with pre-determined filters that would most often be used for that type of image. For example, there's a "landscape" workspace which brings up filters such as hue/sat, color temp, tone, clarity, foliage, golden hour and more. You can make changes and save your own workspace that includes your most often used filters. It's kinda like "recipes" in Color Efex. 

Remember that AI filter I mentioned, here are some before and after photos.

Here is a RAW photo from an HDR set and this is the under exposed image. I would either process this alone or combine it with another exposure to get a balanced image. 

Here is the same image with NOTHING but the AI filter applied...this time at about 50%. It has analyzed the photo and made adjustments to color, exposure, contrast, and I honestly don't know what else. It's a mystery. But it's a cool mystery that does wonders!

Here is the same image with AI applied at 100%. Unlike saturation, contrast, vibrance, or Dehaze in Lightroom or Camera RAW, this filter seems to be able to be pushed quite far before the image starts to look "bad". I kinda like the 50% on this image or perhaps 75. 100 is pushing it a bit too much for my taste but each image will respond differently. I tried 50% on the peacock feather and it got over saturated. But honestly I have yet to see a single slider in any program make so many changes at once.

This program is currently only available for MAC but they're supposed to release a PC version by autumn. It's a plug-in for Lightroom and Photoshop as well as a stand alone program. Luminar is non-destructive and can batch process. It is not, however, an organizer like Lightroom.  It can incorporate all of the other Macphun software tools you own and it works with layers and masking. You can work with textures in this program, blend different exposures, replace a sky, or simply make easy adjustments in record time. The main thing that is missing when considering it a "replacement" for Color Efex are control points. That technology has not been introduced in this software. If it is someday, it will likely turn into my "go to" plug-in when NIK stops working. I'm hoping I've got some time before that happens but in the meantime, this is a viable option. 

There are links for the software at the bottom of any page on my web site as well as within this blog post. They're running a special right now for 75% off of a bundle that includes the software, 500 overlays, several e-books by Ian Plant and Andrew Gibson, preset packs, and more. 

I don't often suggest specific software to folks as everybody has their own workflow and preferences but I've gotten a lot of questions lately about NIK and where to go if the plug-in stops working altogether. I thought if there was so much interest that I should share it with everybody. 

I hope you all enjoy your day and I thank you for your support and encouragement. 

Best of light to you all!


2017 Workshops are filling and I'm working on 2018 right now. Any special requests? I'm creating a couple new workshops to expand creativity that I'll offer in 2018. Stay tuned!