I’ve had a tripod for a few years, but I rarely pull it out of the bag, figuring it’s a lot of work to use. Last week’s challenge, though, showed me one distinct advantage of using a tripod when working with a macro lens. If you set up the shot with camera and tripod, you can then shoot a bunch of images where the focus moves around in the frame.
Why do I care about that? Let’s start with this image:
The middle (big) fungus is in focus but the ones above and below it are not. The macro lens wants to focus in one shot, not in many because the focus range is so tight (after all, that’s kind of the point of a macro lens!).
This image below shows another take on the focus issue. That second row from the top is in focus, but nothing else is, making for a fuzzy bunch of fungi.
At the suggestion of someone in my 52 Frames small group, I read up on how to stack photos and then combine them in Photoshop. So it was back to the tripod and macro lens, with a slightly different angle on the fungi.
I took four shots, each with a different focal point (top, second row, big one sticking out to the left, and bottom row). Then I carefully went through the online instruction video I had found: import into Lightroom, clean up there as needed (but don’t crop at all!) and move to Photoshop and stack them up.
I was amazed how well my first attempt turned out. Things were a bit dark, but in focus all the way down the stack of fungi. Pretty happy with it for my first time through.
I went back out the next day, using a different angle, trying to get two different kinds of fungi off the tree stump. The stacked result was in focus, but a bit on the overexposed side for the right grouping. I was out of time, though, so I submitted this one for the challenge.
Just now, as I was writing, I realized a mask on the right side might work to tone down the brightness so I went back into Lightroom for a quick session. Call it a proof of concept; using a slightly dark mask made the right-side fungi a bit better.
One of the challenges of photography for me is how to capture in the image what my eye saw. The camera’s sensor is not a human eye attached to a brain, so it doesn’t tone down that bright object in the background or “not see” the telephone line that is strung right across that lovely church steeple.
Part of my practice, then, has been to work at seeing everything in the frame before I take the shot. Can I move myself around to eliminate that wire or can I change settings in camera to de-emphasize that bright spot in the background?
The other part has been learning how to use tools, such as Lightroom and Photoshop, to make the photo more like what I remember seeing at the moment I pressed the shutter. I’m not one for HDR images or composites if they weren’t what I was seeing at the time. I tend to like my images natural, just enhanced to what my eye saw, even if camera and eye weren’t quite in sync when the shot was taken.
Now that I’ve used a tripod to take different focal points in a scene, I can see where it would be useful in landscape photos as well. More crisp definition of specific spots in the image, rather than trying to open up the lens and hope it all is in focus in the one shot. Kind of makes me wish I’d known about stacking and tripod tricks when I was at Grand Tetons last year.
I fell in love with the process of taking pictures, with wandering around finding things. To me it feels like a kind of performance. The picture is a document of that performance.