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33. Macro Photography with Photo Stacking and Tutorial

Last Updated: 13th Feb 2019

By Frank Festa

Macro Photography with Photo Stacking and Tutorial

Hi All,
Photography is loosely defined as the “collection of electromagnetic waves”. What are electromagnetic waves? Very simply put – radiant energy. There are different types of electromagnetic waves in the world around us. These waves include radio waves, microwaves, infrared waves, visible light rays, ultraviolet rays, X-rays and gamma rays. For the purpose of this article, we will limit ourselves to the waves of the visible light spectrum. You all are aware of the colors of the rainbow so in a nut shell, that’s the visible light spectrum. These are the rays of which we humans are able to see. Remember also, different animals have the ability to see beyond this spectrum of visible light. The remaining rays or waves are beyond our ability to visualize without specialized equipment.

We are all semi-familiar with the different waves. We all have listened to radio broadcasts, infrared is just beyond the visible frequency of red, ultraviolet, on the opposite side of the spectrum, is just beyond visible purple. Many rock collectors use ultraviolet light emitters for viewing rock specimens susceptible to that particular range of light, namely fluorescence. Most of us have had an X-ray in our lives. These rays penetrate through and past fleshy tissue and reveal the boney structures of our bodies. Gamma rays are in a field of their own.

Copper Displaying A spectrum of Color

How do we “collect” visible electromagnetic waves? Historically speaking, the answer is far too involved to discuss here, but is a great topic for personal research. This involved the invention of a crude camera like device with a tiny hole drilled in one side, glass magnifying lens, the development of light sensitive papers and chemicals. It involved the development of what would later be identified as a true camera used to capture visible light and, the development of glass lens. Many years ago visible light was collected on glass plates using silver nitrate. Then “films” of varying abilities came along that were light sensitive to what was termed photographic emulsions. These films were limited to black and white photos only. This process used different chemicals to form images on film. The film could have been made of paper, plastic. Each new development in the field of photography led to even newer developments and advancements.

Most of us grew up with film cameras of one type or another. We are aware of both black and white film and color films. We are aware of the developments in camera technology, lens designs and the emergence and growth of an entire industry. What would the world be like if photography never had been invented? Photos are a major part of our lives. In fact, every aspect of our very lives revolve around photos. Every curriculum, every industry, every book, every profession uses photography. There is not a single entity on this planet that does not employ photography. And, photography has gone beyond our world to far beyond the stars. The Hubble Telescope brought us photos of sights so far away it is incomprehensible to have even imagined such sights.

Photography, is the representation, the mirror image of a three dimensional object as seen in two dimensions. Not only is a photo a visible tangible entity, photography captures time itself. Look in your family photo album. Look at the Hubble’s photos. Everything you see in a photo, is from time past.

3 Dimensional specimen

A 3 dimensional object as seen on a flat 2 dimensional plane on a black background.

From “point and shoot” film cameras, to motion picture cameras to digital cameras recording images on unseen electronic sensors, photography has come a long way since it's inception. Photography has branched out into many many different fields from artistic, to scientific, medical, portraits, personal, “YouTube” videos, “Facebook” on and on and on. One field in particular and the topic of this article is “Macro-Photography” or close-up photography. Of which we will be dealing with rocks and minerals and how to photograph them. Close-up photography also deals with the microscopic to parts of much larger objects. Picture photographs of one cell creatures, blood cells, the internal workings of a wind-up watch with all of its gearing to a thumbnail sized section of a circuit board inside a telecommunications satellite.

Several Rutile Crystals Entombed in Quartz

Macro Photography is a specialized field within the realm of photography. This type of captured visible light involves very close to extreme close-up photo taking and does require some specialized equipment. For example: one can photograph a specimen of crystal clusters attached to the host material close up. Move the camera a little closer and photograph a single crystal cluster of the same specimen. Move even closer and photograph a single crystal in the same cluster. Or, with the use of greater magnification, such as incorporating the use of a microscope, photograph a microscopic crystal attached to the single crystal. These examples all fall into the category of close up or macro photography. So, there are degrees of closeness one can shoot at. This relative closeness will be based on what you are looking for in your photo and the equipment you will be using. Imagine photographing a whale or a single celled creature. What degree of closeness are you looking for? Hopefully this article will be able to detail the ‘ins and outs” of this wonderful creative experience. We are not going into detailed photographic information but we will discuss the actual hands on “how to’s” to taking basic close up photographs. Some personal research would certainly help those who always look for more in their search to explain specific aspects.

Cavity filled Amygdaloid Rock in Close View

Epidote filled Cavities within Amygdaloid Rock

As an aside…the Internet contains handfuls of information. The information found here in this write-up is basically intended for all of us amateurs. Professional photographers, highly experienced mineral photographers, amateur mineral photographers or even camera experienced people should have already established their own procedures and techniques. These trained and/or experienced folks already know how to achieve great results in the composition of mineral photos. The information here is geared toward the amateur, the guy/gal out there who would very much like to take a great photo of his/her treasure. But, after countless attempts, their flair has waned after not having produced the desired results. Sometimes just that little push in the right direction, can help to reinvigorate ones motivation. We are not going to invest countless amounts of money, work in a laboratory setting, build technical set ups, use the most expensive gear. No, what we will do here is to establish a simple functional set up for the least amount of money possible and create highly respectable photographs. Maybe not like some of the photos seen on the Internet or even some of the breath taking mineral examples as seen on the rock and mineral website, MinDat. Let’s wait and see. Maybe we will.

I’ve seen countless professional styled set ups on countless web pages. Read countless “how to” articles. Visited beautifully laid out websites full of photos. Macro photography can be accomplished on a shoe string budget and right in your own living area. Please don’t be intimidated by someone else's work. Countless numbers of the thousands of photos seen on MinDat or viewed on the many Internet websites are absolutely beautiful. But, how and by whom some of those photos were taken is a mystery. Because lots of those photos were taken by amateurs.

I do amateur photography, both regular and macro, work for volunteer organizations, charitable organizations, fire departments, various clubs, offering demonstrations when asked to. Or, anyone who asks for help. Besides collecting rocks I love to shoot large images of small objects, either through a trinoccular stereo microscope or posing specimens on my work table. My subjects range in size from cabinet sized specimens to microscopic specimens to close up views of intricate sections of large objects. My subjects include a whole host of bugs, insects, flowers, plants, coins, rocks, minerals, circuit boards, electronic components, specific sections of hand written documents, antiques, and parts of things just mentioned. Every object regardless of size is composed of smaller parts.

Remember there are no “carved in stone rules" to successfully shoot macro photography. There is no right or wrong way to approach this subject, so please do not feel this is something you can not do. I want you to feel at home and comfortable working with bits of possibly large objects. Anyone of any age can shoot in macro. This is a relaxing pass time or hobby that can produce exciting results. Sure there will be failures but with some practice you will be producing high quality photographs that you will excite you. You may even have enlargements made of your work, framed and hung on the walls.

Our ultimate goal will be to produce great looking mineral photos. And, in order to do that, you really need to first study the mineral photos as seen on the various web sites. Yes, study them, draw conclusions on what constitutes a good mineral photo. What “look” appeals to you. It is quite important to understand what you consider good as everyone has their own opinions. Some of the elements you want to look for are clarity of the view. Clarity will define the mineral so it is recognizable. Fine adjustments on your focus control or aperture setting will achieve crystal clarity. Study the backgrounds, the area behind the specimen. Backgrounds can come in a wide variety of colors and patterns. You can use black, white or colored backgrounds, black fading to white, white fading to black. You can have spot colors behind the specimen, gradient patterns, star burst patterns, lens flairs. The possibilities are endless and this is why you must study these possibilities to be aware of them. Possibly your specimen may not need a background but will be large enough by itself to fill the photo. You could have the entire specimen in focus or just a crystal on a blurred field. Please take some time to study mineral photos for composition and content, light and shadow, balance, color, subject centered, subject off center. Once you find a style you like, try to duplicate this in your photos. What we will be doing here will be to physically pose a specimen, apply and adjust lighting set-ups and take numerous "shots" of said specimen at varying camera distances from specimen. Then later, in post work combine all the shots we took into a single photograph.

Single Rutile Crystal Measuring 10mm

So, let’s begin: Yes, as with everything, there are several prerequisites we need to discuss. The following information is how I personally shoot macro. Again this type of photography is not carved in stone. My way is a basic system to get great results. Others may do it differently. There are numerous ways to go about shooting macro. Just the same as there are several different ways to shoot travel photos, landscape photos, or even “selfies”. The means do not have to justify the ends. Our only concern is with the results. Not necessarily how we arrived at those results. Once you begin macro shooting and familiarize yourself with the gear and the techniques, you may find other methods that you may feel are more to your liking. Use the methods you are comfortable with and that give the best results. I am offering the methods and techniques comfortable to me.

Should you be just starting out and need to purchase a piece of equipment, limit your expenditures for right now. Use the equipment you already have. It will not be necessary to run out and buy equipment. But, when buying equipment, cost should not be the deciding factor, buy what you can afford. Borrowing is a great way to start out. Ebay offers great deals on items you may need. Shop around for used equipment, brand new gear is not necessary. Later, as you become more and more familiar with cameras, lights and other components then will be the time to study new equipment and gear for possibly purchases.

Let’s first list the gear and equipment you will need to start out with. We will read through the gear list then return and discuss, in more detail, the items on that list. Also……. I can only give you short descriptions and limited details. You must assume most of the weight of gathering information to fully understand what we will be doing here. Should you desire details, simple Internet research will give you most of what you want to know, practice and the “hands on approach” will give you the experience. "Practice and Experience" will be invaluable and you must do both in order to be successful, as with anything. Using a digital camera and a computer will give you instant results. You can shoot and see your photo in seconds after transferring the photo data to the computer. This is what I like to do, with laptop at my side and USB cable plugged in, I can shoot, transfer the data and see the shot in seconds. By having the ability to instantly see the shot any corrections that may be needed in either the specimen position , angle of shot or lighting can be corrected. A new shot can then be taken and reviewed. With this type of ease and speed you can practice on numerous subjects, visualize the results, then correct any problems and shoot again, over and over.

Discussion and explanation of items and gear: Gear and Equipment List

1. You will need a computer. Most people have a functioning operational computer. A laptop, tower, any computer make or brand will do. Obviously computers have memories. The greater the memory capacity the better. The faster the processing time the better. A newer computer is better than a computer using “floppy disks”. My computer is a six year old ASUS laptop.

2. Obviously you will need a camera, preferably a digital camera. I must stress any digital camera will do. Expensive equipment is not necessary. A digital camera that can accept interchangeable lens is what we are looking for. Also a camera with a digital viewing screen and a remote shutter controller is great to work with. A film camera is not going to work here. But, not to dissuade anyone from trying.....use the camera you have.

I use three (3) different cameras for different setups and different environments. But all are used to shoot regular everyday style photos, macro photos and microscopic photos, with the proper camera-to-microscope adapters. My large Canon EOS T5i has the ability to use interchangeable lens. Many brands and manufacturers make cameras that have the ability to use different lens other than the lens that came with the camera. In fact, a separate camera body can be purchased with out a lens. Leaving the photographer to purchase his choice of lens. An extremely rugged, durable piece of equipment is an Olympus "Stylus Tough" camera. This camera is pocket sized like the "Cool Pix", waterproof for on a rainy day or even under water and comes with a macro setting. This camera is my every day go anywhere camera due to its size, producing great results.

2a. Should your camera not have the capability of accepting interchangeable lens - fear not. Most if not all of today’s cameras come with a built in macro shooting setting mode. You will have to read your specific camera manual to find how to activate and use this setting. One quick tip I can offer, normally the macro setting icon is in the shape of a flower such as a tulip. Your camera may have macro mode or even a super macro mode which will get you even closer to your target. Remember, the closer you get to your target, the distance between the camera lens and target will become quite short. When shooting very close, light striking your target may not be sufficient to return an acceptable photo. There is additional equipment that can provide the necessary amount of light, such as a light ring. A light ring fits over and around your camera lens or over the entire camera. They come in battery powered units containing LED lighting. Using a camera in the Tulip Macro Mode is limited to a single photo. You can take as many single shots as you like but these shots can not be combined into a single photo. It is always a good practice to take multiple shots from multiply positions and camera angles. Taking a single shot could be devastating if that one shot does not turn out quite right. Personally, I take hundreds of photos when at a single collecting site. By doing this, I will almost be assured the captured images will be of high quality and composition. The less than good shots can be easily deleted.

3. Having a camera with the ability to use interchangeable lens is a far better camera choice and will be necessary in this discussion.

3a. You will want to use a specifically designed close up lens for macro photography.... a macro lens. These lens come in a wide variety at various prices, shop around. Some camera brands will only accept a macro lens produced for that specific brand of camera. This has to do with how the lens attaches to the camera body and the interaction between camera and lens. Macro lens come in a variety of configurations and are designed to be used at predetermined distances from your subject. In many cases this distance is quite close. And, if you remember, the closer the camera gets to the subject the amount of light reaching the subject is lessened so illumination becomes a primary concern. If at some point you decide to purchase a macro lens buy one that allows the largest distance between camera to subject. Used macro lens are available. I use a Canon EF 100mm 1:2.8 macro lens.

Corundum as seen on a Black Background

3b. Here is a hot tip and a cheap way to make a macro lens. Your normal primary shooting lens could be converted into a macro lens. I say “could”, depending on your camera and lens. The conversion is very simple. Simply remove the lens from the camera body. Turn the lens 180 degrees and reattach the same lens back onto the camera body. Your normal lens will function in reverse. Oh Yes, this is quite possible to accomplish. But how is this possible? My normal primary shooting lens is a Canon EFS 18-135mm lens, with the aid of a specially designed reversing ring adapter, my primary lens can be turned into a macro lens. I use a Fotodiox Macro Reverse Ring for Canon EOS 67mm. This ring is threaded on one side so that it can be threaded directly to the camera body. The opposite side of the ring is threaded to attach to the “business side” of the normal lens (the side facing the target).

To find a reversing ring for your camera / lens combo first look on the front of the lens (front meaning the lens side facing your subject) of your normal lens. You should find a bunch of numbers relating to the lens itself. The number you are looking for is the lens diameter size. This number should be printed there. It may or may not be separate from the others numbers. It should begin with a circle having a line running through it then a number followed by “mm” (millimeter). This number will be your particular lens diameter size. Write this size down.

Now, go to the Internet and search for photography dealers, camera shops, something like this. Search through their inventory for reversing rings for your particular camera and the corresponding lens diameter size. You can email several dealers and inquire if they carry the ring you seek, or do a direct Internet search using what you are looking for as the key words. Good Hunting. My ring cost about $10.

How Close to Go...FOV 2cm

4. You will need a copy of a “Photo Stacking” program installed on your computer. Helicon and Zerene are two of the dedicated programs, there are others. Adobe Photoshop has incorporated within all its countless abilities a photo stacking sequence. There are free photo stacking programs on the Internet. I’m not sure if Adobe Elements can do photo stacking operations. A photo stacking program is absolutely necessary in macrophotography when taking multiple photos over changing distances…..but not needed if you are taking a single photo.

5. You will also need a copy of Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Elements or any of several photo manipulation programs. Post processing, digital photo manipulation, adjustment and correction abilities will turn an ordinary photo into a work of art. There are several free photo manipulation programs on the Internet. A digital photo manipulation program is necessary to achieve excellent results. Professional photographers use these programs in their work and so can you. These programs require patience and lots of practice. You must have a working knowledge of the tools available, their uses, their adjustments and how, when and where to use each tool. A hands on approach to these programs is needed to acquire the ability to use them. Manuals and tutorials will help you understand the tools. Start out by “experimenting” with the program you will be using and any type of photo. Get to know the tools and abilities of this program.

6. You will need a sturdy tripod. One that is loose or wobbles is no good. Please don’t waste your time trying to use duct tape to hold it together.

7. A cheap camera rail/slider. The slider attaches to your tripod. Your camera will attach to the slider. This will be used to move the camera in tiny increments.

8. A light diffusion box if you prefer. I built my own light box out of narrow pine boards and white fabric.

9. Proper lightning is one of the most important fundamentals in photography.

10. Non greasy modeling clay

11. A few yards worth of different colored cloth: white, gray, black for backdrop backdrop material

12. A work area in an out of the way place so as to eliminate people and vibrations

13. A large work table such as a solid desk or large solid folding table

14. Access to multiple electrical outlets

15. Subjects to photograph

Discussion and explanation of items and gear: Eliminate Camera Movement

Once you have all you gear and equipment in place and are at the ready, before you start shooting, there is a single rule you must strictly adhere to. A very important, possibly the most important rule to remember when shooting in the macro, what may seem like a tiny shake or bump in the real world, in the macro world that same shake or bump becomes an earth quake, a volcanic explosion, a falling glass about to hit the ground. That tiny shake will be disastrous. You must be constantly aware of shake or bumps. Work slowly and carefully paying close attention to what you are doing and what is in motion. This is of the utmost importance and must be practiced to a tee.

Once the camera shutter opens, light instantaneously hits the camera sensor, any movement or shake will be captured in your photo. Seeing blurs or lines in your photos can indicate camera shake or movement. Movement must be held to an absolute minimum.

On the other hand, camera shake can be used to enhance a photo. Here is an experiment for you that will demonstrate camera shake. Try photographing any type of scene you wish, your car, your pet, whatever. At the exact micro-second you push the shutter button… purposely move the camera. The resulting photo will be quite obvious. In macro photography a tiny shake is magnified 1000 times.

Your camera is a noisy, jittery piece of equipment. Remember rule number one… no shake. When shooting in macro we must make the camera a quiet, smooth, jitter free device. To do this we must adjust specific settings in the camera to eliminate as much shake and jitter as possible. To do the following, you must read your specific camera manual to accomplish these actions.

Pressing the camera shutter button will most assuredly cause camera shake even when attached to a tripod. To avoid this you want to use the camera remote control. The remote control like any remote is a separate, individual, battery powered piece of equipment not attached to the device it controls. Set your camera to operate by remote shutter control. If you do not have a remote control you can use a “shutter cable release”.

To partner with the remote control or cable release, set the camera timer to 10 seconds. After the remote shutter button has been engaged this 10 second lag period will allow for any movement to quiet down. This 10 second period will thoroughly eliminate any camera movement. You yourself must also remain still, your feet or even your hands. During this 10 second period simply stand as still as possible.

If your camera has an interior mirror, when you click the shutter button that mirror will flip up out of the way to allow the light to enter the camera on its way to the sensor. This mirror movement will cause camera movement. You want to “lock up” the camera mirror to eliminate this movement. See your camera manual on how to adjust the mirror.

Discussion and explanation of items and gear: Camera Settings

Camera settings deal with specific technical photographic details of which I can not fully detail here. You must research the terms mentioned independently should you be in need of detailed info. This section deals with specific camera setting where prior knowledge would be highly beneficial to you. But, not fully necessary, as I will supply the settings needed. We will be dealing with terms like: aperture, depth of field, shutter speed, ISO speed.

“Depth of Field” (DOF) controls the size of the lens (aperture) opening. Depth of field describes what will be and what will not be in focus in a photograph. When looking through the camera viewfinder or digital view screen DOF is not perceivable. It will only be seen in the actual photo. You will want to set your camera to a low DOF for macro shooting but not the lowest setting. DOF works in conjunction with your camera lens. Your camera lens may be rated: for example with numbers such as 3.2, 3.5, 4.0, 4.5, 5.0, and so on. Understanding DOF can create spectacular photographs.


Another term we need some knowledge of is speed of film (ISO). ISO is a control to use when you can’t use a long shutter speed or large aperture opening. This setting can be changed to suit shooting conditions. Set your camera to Manual ISO and set the ISO number to maybe 100 to 200.

A camera is a semi-complicated device, more so than most people realize. This is due to the fact that many everyday cameras are used and operated in their fully automatic mode. In this mode, the camera makes all the adjustments for you. But, how many realize just what those adjustment are?

A fully manually operated camera, the shutter speed control is used to control lighting conditions: low or slow shutter speed (measured in fractions of a second) could be used in low lighting conditions. Thus more time is allowed for more light to enter into the camera. A higher or faster shutter speed will be used in brighter lighting conditions or even to capture fast moving objects to freeze the motion.

The aperture control is basically an opening within the lens which allows light to enter the camera. The aperture setting also controls the depth of field (DOF). The DOF is the part of the portion of the photo which is in focus. A small number setting here will result in a large area in focus with the inverse being true, a large aperture setting will result in a small area of focus.

DOF is known as “focal ratio” and is the ratio of the diameter of the lens aperture to the length of the lens if you wish to be technical. The focal ratio is written as an f-number.

Cameras have the ability to be set in different modes of operation, depending on what you wish to accomplish. The Fully Automatic Mode where you do nothing except point and push the shutter button. Even the focus is automatic.

Aperture Priority Mode where you manually control the aperture setting.

Shutter Priority Mode where you will manually set the shutter speed.

For simplicity and for our purposes in macro shooting………we will set our camera to Aperture Priority. Manually set the f-number to f-4 to f-6. You can experiment and go all the way to f-11 or higher if you wish.

Try this experiment... take several shots while changing the f-number for each shot. Use the same set up for each shot and observe the resulting photos. Go one step farther and continue shooting the same set up while continuing to change the f-number to the highest number available for your camera. You can practice and observe the end results.

Let’s let the camera automatically set the shutter speed. We do not want to work in fully manual mode.


Since we will be using external lighting sources we will not need the camera flash. You will want to set the camera flash to the OFF position.

We also want the camera lens set to manual focus and not auto focus.

Discussion and explanation of items and gear: Camera Tripod and Slider/Rail

You will need a sturdy tripod. A loose, shaky one is no good. Like any base or foundation, it must be strong, ridged and supportive, no wobbles. The tripod is absolutely necessary. The tripod will have the usual locking mechanisms to hold our camera in the positions we will be using.

A camera slide/rail is an important piece of gear. The rail mounts to the tripod, the camera mounts to the rail. Macro photography is defined as close up photography. If you are using a camera which is not able to use interchangeable lens, macro can be accomplished by setting your camera to full auto, locate the macro icon and set the macro to the on position. You can hand hold your camera or use a tripod. Using this method you will only be able to get a single photo. So your composition must be correct. Try taking several shots in the macro mode to ensure a quality photo.

Using the photo stacking method you will take several photos of the same set up changing the distance between the lens and the subject for each shot. The rail is a manually operated gear driven device that can change the distance of the camera lens to the target by microscopic amounts. Something that can not be accomplished by a hand held camera. By changing the distance of the camera lens to the target you change the focus, the principle of focus or (DOF).

Discussion and explanation of items and gear: Camera lens to target distance

Every physical object is 3 dimensional. It has a length, width and depth. By changing the distance of the camera lens to the target you change the focus or the DOF. In macro photography, regardless of the Depth of Field (DOF) setting value, it is extremely difficult to have an entire target fully in focus. The front may be in focus while the mid-section is fuzzy. The mid section may be in focus while the foreground and far end is blurred. To overcome this problem we will take multiple shots of the same subject. After each photo we take adjust the rail slider by microscopic increments, which in turn changes the lens to subject distance. Then take another shot.

How I like to start out is to set the camera mid-way on the rail. This way I can adjust the forward movement and the backward movement and have plenty of room to do so. I will then manually rough focus the camera lens using the rail adjuster and the digital viewing screen so the closest part of the target to the lens will be in focus. This will bethe foreground. I will then turn the adjustment knob (clockwise) on the rail and move slightly forward to determine how much movement is needed to get the farthest part of the target into focus. Finally I will return to focus on the foreground part of the target. Now all I have to do is to microscopically turn the rail adjuster clockwise. This will capture the entire subject in a series of photos.

For practice: Lets walk through the action. Focus the camera on the foreground of our subject using the rail adjustment knob. Move it back and forth slightly so you get the best focus on the foreground only. Let go of the control and hold the remote shutter control. Stand still, press the remote shutter button and capture the image. All the camera setting have been preset, all movement has been eliminated as much as possible. We now have recorded one photo. GENTLY turn the rail adjustment knob clockwise slightly. If your camera has a digital display view you will see a section farther from the foreground and the camera lens come into focus. Take this shot. And again, turn the rail adjustment knob clockwise, a farther part of the target again comes into focus…and again take the shot. You may take 5, 6, 10 shots. The number of shots is of no importance, so long as you were careful enough to get the entire subject in focus in a series of photos.

What does all this mean?… your subject has been completely photographed from its foreground to its farthest end. The subject is now completely in focus over multiple photographs. No single photograph is fully in focus. After photos have been combined (stacked), the end result will be astounding.

Discussion and explanation of items and gear: Homemade Diffusion Light Box

You can use a light box or if you prefer not to this will be fine also. Practice and experience will come into play here. Remember again...nothing is carved in stone. You can buy a photo tent or you can build your own. Either way is fine. If you have the material build your own.

What I did was to construct four (4) equal sized narrow wood panels. I had narrow strips of pine wood, cut them to the size I thought was appropriate and stapled them together to form a frame, exactly like a picture frame. On this frame I stretched and stapled thin white fabric. Very similar to a painters canvas only thinner fabric.

When using external lighting you want to use even diffused lighting or scattered lighting but not want to use direct lighting on the subject.

I screwed three of the panels together loosely and laid the fourth on top of the three.

As a base, I used long black non reflective cloth like photography backdrop cloth or pieces of different colored cloth bought from the fabric shop. The cloth has to fill in the area between the two sides and be long enough to go up and over the back panel. Covering the back panel will act as your background or back drop. The top white panel will reflect light back down onto the subject.

Should you want to shoot without a light box... You will need a small raised stand to set your specimen on above the work desk. Some type of stand will be necessary to drape one of your colored clothes over so as to form a backdrop. The stand can be several books stacked on top of each other, the back of a chair. Let’s say you could use a taller cardboard box, a small chair, the kitchen trash can, anything that will be rigid enough to stand upright and allow the fabric to be secured in place. Drape the fabric down the backdrop support and over the small stand. This basic set-up may not look like much but it totally functional. Smooth out the wrinkles, iron if necessary, and you have yourself a photo set up stage.

I would like to add, you can use any colored fabric at hand, black, gray, white are the most common. Go ahead and try colors, experiment.

Later you may become efficient enough not to need a back drop, but instead use blur to your advantage.

Discussion and explanation of items and gear: Lighting

*** Note: If at all possible build yourself a portable outdoor set up stage and shoot outdoors. Outdoor lighting offers the full spectrum of visible light. What could be better? There are a few draw backs however when shooting outdoors. Working in direct sunlight is difficult due to the intensity of the light. Direct light will cause “burn out” issues, affect the true color of the specimen, cause shine and a list of other troubles. The time of day or even the angle of the sun will create problems with bright spots and dark shadows. This perfect natural light must be heavily diffused.

The best overall time to shoot outdoors would be to wait for a nice cloudy overcast day when the light is naturally diffused through cloud cover. Or in the winter months when it is cloudy more often than a sun filled sky. This offers the perfect blend of balanced natural full spectrum lighting. Whenever possible I will collect my camera and tripod and shoot outdoors, winter included

Also, you those that can not wait for winter, there is what is known as the “magic hour” or the “golden hour”. In photography there are times during the day that fall into this magic hour. The period shortly after sunrise. During this time, the light is redder and softer than when the Sun is higher in the sky. The period just before sunset or twilight and just before sun rise when indirect sunlight is evenly diffused. However, watch for colored hazes on your photos as these can be noticeable.

Indoor lighting isn’t quite as simple to work with but can be accomplished easy enough by approaching it differently than when outdoors. Proper positioning your lighting will be required. Positioning will be through trial and error and experimentation. Sometimes, it will become frustrating. Indoor lighting will take some practice.

I use several different light sources positioned in several different locations and a number of different light diffusers. All lighting set-ups need to be secure, anchored and adjustable.

You do not need specialized lighting. Two or three hand held flash lights can be employed when clamped securely in the positions as needed. Overhead track lighting will work. The thing here is if it provides acceptable results use it. If the results are not to your liking change it.

Light intensity diminishes from the center of the light bulb outward and from the distance from the light source. When setting up your lighting try not to aim the light beam directly at the target. Use the outer fringe of the light to fall on your target. Direct light will cause harsh looking results, with lots of bright and dark areas.

Diffuse and filter the light with translucent/semi-transparent materials. Spread your lighting out and not concentrate it into a single beam. Try to balance your lighting equally across the shooting area. You do this by using multiple light sources positioned in several different positions. Those positions would include in front of the subject, to the left and right of the subject, behind the subject, above the subject and even below the subject if using a transparent to semi-transparent stand. The possibilities are limitless.

In the viewfinder or digital viewing screen watch for hot spots, bright areas on the subject, watch for dark shadows. Use multi-angled lighting to avoid these issues. You can be creative and lighten one part of the subject more so than the rest of the subject, or darken one part. This is your photo - experiment. Remember light sources can cause photos to appear yellowish, orangish, blueish, greenish. If after you photograph a subject the resulting photo seems to have a colored haze, this could be due to the lighting.

Lighting is quite important in macro and in photography in general. Some degree of knowledge of it would surely be beneficial. Not all light is created equal because of the make-up of the bulb itself. Bulbs use specific filaments which glow due to the resistance it offers to the flow of electrons. Bulbs can be gas filled and again will give off a particular color due to the particular gas inside the bulb (such as neon, argon, helium, nitrogen, krypton). Bulbs can be halogen, fluorescent, tungsten, or LED, all giving the light potential colored hazes. You want to use a bulb that is rated as a “Daylight Bulb”. The light emitted from a daylight bulb is closest to that of normal sunlight. A daylight bulb offers a more perfect rendition of the color spectrum.

But, not all daylight bulbs are the same. Light bulbs are rated by color temperature. The color temperature describes how the actual appearance of the light is perceived by our eyes. It is measured in degrees of Kelvin (K) on a scale from 1,000 to 10,000. Bulbs rated in the 2000K to 3000K range are perceived as being orangish/yellowish in color. These colors would represent the "golden hour" colors. In the 3000K to 4000K range the bulb color moves to faint yellow to pale cream color. Going into the 4000K to 5000K range the color now enters the cream to white range. When you hit about 5500K up into the 6000K range you will perceive blueish tones. As an experiment, the next time you are at a store stop by the lighting isle and look over the selection of light bulbs and their ratings.

LED bulbs are "cool to the touch", unlike halogen and tungsten which can reach high temperatures and become extremely hot to the touch. I prefer to use bulbs in the 5000K range. This provides a nice white light.

Properly adjusted lighting is very important in macro photography. You want to use filtered, diffused or scattered light aimed in the direction of your target. Experiment with your lighting placement, try a back lite subject, low angled front lighting, high angled light from a low position, several different fixtures from multiple angles. Just remember, direct light from the source is far too intense. Should you use direct light your resultant photo will be far to light, it will contain bright spots, the true colors will be “washed out” in appearance. This type o photo may not be an acceptable photo.

Top Lite, Shoot Down onto Specimen

Though my set up contains numerous light fixtures, I do not necessarily use all the lighting mentioned above at the same time. Keep in mind, proper lighting is a trial and error approach, the experimental approach just to see what works and what does not work. There are no rules which state which lighting to use when and where or what angles to place them at. Yes, it will take time to set the lighting to give the best results. Experimenting with lighting placement and angles and by taking numerous shots of your subject will eventually lead you to the best set-ups and settings.

With the lighting on the outside of the light diffusion box shining through the framed white cloth, filtering, diffusion and scattering can be accomplished. It now becomes a matter of just where to position the lighting to get the best results.

Diffuse the light with translucent or semi-transparent materials placed in front of the light beam. Materials to use as a diffuser: paper towels, styrofoam cups and plates, colored acrylic glass, lamp shades, printer paper, tee-shirts, check out the local building center for anything translucent or semi-transparent. You will need some type of rigid set up to hold your “diffuser panels” in position. Remember halogen bulbs get extremely hot, do not touch the bulb or even the light fixture. Be especially careful how close your diffusers are to this type of bulb.

I will also use white photographers umbrellas for diffusion or for light reflection.

Also, at building stores or hardware stores they sell two foot by four foot semi-white panels used to replace broken ceiling lighting fixtures panels. A two by four foot panel is ideal as a diffuser and filtering panel, as it was designed to do just that. It can be cut and the cut sections fitted to a simple wood form or picture frame with glue of tape. The entire panel can be easily bent into a curved formation and held in this shape with tape providing near 360 degrees diffusion. Allow enough room for the camera lens to fit through or shoot through.




Discussion and explanation of items and gear: Computer programs

One of the very most important pieces of gear you will need is a “Photo Stacking” program. Individual photos will be literally stacked one upon, another rendering, a single composite photo of all included photos will emerge. The only way to stack photos is to use a computer program geared to perform the necessary tasks to achieve the final result. The program will align all the individual photos taken, then blend the photos together into a seamless single photo. This is something that can not be achieved without a program.

Diopside Cluster

***Please click on the Diopside photo and zoom in for a demonstration in photo stacking. You should be able to see individual crystals and count the number of crystals sides.

Then, we need a digital photo manipulation program to basically change the resulting single photo into a masterpiece. These adjustments will be post processing adjustments. After the photo stacking operation your combined photo will still require manipulations. Those manipulations will include but will not be limited to: background light or darkness, background colors, extended focal control, overall color control, overall brightness control, shadow and lightness control, the elimination of “artifacts”. The perfect photo is one of perfect composition, balancing tone, light, subject and color into one outstanding photo. Achieving this “perfect balance” is difficult in macro photography. And, this is why we rely on manipulation programs to provide our photo with the qualities and elements our photo could be lacking. Do not believe for one second all the photos you see on the Internet or even the MinDat website were photographed as seen. A high percentage of those photos taken by professional photographers or experienced mineral photographers have relied on supportive technology to enhance their photo. This enhancement is a common and accepted practice and a well-established necessity in photography today. Please do not believe what you see on your monitor screen is what the actual photo originally appeared as. Some manipulation has been done to that photo to give it that exciting, unbelievable look that it has.

On the other hand………a truly experienced photographer can achieve great success in his or her photos without the need of photo manipulation an/or computer programs. If you have ever seen some of the work of Ansel Adams or others you will understand. These were the masters of light and shadow. Of composition and balance. But they did not work in macro.

A digital manipulation program (whichever it may be) requires the user to be quite knowledgeable with a thorough understanding of the tools and their functions. Practice will give in to understanding. Knowledge will come through practice.
Unbelievable results can be obtained through light and darkness controls, color control, shadow and highlight control.
Specific features allow the causal user to go beyond the camera setting into areas normally reserved for professionals.

Discussion and explanation of items and gear: Final items on our list

Clay: why use clay???? Clay is the perfect medium to hold and anchor our targets in position. Clay molds around the target gripping it tight enough to hold in nearly any position. It can be removed with ease and causes no after effects such as marks. Modeling clay form will come in the form of a bar of hand soap. Wrapped in cellophane. What you will want to do is to tear or cut the bar in half then the half into quarters. Smaller pieces of this material is far better than large chunky pieces. Use the clay pieces to support your specimen in the best “face forward” position. You may need support in front, the sides, the back or combinations therein. Simply force the material in, under, around your specimen till it is held in the proper position, all-the-while adjusting the lens to subject distance to remain in rough focus. Keep smaller “balls” of clay handy to fill in for final adjustments.

Fabric: Black, white or gray fabric is used as the base where our target is seated. The fabric is also draped over the back of the light diffusion box to act as the back ground/back drop.

Highly reflective Foreground

Work Area and a Work Desk
possibly an unused room in the house, the basement, a large closet. We will need a place where our set up does not need to be constantly moved and/or rebuilt with each photo session.

If the area has windows, these windows need to be covered over so no source of light will enter the work area and contaminate it. You can use blankets and tape, any type of dark fabric, Styrofoam panels, wood sheeting.

Our work desk must be strong and sturdy like the tripod we will use. The desk should be fairly large to hold all the equipment we will be using. Something in the neighborhood of 4 foot by 4 foot is good but not necessary. Use what you have available.
A second desk can be used to store and hold any gear not actively part of the set up.

Electrical Outlets….please do not over load a single outlet with several multi plug in outlet strips. Normally a wall outlet is designed for two plug in devises. The receptacle itself is usually rated at 15 amp. The use of heavy gauged extension cords and multiple wall outlets is far safer. Run the extension cords along the perimeter of the room and not down the middle of the floor. Do not create a tripping hazard. Keep all wiring behind the work desk and out of the area where you will be physically working. Please work safely and plan your work space so nothing can cause an accident. These preventive measures are very important, because sooner or later, if not followed, I can honestly guarantee you are going to get tangled up and trip. It only took me one time to catch on.

What I do is to plan how and where my wiring will be run, where plugs and switches will be. You want to have a control panel type set-up (if possible) where all your switching units are in a central location. This type of set-up allows simple fast on and off power to all equipment. Do not be crawling around in the dark looking for the end of a plug or receptacle.

Discussion and explanation of items and gear: The specimens

We will be using rock and mineral specimens. We want to use clean, dirt and dust free specimens. The types and qualities of specimens is of your choice. Closely examine your specimens before photographing them. You want a good quality specimen which is characteristic of the rock or mineral. Good color, good shape are important also. Whether a crystalline specimen or perhaps a non-crystalline or amorphous specimen you want to photograph the best example you have collected. Look for the sides or sections which offer the best photographic material. Note how the specimen is positioned to achieve this best display. Practice positioning the specimen prior to photographing.

Detail of Mineral Striations

Discussion and explanation of items and gear: Putting it all together.

We are now ready to run through the steps. Our work area will be in an unused bedroom on the second floor. It is out of the way and has no reason for others to enter. It has basically become a photographic “dark room”. The two windows in the room, both have been covered over to block out any light from entering the work area. The door has had weather stripping added so when it closes no light is visible. Our work desk is a regular computer desk with plenty of surface area. We will be using three different electrical outlets running extensions cords along the room walls to the backside of our work desk.
Any piece of equipment using an electrical cord, the cord is run to the back of the desk. With lighting equipment you want the equipment to have “on and off” switching. And, not activating the light by plugging it directly into another “live cord”. In fact you really want all your equipment to have their own on and off switches. With a little planning you can have all the switches placed in a central location where they will be handy for activation and/or shut off. Multiple lights used in conjunction can be plugged into a single power strip with a single on / off switch. Your power strip can also be one rated for surge protection.

I also like to keep a small flash light in my pocket or one with the elastic head straps for an emergency. Since the room may be dark, a close handy locatable light is a good thing to have at hand.

Our specimen stand is installed, colored cloth run over the stand up and over our back drop support. All is secured. The lighting cords are run to the back of the work desk and plugged in.

We will be using a desk lamp as our work light source. Its cord is run to the back of the work desk and is plugged in. The lamp is in the on position. If the room has an overhead light now is the time to shut this light off.

The specimen we will be shooting has been closely examined and the best view positions have been noted. It is placed on the specimen stand and held in position with clay, when necessary, in a suitable position.

When you are ready. Close the room door. Turn on at least one photo lamp and aim the light beam in the direction of the target but not directly on the target. Don’t forget to turn the desk lamp and overhead light off as they are sources of contamination.

All of the settings on our camera have been set prior to start up. Our macro lens is attached to the camera. The tripod has the rail slider already attached. Our camera is attached to the rail slider. Since this is macro photography we will be working close to the target specimen. Position the camera in a midway position on the rail and move the tripod up to the desk where our light diffusion box, if using one, and specimen stage are waiting.

Manually turn the camera to the on position. My camera has a digital view screen which I will use. If your camera has a viewfinder use this. Make adjustments by physically moving the tripod and manually adjust the camera lens so we have the target specimen in rough focus. This will require moving the tripod closer to or farther from the target and continually refocusing. Remember: Change the distance, you change the focus.

Again…….we will be working in an experimental mode. There are no set rules for these preliminary adjustments.
Set the tripod to the desired height and lock it in position. I like to start out high, shooting down on the target. Again, adjust your equipment until we have the subject in rough focus. But do not use the rail for these rough adjustments.

While looking through the view finder or the digital image display position the target to suit your needs. You will be posing your specimen as if for a portrait. This step will take some time to find the view you are looking for. Reposition the clay as you reposition the subject view. You will be constantly readjusting the camera angle and manual focus while on the tripod.

Patience is now truly a virtue as you look for that perfect view while constantly refocusing the lens, repositioning the tripod and repositioning the lighting. Should you be using multiple light sources experiment turning lights on or off to get the exact shot you want. If there ever was “multitasking” this is it. Every time one element in the composition is changed all the other elements must be changed.

Use whatever lighting positions give the best results. Be constantly aware of direct light and what are called “hot spots” or bright spots on the subject from one or more light sources. Long dark shadows can be eliminated by using lighting from multi-angles.

Multi Angled Lighting Creates Internal Reflections

If you are using flash light lighting (light from hand held flash lights not the camera flash), you could use duct tape to anchor the lights in usable positions. You can use weighted upright rods to anchor your lights to or maybe a stepladder. Be inventive, create your own gear. Use your old wobbly tripods and duct tape. Whatever works! ! !

OK…after several minutes you have finally found that perfect specimen position, the perfect light position, tripod height. Lock everything down. Tighten down the tripod legs, height adjuster, the swivel adjuster, the camera tilt adjuster. Observe the target in the viewfinder more closely now and ask yourself a few questions:

Is this the view you want?

Does this view show off the specimen features to your liking?

Are any hot spots seen? Dark Shadows?

Are any foreign or unwanted objects visible in the view?

Does the specimen color appear natural, not shiny or dull due to lighting?

You can still make minor element changes. Study the subject in the digital viewer or the camera viewer.

When you are satisfied, you are ready to continue. Finally turn the rail adjustment knob until the target’s foreground is in perfect full focus. Now, turn the rail knob clockwise and watch as the targets depth of field changes and sections of it come into and fad out of focus. This is the amazing part. Focus on the farthest part of the target and remember how far you turned the adjustment knob, a quarter turn, a half turn. This will help when we get to shooting. Once again turn the adjust knob back to where the foreground is in full focus. You can do this several times just to “get the feel” for the amount of adjustment you are making.

With the foreground in focus and when you are satisfied with the specimen position, focus, lighting…… take the shot. Use the remote control or the cable release. Stand still and wait for the timer, listen for the camera shutter to open then close. From this point on, nothing in the set up can change. Should something be found to be in error you must stop now make corrections and reshoot. It is very important to carefully study each element in your composition before taking your first photo.

Look through the viewfinder, turn the rail adjustment clockwise ever so slightly and watch as a new section of the target will come into focus. Stop here. Take the shot

Again, looking through the viewfinder, turn the adjustment and watch as another new section of the target comes into focus….take the shot.

Blurred Background to Detail Foreground

Continue with this procedure until you have the farthest part of the target in focus. This is why it helps to “guesstamate” just how much the rail adjustment was turned from foreground to background.

So you took six (6) shots. Keep in mind none of those shots reveal the target in full focus but once all the shots are combined the entire target will be amazing.

The above procedure will be continually repeated and reproduced over and over, every time you photograph a new specimen, change the specimen position, change light positions. You will want to try several positions or maybe the same position with different lighting positions – using lighting above, below or at different angles to the target, trying to use reflected lighting by using pieces of aluminum foil, diffusing the light more or less with paper towels or pieces of printer paper, how about different tripod heights or tripod angles. This is where you will experiment with shape, reflection, light position. Using a digital camera the possibilities are almost endless. And this is why I stated this process is by experimentation. Try this, try that. You will only know what worked and what did not work after you process you images. Sure there are going to be some disappointments. You will lose time from your less than perfect images but that lost time will not wasted time. The time you spend experimenting is time used gaining experience. And, with experience you will be more confident and have a better understanding of what will work and what won’t. Thus you will actually be saving time.

Macro photography is a beautiful medium to work in. You will see the world around you in sights never seen before. And one thing – do not limit yourself to photographing rock specimens, There is an entire world out there full of tiny things looking for you. Be bold, be an explorer, go out and get a leaf, a coin, an insect, a butterfly, a plant, a handful of soil. Whatever you can imagine can be photographed in macro.

After the photo shoot: Now what?

Well, I’m glad you asked because so far we haven’t seen a single photo.

Just for the sake of conversation just say we took ten (10) sets of the same specimen, set required (6) photos per set. We experimented with different subject positions, different lighting positions, different tripod heights. So, we have ten different shots of the same subject. In each set one or more of the elements were changed creating an entirely different view of the same subject, whether it be subject position, lighting, tripod differences, whatever. Now, think about this for a minute. We have photographed the same subject in ten different ways? This is what is beautiful about photography, capturing multiple views. This means no one view is the right view. There are no right or wrong views just the same as no right technique or wrong technique.

Fill the Entire Photo with Specimen

So we now have ten different views. All the shots are still on the cameras memory card. We need to transfer all those shots to our computer. On the computer create a new folder on the DESKTOP and give it a name. For this demonstration let’s name this folder “FIRST TRY”. Go ahead and transfer the photo data from the camera to the folder on the computer per camera instructions. Once this is accomplished we can now view the photos. Go ahead and give it a try. We know we took exactly six shots per set. What if we took more of less than six???? What I like to do when I reach the last shot that will be taken from a particular set, I will hold a green translucent ruler up in front of the lens and take one final shot. When I view a batch of photos on the computer, I know exactly where a set begins and ends. This is a good tip to use. Use any type of marker system you wish to speed up processing.

Blurring Background with Specimen

While looking through the “raw data”, you may have what could have been the perfect photo. You say to yourself, “If I only had the camera tilt adjusted a little higher, a little lower, or maybe the tripod higher, or lower”. Perhaps the top of your subject was cut off, if you only had shot two centimeters higher. This is not a problem. Go back and retake the shot as closely as possible, with the proper adjustments corrected. What I will do is to set my laptop right next to my specimen showing my almost perfect shot. This way I can reposition the target near exact to the original. Then retake the shot.

After the photo shoot: Photo Stacking

In photo stacking, we will combine all the photos in one set and end up with a single photo that should be in perfect focus but not necessarily that ”perfect shot”.

Adobe Photoshop is a dynamic digital photo manipulation program in that you have the ability to adjust, correct, and do just about anything you want to do to a photo. The Photoshop program came out somewhere in 1990, almost thirty years ago. I was there waiting in line for my copy as soon as it was released. The program was an instant smash hit, it made billions of dollars and is still possibly the best of the photo manipulation programs.

Most of you have probably heard of this program. How many of you have actually worked with this program is another matter. For those who never used it, the program can be a scary monster with icons everywhere, drop down menus falling out of nowhere, knobs, sliders, clickers and a whole host of creepy things. Trying to get a photo into the program is a daunting task let alone trying to manipulate it.

I will try to get those unaccustomed to this program through our photo stacking experience. Others who have even a small ability with this program will be able to follow along. I can not fully explain each step in the sequence. Please, just follow along. The better thing to do would be to buy a Photoshop explanation book. A great place to look is in second hand shops, Ebay, used books places, even donation places like the Good Will Stores.

If you will not be working with the Photoshop program, you will have to study the manuals, and practice, practice, practice using your particular program . Please follow along as some of this explanation may work in another program.

One thing to remember... in Photoshop there is nothing carved in stone. This is why this program is so wonderful. There is always more than one way to arrive at a final destination. Follow along with me, then those of you who can...do it your way, or how ever you do it. I am using CS6. This is not the most recent version. But should be fairly similar to other versions. If not, refer to the Internet for help.

Open the program. Pretty much there is little to see, some icons maybe some colored squares in the upper right corner. We will move the cursor up to the top of the screen and locate the word FILE. Place the cursor on the word FILE and right click. A drop down menu will appear. In that menu find he word AUTOMATE near the bottom of the list. Move the cursor to the word and right click on it. Another drop down menu will appear. Locate the word PHOTOMERGE. Again move the cursor to the word and click on it. Wait a minute and the PHOTOMERGE work box will appear.

Look down the center of the work box toward the bottom and locate the words BLEND IMAGES TOGETHER, there will be a box with a check in it. Click on the box to uncheck this box.

Look back up the near the top right of center and fined the box with the word BROWSE. Click on BROWSE. We now must find the file where our photos are being stored.

A new work box appears. Find the word DESKTOP, left side near the top, click on this word. In the work box all the files and folders and stuff located on your computer desktop will be seen. Find the file we named FIRST TRY and right click on it.

All of our photos should appear listed by sequential numbers. Let’s say the first photo is numbered 993451. We know we took six photos in the first set. If 993451 is first, what would our sixth photo be numbered? If you guessed 993456, you are correct. This is the sequence of our first photo set.

Earlier I stated I used a quick method to locate photos belonging to the same set by taking a photo with a translucent green ruler. I know each of my sets will begin and end at one of these marker points.

So how do we load all the photos from the first set? We have to move the cursor to the first photo, right click on the first photo #993451. Then we will look down on our keyboard, find the SHIFT key. Press and hold down on the SHIFT key. Move the cursor to the sixth photo #993456. While holding down the SHIFT key right click on the last photo. All six of the photos should be selected by turning to a blueish color. You can release the shit key. Find the word OPEN on the lower right side and click on it.

We are immediately returned to the PHOTOMERGE box. You will notice all of our photo numbers will be listed in the photomerge work box.

Right click on the first number in the list, move cursor to last number, hold down the SHIFT key and right click on last number. All the numbers are selected by turning a blueish color. Release the shift key. Find the letters OK, top right and right click on OK.

Just wait for the program to do what we just asked it to do. In a short time, you will see we are taken to the original Photoshop window. Some activity is occurring on the right side. One of our photos is now visible in the main panel. All of the photo numbers are visible on the right side with some type of small icon of our photo.

On the right side where the numbers and small icon are, we must right click on the top most number/icon. Mover the cursor to the lower most number/icon. Hold the SHIFT key down and right click on the lower most number/icon. Release shift key
All of our photos have been selected and turned a blueish color.

We are now going up to the top of the page on the left side and locate the word EDIT, next to the word (F`ile). Right click on the word EDIT. A new menu appears, look down the list and find AUTO ALINE LAYERS. Right click on AUTO ALIGN LAYERS. This maneuver will automatically align all of our photos so they are exactly on top of each other in exactly the correct position. Give it a minute to work. At this time there are millions of calculations taking place within the computer to align the images precisely. This is the reason we need a newer, faster computer.

Once the alignment is completed, move the cursor back to EDIT. Find the words AUTO BLEND LAYERS. Right click on AUTO BLEND LAYERS. A small window will appear, ensure STAKE IMAGES is clicked and SEAMLESS TONES AND COLORS. Click on OK. A progress bar should appear. This operation is slower than the alignment, just wait until it is completed. At this time millions and millions of calculations are taking place. Tiny people inside the computer are running about with pencil, paper, slide rules, and what not just to get your photos properly blended.

Once the progress bar is completed the photos are now aligned and blended. The photos now need to be combined into a single photo.

Over on the right side where the blueish colored numbers and photo icons are located, On the top of this box locate the words LAYERS, CHANNELS, PATHS. There will be a tiny icon in this line at the very right. Right click on this icon, a menu will appear, locate the words FLATTEN IMAGE. Right click on FLATTEN IMAGE.

In that same box where all the numbered photos and small photo icon were...only a single small photo remains with the word BACKGROUND. All of our photos have been transformed into a single photo.

One final step, we must save our work.

If you were able to follow along and arrived at this position and if I got all the directions correct, Congratulations are in order for both of us. You have successfully merged all six photos into a single fully focused image.

Move the cursor up to top and find the FILE, find the words SAVE AS, right click on SAVE AS. The “Save As” work box will appear. What we have to do is to save our photo somewhere, name it and save it in one of the offered digital formats.

The ‘Save As” work box offers us all these features.

On the very top of the box find the words SAVE IN. A file should already be listed there and it should read FIRST TRY. We will accept this file as all of our photos are stored here.

Next is the FILE NAME, we must name our photo. Let’s name it according to the individual shots we used. If we used file number 993451 to file number 993456, let’s simply name our photo “51-56”. This simple name will allow us to know immediately which photos were combined to create this single photo.

Next is the file format, in the file format area to the far right you will see a downward facing pointer. Move the cursor to this point and right click on the pointer. A whole list of digital formats are offered. Select which format you want to save in.

I use JPEG(*.JPG,*.JPEG,*.JPE) right click on this.

To the far right of file name and file format, right click on the word SAVE.

Save to the largest file size (measured in megabits).

That’s it, our sequence of photos were taken, aligned, blended and saved as a single photo. Exit this program and return to the desktop. Find the FIRST TRY file and open it. In there will be our photo named “51-56”. Open this file.
The photo should be completely in focus, from foreground all the way to farthest end of the subject. Study this photo carefully.

1. Is this the “perfect view” you wanted?
2. Is the composition what you wanted?
3. Is the lighting correct?

Go ahead and work with the other nine (9) sets of photographs. Follow the steps as described. Save each set as a single photo sequentially numbered to follow the sequence of sets. This way we can relate the single photos to the comparable set of photos. When you are finished, you will have ten (10) photos named according to the individual photo sequence numbers.

Yes, I agree, 100 % that was a lot of work and it did take a considerable amount of work. For a “newbie” or beginner photographing ten sets of photos was a lot of work. And, I certainly do not want you to give up and just quit. Think about this, now that you were able to complete this project, you are no longer a beginner. From this project forward, things will become easier and faster each time you follow the steps and complete a set of photos. With more experience you will be quickly setting up, focusing faster, shooting faster. You will be processing faster and faster as the controls become more and more familiar. You will reach a point where stacking the images from all the photo sets will no longer be necessary. You will look through the individual shots and tell if a particular set of photos is worth processing. You have now reached the amateur status.

For you who have experience and are familiar with this process and these techniques, just keep in mind we all are striving toward the same goal... and that goal is a great photo. Any of many techniques will reach this same goal. Hopefully you can find something here to make your search easier or quicker.

Should anyone find themselves in need of just a little more help, or details...reach out to the Internet, manuals, tutorials, YouTube videos, Photoshop tutorials, there is a massive amount of information out there. I will upon request answer any legitimate questions. Please send me a private email through the MinDat website. I will also reserve the right to delete any emails in poor taste. Also, I can not answer questions concerning specific cameras or camera brands. Every camera comes with a manual. Camera manuals can be found at the manufactures website or through a general Internet search.

Tip: Experiment with depth of field and concentrate focus of the subject alone, blur out everything except the main subject. Example: crystal in matrix material, focus on crystal alone with the correct f-number you can end up with the background as a blur. This accentuates the crystal and not the entire specimen.

Tip: set you camera to save photos in as large a file as possible (measured in megabits). You can even work in RAW if your equipment will allow you to do so.

Tip: when shooting try to center your specimen in the camera viewer. Yes, you can off-set your target. This is your photo, you can do whatever you like. Centered photos appear balanced.

Tip: retake an almost perfect shot by simply retaking the shot and correcting the offending element involved.

Tip: Stacking three or four individual photos will increase the beauty of any photo.

Tip: Depth of Field is either your friend or your enemy. Use it to your advantage. Control it through successive photo taking using the techniques stated here.

Tip: Lighting is a very important element, but Properly Positioned Lighting is the most critical element in a set up.

Tip: You want to use a black or white background, depending on the tone of the subject. But this is not necessarily the norm. The use of a fade is great. The addition of a background color is good.

With a little experience you will use a low f-number and blur the entire background. When I shoot outdoors, I set my targets on an “outdoor wood” bench I built. Sometimes you may see my specimen sitting on a aged wooden board and a blurred background.


Unfortunately, our story will not continue into digital photo manipulation. I am truly sorry for this. To go beyond what has already been stated would be far too cumbersome dealing with in depth directions. I can not even scratch the surface for the possibilities available in the Photoshop program. I use version CS6 for my work. Stated earlier, I can offer assistance for those in dire need of help.

I will offer a few tips should anyone be using Photoshop

Tip: Use the magic wand tool to select large areas of a single colored background and the paint bucket to fill in color for the areas selected by the magic wand tool.

Tip: Use the healing brush to repair cracks and/or missing pieces of a specimen

Tip: Use a mask to erase or fill in

Tip: After your photo has been aligned and blended, you will notice a white area around the photo perimeter. The white area is the amount each individual photo was moved to align with fellow photos. To remove the white area either crop the entire photo or use a brush and color in the area.

Tip: Under the item “IMAGE” on the Photoshop horizontal tool bar all your controls will be listed. Select IMAGE. ADJUSTMENTS...the tools you will use are listed here. Try the Levels Control, Exposure Control. Experiment with the Shadows and Highlights controls. Adjust brush size and opacity...on and on.

Tip: A thorough understanding of this program is necessary. Please refer to the Internet or YouTube videos for help.

Tip: You can read all the “how tos” you want, without hands on practice all you will achieve is reading words.

Good luck

And practice, practice, practice.


Article has been viewed at least 1152 times.


Thanks for posting Frank

Andrew Debnam
13th Dec 2018 4:04am

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