• Extreme macro focus stacking, for high impact images of the very smallest of beautiful things
Extreme macro focus stacking, for high impact images of the very smallest of beautiful things1 2 3


by Johan J Ingles-Le Nobel
Last updated October 08, 2018


Extreme-macro.co.uk is a free learning site by macro photographer Johan J. Ingles - Le Nobel geared towards budget-conscious intermediate level macro photographers who want to know how to do extreme macro photography and the equipment that we use.

Extreme-macro.co.uk covers the lenses and objectives we use, the photography techniques to use them, types and styles of lighting, specialist macro equipment such as positioning stages and bellows, useful software for stacking and post processing and general insect curation techniques used in 1:1 to 20:1 range of field and studio macro photography, with a particular emphasis towards focus stacking.

What is Extreme Macro?

There is no standard definition for extreme macro, but there is a tentative definition which gives some insight into its unusual nature. Macro photography (1:1) is usually pursued using off the shelf lens and camera equipment, whilst microphotography (10:1+) is undertaken using microscope equipment. Extreme macro covers the range between the two, and borrows apparatus used by both specialties to make images.

Macro Photography

... this site is geared towards budget-conscious intermediate level photographers

The fact of the matter is that macro photography, and especially macro photography of insects, is one of the most popular types of photography around. A lot of macro photographers want to move onto extreme macro focus stacking - but they don't really know where to start. I had much the same problem; useful information about this photography niche is scattered on the four corners of the Internet in some of its more obscure alleyways. By putting this site together I hope to make it easier for folks like myself, who had a lot of questions when they started out. I personally have lots of questions left myself and there's plenty more information to come in due course.

The macro photography principles, methods and equipment covered in this site are not just reserved for macro insect photography. They will be useful for photography of minerals, dental, medical and scientific photography, coin photography and general commercial closeup and macro photography of small objects such as jewellery as well.

Extreme Macro: First Steps

Moving high magnification closeup and extreme macro photography can be overwhelming and expensive by making uninformed equipment choices. In terms of first steps, in order of difficulty and expense: to do extreme macro, move on from standard 1:1 magnification macro into more extreme macro by using close-up Raynox lenses first because they give you nice in-camera control.

Then, if greater magnification is for you (ie approx. between 1:1 and 5:1), consider taking the next step in your extreme macro photography by doing some reverse lens macro: with reversed old 35mm enlarger lenses on a simple Velbon stage, with a set of bellows and a DIY diffused flash unit for indoor work, or a diffuser on a bracket or ringflash with a focusing helicoid for outside work. This is the time to download a Zerene Stacker trial and try some macro focus stacking.

Beyond this, look towards an infinite objective on a tube lens, driven by an electronically controlled stacking stage such as a Cognysis Stackshot Stacker. Of course, depending on the equipment you already have, other routes like stacking two lenses will also work for you if you have them, but the sequence above is probably a reasonable progression path for most people both in terms of cost and in terms of picking up gradual know-how.

Focus Stacking Walkthrough

1 ➤ The focus stacking workflow

2 ➤ How to prepare a focus stack

3 ➤ How to shoot a focus stack

4 ➤ Software tools for focus stacks

5 ➤ Postprocessing tools for focus stacking

Focus Stacking

A tried and tested focus stacking workflow designed to create high resolution in-focus images with a depth of field infinitely larger than is possible with a single image. The most standard technique used for extreme macro.

Macro Calculators

... macro calculators are never as accurate as real-world measurement

Extreme-macro.co.uk also hosts a number of macro calculators relevant to the macro photographer. Macro photography calculators are never as accurate as real-world measurement, but do come close to giving the correct values, so should act as a useful guideline for image shoot preparations. The focus stack step size calculator gives you safe step sizes for stacking, and the stacked lens calculator gives you the resulting magnification when combing two lenses. The extension tube magnification increase and working distance calculator is very similar to the bellows magnification increase and working distance calculator and both concern themselves with magnification and working distance. In addition to these, extreme-macro.co.uk also hosts a reversed lens calculator, a microscopy na to f/stop calculator and infinite objective focal length calculator, Raynox calculator and the broadly similar closeup lens calculator.

Comments (66)

Article: extreme-macro.co.uk
Constant Xarax says...
Many wide-angle macro pictures stitched together ? I wonder if the following makes any sense: Shoot many ( say, 100 ) wide-angle macro photos, each of a different 1/100 of the frontal area of the object, and stitch them together to create one compound image - with much less perspective distortion than a single picture taken from a close distance with a wide angle lens, and much deeper depth of field than a single picture taken with a telecentric lens. You only have, for each shot, to translate the camera horizontally and vertically a little bit ( say, 1mm ), keeping the axis of the lens parallel to itself ( or, equivalently, you have to translate the object itself horizontally and vertically by the same distance ).
7th December 2017 8:17pm
Harold Gough says...
"much less perspective distortion than a single picture taken from a close distance with a wide angle lens, and much deeper depth of field than a single picture taken with a telecentric lens".

I don't think that will work in practice. DOF is a function of aperture and magnification and nothing else. It is the same whether taken as a single shot or combined from many.
13th December 2017 7:29am
Constant Xarax says...
Perhaps the syntax of this sentence was not as simple/clear as it might/should have been. In other words, what I propose is this : With, say, a full frame camera, take a single photo of an object of a 24mm x 36mm frontal area, with a wide angle lens, from a close distance. How close a distance ? Close enough to fill the frame of the picture ( the frame of the film or of the sensor ) with the image of the object. You have a deeper depth of field, than if you take the same shot, now with a big enough telecentric lens, from ANY distance. How big a telecentric lens ? Big enough to cover the frontal area of the object. The advantage of the telecentic lens is the absence of any perspective distortion ( since an image taken with a telecentric lens corresponds to an orthographic projection ), and the disadvantage is the shallower depth of field. On the other hand, the advantage of the wide angle lens is the deeper depth of field, but the disadvantage is the perspective distortion.
13th December 2017 3:20pm
Gene says...
I don't know Harold. Camera design engineers have been doing some incredible things in recent years. Sony knocked the socks off the competition by releasing a mind boggling number of new features in frequent camera updates. Develop a stepper motor driven panaoramic device that could be controlled via a camera's USB port which already has integrated support for focus bracketing and they might pull it off. A year ago, I would have never expected Fujifilm to pull this one off:


or see gardenersassistant's progress using video for focus stacking.
10th March 2019 3:58pm
Bug Geek says...
Hey- hoping for some buying advice! Looking to invest in my first dslr mainly for macro photography. I currently am interested in photographing insects and other small critters, and have been using an iPhone and olloclip macros lense for the past year or so, so I know the basics of macro photography- even though I’m generally a massive novice. I have heard with macro the lense is more important than the camera, some people have recommended getting a second hand camera and spending more budget on a lense. I I’m looking to spend about £500 if possible on a camera and lense, could go a bit above that if needed. Any recommendations?
Alex, really depends on what magnification range you're into. But on the whole, yes spend more on the lens than the camera. If you're seriously into macro then Sony or Canon bodies might be a sensible choice because of MPE65 compatibility.
14th March 2018 9:35pm
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