• 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
Harold Gough says...
Do you want to spend about £1,000 on the MPE and £400 on a Smart adapter to Sony E? The advantage of mirrorless cameras are Live View (brightness) boost (Olympus anyway) helps you to see the subject even when the lens is stopped down to very small (effective) apertures. I find that a Schneider HM40, reversed on a short extension, gives the kind of results you might get from the MPE.
21st March 2018 8:27am
Gene says...
Fringer used the same approach as Metabones when the Sony adapter was developed. The MP-E does work with exposure control on the Fujifilm X-T2, X-T3, and X-H1 with a Fringer Pro adapter. I have not tried a standard Fringer adapter (the standard has no iris), but expect to work. I have not had the opportunity to test any of the other bodies yet. I bought a Fringer adapter in order to use the Sigma 150-600mm for wildlife photography and already owned a MP-E for my Canon full frame bodies, so I tried it out and it does work with zero problems.
10th March 2019 4:13pm
Sanjay says...
Thanks for building this website. I just started dwelling more into macro photography and this website is a breath of life. One question I have is how you folks are able to get such sharp images of insects especially when they keep moving around? Are these images of dead ones?
17th November 2017 7:32pm
Jeff Thompson says...
I've been using a Canon MP-E 65mm lens on a Stackshot rail for quite a while and recently bought a Nikon microscope objective (CFI 10X/.025 plan achromat) to use on my 70-300mm zoom lens. It works beautifully at 8X, but not quite so hot at 10X. Can you suggest a good 200mm tube lens that I can use on my Canon DSLR without breaking the bank? So far, the cheapest 200mm prime I've found is the 200mm f/2.8L at just under $1000 in Canada.
8th November 2017 3:41am
Bill says...
Just stumbled on this site I shoot with a canon 5d Mark ii and already have a sigma 150mm macro lens. Is this a good starting point? What else do I need I'm a complete novice
29th October 2017 8:49am
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