Extreme Macro Software

by Johan J Ingles-Le Nobel
Last updated August 31, 2017


The main way that extreme macro differentiates itself in software terms is the use of focus stacking software, in which various stacking vendors compete for the limited number of stackers. Most notable of these are Zerene Stacker and Helicon Focus.

Stacked shot

Stacked shot of a fly. Extreme macro stacked images would not be possible were it not for the specialised stacking software that exists.

Beyond this, there are also standard software tools that are very handy to use with extreme macro, especially software that helps to bring out details in images.

Stacking Software

Although Adobe Photoshop can stack images, it is just not a great tool for this job as it tries to take all the images in as separate layers. Which means you need an unbelievably fast PC to be able to cope. Much better to use one of the specialised stacking applications that are out there, specifically designed for the job.

Zerene Stacker

Zerene Stacker is a Java based piece of stacking software that gives good results almost from the off, and truly excellent results once its intricacies are mastered. Zerene comes in various editions and has a GUI to be able to use it with Stackshot. What is especially nice about Zerene is that its author, Rik, hosts and is a very active member of photomacrography.net and is always willing to give advice about his software.

Zerene Stacker also further differentiates itself above other stacking packages by the availability of third party addons: ZereneVS, Slabberjockey, BugSlabber and MakeSubStackingScript ( Windows | Mac ) are all extra utilities to generate substacks (slabs). These do not exist for any other stacking software packages.

Helicon Focus

Helicon Focus is a specialised stacking application put out by Helicon Soft, which includes Helicon Remote, a WiFi stacking controller utility. From my limited exposure to the software it can produce good results, but does not include any retouching unless you pay up for the professional version. In the professional version it does not provide any mechanism for retouching between two of its own outputs. Batch operations also require the professional edition.


ImageJ is a free java application that can be freely downloaded from here, and also does focus stacking with imageJ extended depth field module. ImageJ is written in Java and runs on Linux, Mac OS X and Windows, in both 32-bit and 64-bit modes.

Bringing Out Extreme Macro Detail

Extreme macro is all about the details, especially in the stacking

Extreme macro is all about the details, especially in the stacking. Stackers take great pride in showing 1:1 screenshots showing the amazing amount of detail that some of these images manage to capture, and the ongoing quest for lenses for the great 1:1 100% screenshot occupies a not insignificant amount of effort. This sort of detail capture doesn't happen without a bit of help, and I find that Topaz Detail is a great help with this. Topaz Detail is a plugin that I use with adobe Photoshop and is a valuable addition to the extreme macro toolbox.

Focus Bracketing for Extreme Macro

Focus bracketing software is bound to increase in the next few years as it's obvious software whose time has come. For you Canon users, Magic Lantern might be worth a look, as it will help you take focus bracketed shots to be able to make stacks with them. I suspect that it is only a matter of time that a form of focus stacking will be present in most digital cameras, as it's such an obvious thing to do.