After two years of scavenging through the local junkyard and eBay, I’ve finally finished collecting all the components and building my studio rig for high magnification photography. While I was able to shoot at relatively high magnifications before (10x), I can now go even higher (50x plus) and my new rig makes the whole process much more fluid.
One of the main differences between this and a normal camera is the lens. To achieve the high magnification, I use objective lenses designed for microscopes. The system of multi-axis rails which can be seen in the photo above allows me to very precisely shift the subject up, down, left, right, forward, and back. This is useful because when working at high magnifications, even a very small shift (~1mm) could move the subject completely out of the frame. The two large black discs on the bottom left are each 10lb weights to keep the camera stand sturdy and mitigate unintended movements.
If you’ve read this far, you may be wondering why I need all this equipment just to take a photo. Let me explain: All the photos I take with this rig are in fact composites of a large number of individual images. The thing is, at high magnifications, depth of field (the amount of area in focus) becomes increasingly razor thin. In other words, looking through the viewfinder, you can only see a small sliver of the subject because the rest is out of focus. To compensate for this, I use a technique called focus stacking. For those of you familiar with photographic jargon, suffice it to say that focus stacking is like HDR photography but rather than bracketing for exposure, you’re bracketing for focus. In essence, focus stacking is the best way to extend the depth of field without sacrificing image quality.
To get all of these individual images, I use a microscope focusing block (the large light-grey rectangular box on the left) which allows me to move the camera in increments of down to 1 micron (1 millionth of a meter). Later on, using focus stacking software, the photos are all combined, bringing together the sharpest part of each image, to form an all-in-focus composite.
The following animation (sped up) shows you exactly what the stacking software does. (it may take a little while to load…)
Below are some additional photos I’ve taken with the new rig.
Carpenter Bee – focus stacked (42 images)
Fly – focus stacked (116 images)
If you’d like to see more of my focus stacking work, please visit the “Studio Shots” gallery on my website.