Thursday, 20 January 2011

Heath Robinson Meets Heather

In general I've been disappointed with the quality of some, many really, of the stacked macro photos I've taken. The main difficulty being changing the focus by minute amounts between shots. Last week I spotted an article on the DIYPhotography web site which explained a system for automatically moving the photographic subject for each shot. I though to myself I could do something like that so I have been in Heath Robinson mode for the past three days and came up with this:

Photographing Stacked Photos

Canon 350D, cheap Chinese bellows, s/h Super Takumar 1:2 55mm lens.
On the piece of wood:
Stripped computer DVD player keeping the stepper motor and laser carrier. (Sprig of Heather mounted in pink Blu Tack) On the right - relay to fire the camera.
Breadboard with Arduino Nano (left) pulsing a stepper motor driver (centre) and the camera relay.
On the right the 5V regulated power supply.

This photo of one heather flower is built from 59 stacked photos processed with CombineZP.

rectangle_New-Out99999 Heather

As I have the Arduino Nano programmed at the moment it moves the subject one step, waits for vibration to settle, fires the camera, waits one second and then repeats the process. This it does 25 or 50 times depending on the position of one of the switches. If more photos are needed I push the reset button to carry the process on again. On my calculation each step is 0.15mm.

This time I am pleased with the result though it takes CombineZP quite a while to process all the shots - worth the wait though.


After thinking about increasing the sharpness of the resulting stacked photo I took a series in RAW. CombineZP doesn't accept RAW so I converted them all to BMP which CombineZP can work with. It was much faster processing the 69 shots in this stack and with a bit of processing in PaintshopPro to add  more contrast this was the result: Full frame with no cropping. I also increased the time from moving the subject to taking the shot to 1.5 seconds to allow vibrations to settle down.

rectangle_New-Out99998x Heather

I think I will be satisfied with that, for now.


  1. John, this is a superb result. I've had a look on Flickr at 100% and the flower is very impressive. Should be for all your effort.
    It would maybe stand sharpening a touch but that softness is inherent with digital and nothing to do with your apparatus.

  2. Thanks Adrian.
    I have several thoughts on the slight lack of sharpness.
    There may be too many photos - maybe try a double move between each (0.3mm)
    Must look again at Combine ZP settings as it reduces the size from about 1.7M down to about 700K
    The originals were too dark so the result was processed in PaintshopPro. That will have dented things a little.
    Must try RAW as CombineZP should work better with that - I wonder how much slower the processing will be then!
    The lens is set to f2.8 - maybe try f4
    Also position / direction of lighting can make a difference.
    Lots to experiment with.

  3. I think you are about to get "Headhunted" by Canon or Nikon John. {:)

  4. John, amazing.
    You make it sound all so easy; I wouldn't have a clue where to start, or what I was doing. lol

  5. I'm amazed it worked, in the end, Keith.
    Another camera control project I started a few months ago still does what it wants instead of what I want lol.

  6. Super, John! You have some great results.

  7. John if you shot in raw then batch converted the lot and saved them as 700k TIFFs you could sharpen them all first. Watch you don't sharpen any noise. If you denoise in the Raw converter watch very closely as that really softens images. It is still very impressive.

  8. Holy Smokes, what an ingenious contraption! How ever do you come up with such ideas? I can tell you have enjoyed thinking of the possibilities, and then putting it all together with remarkable results. Oh, and I'll take an early guess at next week's Monday Macro shot ....

    heather. ;)

  9. Thank you Wilma. I just love experimenting.

  10. OK Adrian. I use IrfanView for the conversion and I see it has the facility for sharpening and other tweaks in its batch facility.

  11. Hello Glo. Can't claim any originality as the article I saw got me thinking in that direction. It beats the commercial option - that moves the camera in much the same way I move the subject but costs in excess of $400.

    He he. No chance of me using heather on Monday.


Thank you for visiting. Hope you enjoyed the pictures. Any comment, or correction to any information or identification I get wrong, is most welcome. John

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