After Before Friday; Macro Insect

The After and Before forum is organised by Stacy Fischer, it is a place where amateurs as well as seasoned photographers explain the wow and how about their photo and editing decision.
You can read more here about how to take part.

Ab Friday wk51before Benjamin Rowe

I have been trying to go through my images that need more editing than just Lightroom, these are mostly HDR, Stacked or composite images. One of the big challenges I have had recently is taking macro shots with the light not being great and needing to stop down the lens creating a shallower depth of field. This has meant I have had to take a lot of shots of one subject then edit in Photoshop maybe back to Lightroom, instead of just editing in Lightroom. One of the problems I find with stacking is that sometimes when you get home you don’t have the best combination of shots with areas in focus.

The picture for this weeks after before forum explores the issues I have been having.


I had a taken a few shots of this insect with the hope that I could stack them. In fact only two were really working so I used them to create by stacked image.


I added some small details from other exposures; Including a sharper mouth and a small bug that the insect was looking at.


I used content aware fill to fill in the blank areas around the edges.


In Lightroom I made some basic adjustments; I increased the exposure and contrast to make the image pop a bit. I also wanted to protect the highlights and reduced them. I softened the shadows by opening them up and also increased the midtone contrast and the appearance of sharpness.


I played around with the vibrance as well as adjusted the green and yellow saturation separately.


I added a brush adjustment to brighten the back of the insect to add more separation.

not so great macro

Personally I don’t like the picture. It is a good base for a picture but it doesn’t come together in the way that I planned. Really the problem is that I didn’t get enough areas in focus for the stacking, although it looks overall in focus, there are patchy areas out of focus. I think the colours are ok but somewhat watered down.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Also please head over to Stacy’s blog to see the other participant’s entries into this weeks forum

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21 thoughts on “After Before Friday; Macro Insect

    • I always try and check on the screen that I have got everything, just sometimes you don’t have one thing. It is a shame when you download the shots and most are duds. There is always next time.

  1. Have you tried Helicon Focus Ben? I find the biggest challenge in stacking is subject movement. I also have a focus rail which helps. It’s not an easy thing to do.

    • I have never used Helicon Focus, but it does look interesting and will need to download and give it a go. Focus rail are really useful, unfortunately a tripod and focus rail does not always fit in my bag when I am on my way to school ( i take most of my pictures on the way or on the way back from school). It is not easy and I will have to keep on trying.

      • A perpetual licence is expensive if I recall correctly but it is quite slick. Try it first. It is a lot faster than PS.

  2. Nice job with the editing Ben, the colours look much better. I would think that its very hard to use focus stacking on something that would move, like an insect, so I think you did a fine job, but I’ll bet that you are going to have another try 😉

    • Hi Katie, I am always pushing myself to give it another try. I suppose I am highly critical of myself and my work. Focus stacking with a subject that moves is a challenging, yet isn’t that half the fun. The question now is, do I remember where this insect lives.

  3. An interesting experiment, Ben. I looked into Focus Stacking a few years back and quickly backed off when I found out how hard it is to do. I admire anyone who is willing to try it so was pretty impressed to see what you accomplished here.

    • Thank you Robin, focus stacking is quite intense and I can understand backing off, I have used some basic focus stacking with landscapes. I have focused on the mountains in the background and focused on a rock in the fore ground and then stacked them which creates visually an interesting image.

      • Hi, Ben: Yes, I was intrigued by the technique for use in landscapes as well. But it didn’t seem to work well for me. I compensate now by using either hyperfocal (single image) or layer masks to blend two images, one with near focus, the other with distant focus.

  4. I enjoyed reading the discussion with Robin. Am I correct that focus stacking is much more relevant to macro photography than other types, Ben? I ask because of Robin’s mentioning the use of layer mask blending, which seems like a more intuitive approach to me for landscape photography. That big disc, though, I’m assuming PS does most of the work for you when choosing to stack, which is an added benefit.

    I remember you addrssing this topic in another “bug” ABF photo. I had forgotten about the method, so thanks for the revisit. Hmm, I wonder if there is such a thing as focus bracketing on a camera??

    While you’re not 100% happy with your image, we’re always are own worst critics. I think this was a superb image to choose for ABF – both for the lessons you shared and for the final image. Thanks, Ben.

    • In macro sooner or later you will get to focus stacking. the closer you get to a subject the more the depth of field reduces and in my case this can be as wide as 1mm. I do sometimes use layers and masks to stack pictures especially if there is a lot of movement and I have got one bug in focus in one shot and another in focus in a different one. The problem comes in having enough shots with the right focus points.

      With landscapes it is much easier to merge two shots together; and it is great to have sharp foreground interest and a sharp subject further back. In some cases with my macro shots I can have maybe 40 shots and manually masking can take a very long time. On my old camera I did have focus bracketing but I was running Magic Lantern on it.

      In the end you are right we are our own worst critics and it is great to see that maybe I am being a bit to harsh on myself with this image.

  5. Amazing what goes on in the comments section here. I get only a small percentage of what you guys are talking about with stacking and rails and Helicon (if I’ve got that right). I sure have a lot to learn But I do think you did a great job on your edit!

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