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Feedback/criticism needed

 
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Jonas



Joined: 25 Feb 2017
Posts: 5

PostPosted: Sat Oct 21, 2017 5:15 am    Post subject: Feedback/criticism needed Reply with quote

Dear users of this glorious board!

I have dabbled in focus stacking for a couple of years now and as such I am not technically a beginner, but I never got around to asking for help and just tried to solve my issues the best I could on my own. But I am sure that there are tons of things that I could be doing better and I am now at a point where I am seing very little improvement through my own trials and errors and this is where you guys enter the picture - so to speak.

All my shots are done with a nikon D7100 body, Tokina 100mm macro 5.6 pro, meike tubes, a Tokina doubler and the R1C1 flash-system for lighting. I use various diffusers - all home made.

My main concern at the moment is that I might be oversharpening my images and that I end of fiddling with the contrasts too much. I also struggle with a lack of realism in my shots - they end up pretty "artificial looking" - "cartoony" for lack of a better word.

I have collected my favorite images in this flickr-folder: https://flic.kr/s/aHskq5oWeU

I appreciate any comments you might have (positive as well as negative) and will gladly provide more information if you need it.

Thank you for your time.

-jonas
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Harald



Joined: 13 May 2011
Posts: 393
Location: Steinberg, Norway

PostPosted: Sat Oct 21, 2017 6:31 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi there jonas,

Your softing of the light works great. Some good lights there.

Personally, I normally choose white or black backgrounds only, it doesn't take any attention of the subject. And I think its ok to remove the insect pin in PS.
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Jonas



Joined: 25 Feb 2017
Posts: 5

PostPosted: Sat Oct 21, 2017 7:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you for your comments, Harald.

The lighting is by far the element that I have spent the longest time on so I am glad that you like it. As for the background, I see your point. I have had a few very poor results with both white and black backgrounds, but I suspect that I have been using the wrong materials. I will definitely give those colors another shot.

I have removed the pin in some of the shots and left it in others. I don't want to give the illusion that the animals are alive, but I agree that it sometimes steals focus (especially in the Pteromalid picture) and should probably be removed.

Best regards

jonas
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rjlittlefield
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Joined: 01 Aug 2006
Posts: 18244
Location: Richland, Washington State, USA

PostPosted: Sat Oct 21, 2017 9:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Jonas, welcome to posting!

Your technique appears to be excellent.

Illumination is well diffused to control the specular reflections and provide maximum resolution, while remaining directional enough to provide modeling.

I do not see evidence of oversharpening. Extreme macro images always suffer from diffraction blurring, which can be largely corrected by aggressive sharpening to push the MTF curve up closer to 1 until it gets close to the unavoidable cutoff frequency that depends on aperture. The trick is to apply enough sharpening to do that, while not introducing visible artifacts such as halo. It looks to me like you've mastered the trick.

I agree that some of your images look "artificial". That's hard to avoid when photographing in isolation an entire dead bug in typical dead pose.

To reduce the effect, there are several methods you might consider.

One method is to introduce some natural elements for background. An example is shown in http://www.photomacrography.net/forum/viewtopic.php?t=5134 , second image (scroll down).

A second method is to frame more tightly, so as to zoom in on interesting details while excluding obvious distractions such as curled legs.

A third approach, useful where plain background is unavoidable, is to use a gradient background rather than completely uniform. I'm not sure why this works, but I suspect it's because the gradient implies that the subject is sitting in some interesting environment, even though it provides no clue what that environment is. Some people carry this approach to an extreme, typically darkening the corners and/or brightening the background right around the subject, essentially mimicking the effect that a portrait photographer might do with a lamp directed on background behind the subject.

I notice, in your collection of images, that some of them already use the approaches of tighter framing and non-uniform background. I also notice that you've chosen to display three images larger than the rest, and the images that you've chosen use both approaches. So, I think you're well on the right track even though you might not have recognized why those particular images look good big.

I hope this helps!

--Rik
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ChrisR
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Joined: 14 Mar 2009
Posts: 7254
Location: Near London, UK

PostPosted: Sat Oct 21, 2017 11:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Jonas, something you might try is a controlled focus background, of something like Rik's leaf. When you're at the background end of the stack, shut the aperture a lot (~3 stops) and compensate for lighting. Then your sharp focus will fade away rather than stopping abruptly as it would in a stack. Diffraction kills peak sharpness but things tend to be recognisable.

You may only need one frame, or maybe half a dozen (which can be at much larger steps). It can introduce problems with sharpish things in shifted places, which confuse the stacker. In that case, initially make your output file with a partial stack(s) of both sets of frame(s). Then stack those two (the main output file, and the background frame(s)). You can if necessary retouch in Zerene to adjust the transition between the two images.
You may have to experiment with allowing or not allowing ZS to realign the outputs at the two stages, for best results.
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Jonas



Joined: 25 Feb 2017
Posts: 5

PostPosted: Sat Oct 21, 2017 3:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you so much for your comments, Rik and Chris!

I am thrilled that you do not see oversharpening in my photos, Rik. I don't know how wide spread an issue this is, but I tend to go "blind" to the weaknesses (and strengths) of my own pictures, when I spend too long on them. After a while I simply cannot tell if I am improving or degrading the image with my edits. This is not as bad as it was in the beginning, but with some images I still hit a brick wall... If that happens I tend to start over from the retouched ZS output.

The "natural" background seems appealing, but the few times I have tried it, it has ended quite poorly. The background ends with too much detail and the entire image seems too busy - but there is plenty of room for experimentation as to materials and approaches, so I will get right on that!
And I will definitely try your method of incorporating the background into the stack, Chris, thank you for that.
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Chris S.
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Joined: 05 Apr 2009
Posts: 2848
Location: Ohio, USA

PostPosted: Sat Oct 21, 2017 11:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Jonas, a different Chris here.

There is a lot you’re doing right—congrats on that! Since you’re asking for criticism, let me point out the other side of the coin, as it appears to my eye. I’ll concentrate on your Cladonia lichen, as it’s a subject familiar to me.
    1) There appears to be “focus banding,” (details alternatingly in-focus then out-of-focus, as one observes front to back). This happens when the shots in your stack are too widely spaced.

    2) Even the portions in focus aren’t all that detailed. I would think your lens, at its best aperture, would resolve more than this. What aperture did you shoot at? Too small an aperture, and you lose detail to diffraction (which might be the case, here?) Too large an aperture, and you’ll likely see aberrations.

    I’m guessing your field of view is on the order of 50mm, so your lens was set at about ½x (aka 2:1)?

    (And by the way, I don’t see a “Tokina 100mm macro 5.6 pro” out there. Did you mean “Tokina 100mm macro f/2.8 pro”?)

    And at this magnification, you should not have needed tubes or teleconverter, right?

    3) Your white background is lighter on the left than on the right, an unevenness I find distracting. I don’t have a problem with all white, gradiant-less backgrounds, as I value images like this for documentary purposes.

A few other thoughts (image names refer to downloadable full-res files):
    A: Image fleu-2_23976691358_o.jpg benefits, to my eye, with a modest curves adjustment (slight pull up in dense portion of this histogram, with slight pull down in the light portion). Your tight vignette in this image is a bit too drastic for me.

    B: Image fleu-4_37797245142_o.jpg has some splotches in the dark space to the right of the insect.

    C: Image vandklg-1-1f-ansigt-frontal-stack-2x-ringe_37780502496_o.jpg: Love this one!
Keep up the good work! And way to go, requesting tough love Very Happy.

Cheers,

--Chris S.
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Jonas



Joined: 25 Feb 2017
Posts: 5

PostPosted: Sun Oct 22, 2017 9:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hello Chris!

First of all thank you for your feedback - I appreciate the time you took Smile

Ah yes... The Cladonia picture. I don't honestly know exactly why, but I remember struggling immensely with that. The focusbanding I understand - and you're right, there's quite a lot of it in that picture - but I cannot figure out why the detail is as poor as it is. I think I may have shot it at a more open aperture than the optimal f8ish that I usually shoot at (when shooting without the doubler). When using the doubler, f5.6 seems to give the best results (which is why I incorrectly labeled my Tokina 100mm macro f/2.8 pro! ). It is quite a small species of Cladonia - the podetia are not much more than 10mm tall - but you are right that no tubes or teleconverter should be needed. I still have the specimen so I might give it another whirl! Since I made that picture I have also invested in a focus rail (Novoflex Castel-L), which should increase the odds that I can shoot it with no banding.

As for the two images of the fly I would like to just chalk it up to the fact that those were some of my earlier attempts, but I had honestly not noticed the splotches (they are VERY obvious to me now that you have mentioned them) in B. and I always thought that the darker colors in A. added some mystique to the image. But now that you mention it, it is extremely dark!

I am happy that you like image of the horsefly (Heptatoma pellucens)! The pair of images of that fly are the newest ones in the bunch.

Once again, thank you!

Best regards
-jonas
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Chris S.
Site Admin


Joined: 05 Apr 2009
Posts: 2848
Location: Ohio, USA

PostPosted: Sun Oct 22, 2017 10:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Jonas,

Jonas wrote:
. . . I cannot figure out why the detail is as poor as it is. I think I may have shot it at a more open aperture than the optimal f8ish that I usually shoot at. . . .

Shooting wider than optimal could certainly do it. Typically, an f/2.8 lens is sharpest at about f/5.6. If you’re shooting at 1/2x, bellows factor makes nominal f/5.6 effective f/8 or so (depending on how your lens attains close focus). Since Nikon bodies report effective aperture, a reported f/8 seems about right.

This said, if you haven’t tested the lens with an aperture series at a variety of magnifications, you might want to do so. For this, I usually use a test target of laser-printed paper pasted on a microscope slide. Even though this is flat, I still shoot and process a shallow stack, to reduce the effects of focus error and field curvature. With these results in hand, you can be sure of setting your lens’ sharpest aperture. You might want to run aperture series tests for a variety of magnifications.

Also, it’s worth checking to make sure that room light isn’t contaminating your image. To do this, just shoot a frame without flash, but with all other settings just as you’d use with flash. Your frame should be completely black. If not, room light may be robbing detail by cancelling out some of the image-freezing capability of your flashes. (I could see how room light could be a problem with the lichen, but not the insects, which might explain why the lichen was especially problematic.)

Jonas wrote:
It is quite a small species of Cladonia - the podetia are not much more than 10mm tall - but you are right that no tubes or teleconverter should be needed. I still have the specimen so I might give it another whirl! Since I made that picture I have also invested in a focus rail (Novoflex Castel-L), which should increase the odds that I can shoot it with no banding.

If the large near-central funnel is 10mm tall, by my measure this image was shot at almost exactly 1/2x.

Nice rail! Be aware that the depth of field at effective f/8 at ½ is about 0.5mm--so you’ll need a lot of shots for a specimen of this depth.

I look forward to seeing your next image of this lichen!

--Chris S.
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Macrero



Joined: 01 Sep 2011
Posts: 452
Location: Valladolid , Spain

PostPosted: Tue Nov 07, 2017 1:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Jonas,

to be able to properly criticise your photos, it is essential to know what do you want to achieve, just a technically perfect image or you care about the "artistic" part as well.

I'm under the impression that most people on these boards value the technical part much more. Personally, I find it very important too, no doubt, just like any macro-shooter, I'm a bit of resolution freak, but plain resolution and detail means next to nothing to me if the whole image is not pleasant to look at, that implies insect cleanness/condition, positioning, naturality (as far as possible), lighting, background, etc... To achieve a good technical image you need the right equipment and a bit of practice, to achieve a pleasant, artistic image you need more than just equipment.

Looking at your photos, you're right, some of them look artificially, that's mostly because of framing, positioning and the pin showing up. On the other hand, they look pretty good technically.

Best,

- Macrero
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Troels



Joined: 15 Feb 2016
Posts: 272
Location: Denmark, Engesvang

PostPosted: Mon Nov 13, 2017 1:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I am impressed by the technical quality of your work.
I have been into this business for almost two years more than you, and can assure you that the one aspect I find most difficult and challenging now is the handling, arrangement and position of dead animals. In other words: how to avoid pictures screaming: Another dead insect.
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Jonas



Joined: 25 Feb 2017
Posts: 5

PostPosted: Wed Nov 22, 2017 11:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank for your comments and kind words, Troels and Macrero!
@Macrero: It is hard for me to answer your question since I don't really know the answer. I am a student of biology and it was my desire to be able to reliably identify the insects I found from photographs alone. To that end, details are king, but I find myself paying more and more attention to the aesthetics. As to the needle in the focusstack, I have removed it in some photos and left it in others. I am not particularly fond of photos of dead insects that clearly seek to give the impression that the animal is alive and as a hobby entomologist I have come to terms with the fact that capturing and killing an insect is sometimes the only way to properly identify it so I have no problem emphasizing or pointing out that the animal is dead. That being said, I am sure there are ways I can improve in both the framing and positioning aspect Smile
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