We critique an N-Photo reader’s selection of focus-stacked, lightbox-lit, macro flower shots
Nature-based abstracts, movement and macro photography fascinate me, and I love the post-processing phase as I get to express myself in the finished image.
I am a huge fan of Irving Penn’s Flowers series, and I have been experimenting with some gorgeous poppies and peonies lit from above and below. My wife volunteers with Floral Angels (a charity that recycles flowers donated from weddings and other glamorous events to give to the community) and often brings me amazing stems from the flower market, but ordinary specimens can work just as well.
This kind of photography is time-consuming and appeals to the obsessive in me. Just setting up the lighting for each shot can take an hour or more. Even then shadows and reflections may not be apparent until you see them on the big screen.
The flowers are lit from above by inexpensive lamps and torches (costing £5-10), and with a lightbox and LED ring light from below. All the images were focus-
This kind of photography is time-consuming and appeals to the obsessive in me. Just setting up the lighting for each shot can take an hour or more
stacked (10-20 images for each shot) and then processed in Lightroom. I’m not drawn to highly manipulated imagery, so they’ve only been edited to bring out the best of what’s there. I use afocus slider to move the camera (and focal point) to shoot a perfectly aligned sequence of images, each with a slightly different focal point.
More than once a less-than-tight locking nut has collapsed my set-up, and that means starting all over again! But thankfully I’m retired and have the time to indulge my passion.
Steve, your lightbox images are wonderful. It’s clear that you have a strong understanding of macro photography by using techniques like focus-stacking and macro rail sliders. Our favourite image is the tomatillo
. The perfectly white backdrop juxtaposes the dark black colour of the dried leaves, and the stone in the centre is the much-needed splash of colour that this image calls out for. It’s simple, clear and sharp. The composition works perfectly with a square crop, and it doesn’t sit too close to the edge of the frame.
When looking up close we can clearly see that, in most of your images, the entire flower is pinsharp, from stamen-tip to the deepest petal crevice. Shooting in extreme focus like this is a challenge, and actually not always necessary as you have shown in your poppy shot . The back and front of the poppy are thrown out of focus, and it’s actually rather pleasing. This lack of depth of field
The ridges in the petals are so detailed that they look as if they’re made from tissue paper
forces us to take a look at the centre of the poppy where the brilliantly vibrant yellow stamen reside. The ridges in the petals are so detailed that it almost looks as though they’re made from tissue paper. We can see some stamen to the left and right of the centre that are out of focus, which appears to be the result of a missed focus stack section, or it may be that the stamen were so short that they were thrown out of focus, too.
Your peony image  again captures the delicate fibres in the pinkish petals, but this time something else takes our eye. Looking to the edges of the petals we can see a distinct glow from the lights you are using from above. The folded-back shape of the petals creates a wonderful shadow in the centre of the petals encircling the stamen. That, combined with the shiny edge, gives the flower a silky texture and makes it distinctly different to the poppy.
In all, they are a really nice set of images that made us want to grab some flowers and give it a go ourselves! Head to page 42 to check out Jason’s DIY light table project to take your own close-up nature shots.
1 Tomatillo Skin Nikon D750, 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6, 1/80 sec, f/7.1, ISO200 2 Poppy Nikon D750, 90mm f/2.8 Macro, 1/200 sec, f/4, ISO280
3 Peony Nikon D750, 90mm f/2.8 Macro, 1/80 sec, f/14, ISO140