Stacks and Stacks

Good grief, you could almost have believed that it was spring today. I think that’s two pleasant days so far in February and it’s only 24th! [Ed: Sarcasm will get you everywhere.]

Since I was home alone and wanted an excuse to be out in the sunshine, I thought I might go in search of a spring-like picture, perhaps for the Leighton-Linslade U3A website. So, I dropped the roof of the Mazda, dropped my camera rucksack in the Mazda and set off. It’s snowdrop season so that seemed an appropriate subject. I first headed for a small wood nearby that we knew was stacked with clumps of snowdrops. Unfortunately the wood is private land but it is possible to see in over a hedge from the road. Having arrived, my real problem was that the road is a narrow country lane and there was nowhere suitable to park a low-ground-clearance car like a Mazda MX5 – Land Rover, OK; MX5, bad idea.

Instead, I headed for Stockgrove Country Park where there is an old boating lake with the remains of an old boathouse – that might make a suitable subject, too. Fortune failed me again. In addition to the old boating lake and boathouse ruins, there were seething masses of people armed either with Satan’s little disciples or partially tamed, though usually under-controlled, wolf descendants. The car park was stacked as were the muddy edges of the country road leading to and from the park entrance. It seemed as though every mother and/or dog-owner in Bedfordshire had descended on the same spot. Half term, darn it! Don’t any of these folks go to work? Foiled for a second time, I spun Mazzie round and headed home to wash off all the mud that had accumulated on my abortive cross-country photography attempt.

Some time ago I installed a piece of software called CombineZP – catchy little name, not! – but I’d never tried it. It does something called image stacking. One of the problems with close-up photography, particularly macro photography, is that you frequently cannot get enough depth of field for the whole subject to be in focus. A related problem, typically in landscapes, is caused by high contrast situations when you can’t expose all parts of the scene correctly to maintain detail – you either expose the darker areas correctly and burn out the highlights or expose the highlights correctly and lose detail in the darkest shadows.

IMG_8209_RoseIMG_8210_RoseIMG_8211_RoseEnter CombineZP which merges several images. For close-ups, the idea is that you take multiple shots focussed on different planes of the subject then smash them together into a single composite image. I decided to give it a go with Carol’s Valentine’s Day rose which, though now past its best, is still in reasonably good nick. For a first attempt I took three shots focussed on the nearest and furthest points together with what seemed like a suitable mid-way point. Here are the three individual shots to show you what I mean. (You’ll have to click on the thumbnails and look at the full size image to see the fine detail.)

CombinedRose_1CombineZP is full of scientific complexity but I managed to ignore all that and in a very short time I’d managed to generate my first focus-stacked image and here it is. This could probably have done with a few additional shots focussed on more intermediate planes but it really isn’t bad, I’d say.

Of course, this is fine for still life type shots but the chances of a dragonfly remaining motionless on a windless day (so the grass stems don’t move either) are zero so I doubt it’ll help there but it’s a fun technique in the right situation.

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