Saturday, 6 September 2008

Focus stacking ant images

I wish I had the kind of technology that the guys at AntWeb have for taking photographs. They use Automontage to focus stack the images, ensuring that everything is in focus. The principle of focus stacking is that you take photographs with different parts of the subject in focus and then use the software to combine the in-focus bits of all the images to create a new image.

The big issue for me is the cost, as the technology involved is pricey. The photographs that I take at the moment are done in a very low-tech way with what is now a rather dated camera, but it seems to work without costing the earth.

I recently read an article on tardigrades in British Wildlife, in which the author discussed briefly the technology he uses for photographing these tiny beasts. It turns out that you can focus stack images on the cheap, with two software packages freely available: Helicon Focus (for Macs) and CombineZP (for Windows).

I've had a bash at producing some stacked ant images in CombineZP. It's fair to say that the process involved is incredibly fiddly, time consuming and computer memory hungry, with the images produced rather variable. However, it does work fairly well, once you've learnt to keep the camera completely still whilst taking the images.

I know some people dislike focus stacking, because it makes images appear flat, so I thought I'd put CombineZP to the test.

The following photographs are of British Lasius niger (it's worth clicking on the images to view larger versions). Image 1 is the best of the original images used to create the composites below:

CombineZP produced two images (from nine original images), using different stacking techniques, that were of reasonable quality. Image 2 is perhaps the closest to the original and was produced using Pyramid Maximum Contrast methodology:

Image 3 uses Pyramid Weighted Average methodology:

I have my own thoughts on which I prefer, but I thought I'd put it to the vote:

Which of the above images is best? free polls

1 comment:

Mike said...

Thanks for pointing out this image stacking software. I was trying to photograph Myrmica scapes at the weekend to try and show the different angles of scabrinodis and sabuleti as per Seifert and it was hopeless. To get a useful iumage both ends (viewed along the length) need to be in focus at the same time. I'll have another go using this software and see if can produce any useful images.
All the best
Mike Fox