Orange Petals

I have watched these large orange zinnias grow for a couple months and wanted to capture the beauty of the brilliant petals.

Specific Feedback Requested

I am concerned about the composition. Any thoughts? All comments are welcome!

Technical Details

Is this a composite: No
Olympus OMD Mark II with 60mm macro + 10mm extension tube. ISO 200, f/9, 1/4 sec. Shot inside with tripod, white tent & lights


The lighting and detail in the flower are gorgeous, Ann. Do you have images of the entire flower so you can experiment with other compositions? If so, did you consider putting the center of the flower in the right corner with the petals fanning out? A bit like a ray of sunshine? Just a thought. Truly love how you manage the lighting, very nice.

@linda_mellor : Thanks, Linda for your suggestion. I like your idea as that would still emphasize the petals. I will look at my shots or try when I pick a new blossom soon. I have studied my shots and am working on a couple others…will post in a couple days.
Ann Louise

I like the idea raised by @linda_mellor. Although it’s a classic composition, it got that way for good reason. I think this one comes close to breaking out of that mold by the irregularity in the petals – maybe take just a hair off the left?? I like the colors and tonalities.

This would be a good one to experiment with focus stacking – it’s a wonderful feature on many cameras these days, and in many cases will return raw files to be stacked in other applications, which allows adjustments.

Hi Ann,

The details are amazing and with soft lighting, you were able to achieve a high level of crispness in the image. Comp is fine, but the choices are infinite with closeup photography. Well done…Jim

For me I’d like to see more of the petals. The transition from orange to yellow at the edges is really interesting and the shapes are intriguing. I would experiment with finding some uniformity in the center structures. Right now you have competing shapes there and I find it at odds with the arrangement of the petals.

And I think Diane means focus bracketing as a camera feature which is different than stacking whether in or out of the camera. I have both focus bracketing and in-camera focus stacking, but they are two different things. Any images taken during focus bracketing can be used on its own or combined with others in a stacking app like Zerene or Helicon Focus. In-camera focus stacking produces a jpg image that is made from a single 6 or 4K video clip of about 1 second duration. I find it is a more problematic way to create a stacked image because there is no opportunity for retouching which is a big part of how a stacked image looks in the end. Does that make sense?

I agree that it would be a great candidate for a stacked image. I put together a tutorial, well a couple of them, on my blog. If you’d like a link, let me know.

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Good catch, @Kris_Smith – I was sloppy with semantics and did mean focus bracketing. A friend has a next-to-high-end Olympus that also has bracketing, and I think she may also have in-camera stacking. Kris is right that is is not as good as bracketing and processing in a specialized app. That lets you choose the range to use and make raw adjustments before stacking.

@Jim_Zablotny , @linda_mellor , @Kris_Smith , @Diane_Miller : Thank you all for great comments. Today, I picked another blossom to try out your suggestions. The square “fan” image is with my 12-100 zoom lens. The 2nd image in a vase is with my 60mm macro lens. I did use the in-camera focus stacking for both. What do you think of the results?

I am familiar with stacking. I have had success with Photoshop focus stacking in the past. But so often there is ghosting and other problems, even on the texture of a petal. I also tried Helicon Focus but found it more complicated and I had similar results. My conclusion is that the stacking may need a more uniform set of images that are a similar depth from each other. I resisted trying the in-camera stacking until recently. I have 15 shots combined. At the moment I have more success with in-camera stacking. I do get the RAW files separately but the stacked image is a JPEG. I have started to be satisfied with selective focus, but I certainly prefer a flower in complete focus. Kristen, I would love to get the link to your blog and info about stacking. Thanks again for all of your comments!
Ann Louise

These are wonderful and I certainly can’t fault the in-camera results! I’m partial to the first for the drama but both are very nice. PS is not good for stacking as it can’t deal with “OOF overlaps” nearly as well as Helicon and Zerene. I think any of the programs will do best with uniformly spaced images that have a reasonable DOF for each. The in-camera bracketing should take care of that better than trying to do it manually as it matches the focus point interval to the chosen f/stop. You only need to tell it how many exposures to make to be sure you get enough total depth. It’s easy to see if you got enough by looking at the last frame.

It’s good you get the raw files to use if the JPEG isn’t good enough. I haven’t used Helicon in years but Zerene is very easy if used in its simplest manner – export the raws as TIFFs and drag them into the window for the files and click Stack > Align and Stack (PMax). Then save the resulting output file.

It has many features that can make it a much more complicated program but I’ve rarely needed them. If the PMax file has flaws, I’ll repeat with the DMap option (or run both initially) and layer them in PS and mask any flaws. But I always feel I’m flying blind in choosing the “radius” and often have to repeat it.

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Here you go, Ann Louise - Part 1 - Field Techniques and Part 2 Processing.

I like the second image you posted. The curl on the inner-most petals really stands out. So lovely.

Both of these images are wonderful, at least for me, @annlouiselyman. For me the first one has lots of energy and the second has such a gorgeous color combination. As for stacking, I’m on the fence about it. I have tried it many times, but only using Photoshop which clearly isn’t/shouldn’t be an option based on my own experience it truly doesn’t do stacking very well at all. I’ve also download trial version of both Zerene and Helicon but have not yet committed to either one. When I look at your images what I like is how natural they look. Just beautiful.

I like the first image the most, because of the tight cropping, where the petals fill the frame edge to edge. For me this creates the illusion that the flower extends well beyond the edges of the frame, and results in an almost abstract look to the image.

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I’m catching up on images I haven’t commented, but are great photographs and deserve more than a thumbs up.

I very much like the composition. It’s a rising sun against an orange sky. Could also be setting. Either way, you’ve taken the other path and it works well. I can imagine this framed, peeking out from the lower edges of the mat.

It’s also a gem in that it isn’t tack sharp everywhere. There’s a reality that gives it life.

The image with the disk in the upper left is interesting. It could be the base for a marvelous tessellation.


Hi Diane, @Diane_Miller
Thanks for all of your input! You have given me the words: “uniformly spaced images” to describe what I have been missing. I didn’t realize that I have the tool to get that spacing right in the camera, using in-camera bracketing. Then I can use those images in a program like Zerene. It is very helpful to get a rough outline for using Zerene.

Hi Kristen @Kris_Smith ,
Your blog is helpful. I think with your outline and maybe some of the videos out there I will try Zerene again. I never realized how focus bracketing could be used separately with a stacking app . Thanks for your comment on my new post.

@linda_mellor Linda, thanks for commenting on my new posts. I appreciate hearing about your experience with focus stacking! Good to know I am not the only one trying to figure it out.

@Ed_McGuirk Ed, It is nice to get your take on the first image. I find the petals just fascinating.

@paul_g_wiegman Paul, Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I agree there are times when selective focus is an option too. Love the word, tessellation!

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Sounds like you’re good to go – so now we expect a lot more gorgeous images from you! A lot of help with Zerene is available here.

@Kris_Smith, thank you! You’ve given me the needed shove to start using the LR plug-in, and great information on the processing in Zerene. I’ve always just retouched by stacking a PMax and DMap in PS and masked to get the best of each, but editing in Zerene gives much better control. I’m curious about one minor thing, though. If there is a sensor spot or a moving bug in the source files, it will leave a streak in the output images. Those spots can be retouched on the raw files in LR, and I would assume Zerene will use those (and any other) edits when it does the output to the TIFFs, but just thought I’d ask if you know before I go to the trouble. Tnx!

You are more than welcome, @Diane_Miller - my new-found love for stacking has made me an enthusiastic proponent of the technique. In my experience with moving bugs, I’ve gotten a clear or semi-clear image of it in each place it moved to in successive photos. Once it was a springtail and in one particular shot it appeared quite sharp and so that’s the one I ‘painted’ into the final image. Once it was a spider that appeared crisply in only one photo, so that’s the one I used as a source to paint into the final.

I use a lot of different images in the source stack to paint backgrounds and sometimes the in focus parts, too. It gives you great flexibility, but of course because of the pixel-to-pixel matching, it can’t copy pixels from place to place like Photoshop can with the stamp tool. I think with a sensor spot or a dust spot you’d have to remove that in Photoshop because you can paint from another section of the photo. Zerene doesn’t let you as I said and I don’t think Helicon does either. Probably because of the alignment piece of how the software functions. Does that make sense?

@Kris_Smith, it does make sense, but I was thinking of the solution that was necessary before I tried editing in Zerene. With a little bug crawling around that you want to preserve, the editing solution will work beautifully. But with the streak* left by a sensor spot or a bug that isn’t in a position where you want to preserve it, I was wondering if touching it out in all the raw files in LR/ACR will work – will Zerene’s rendering of the TIFFs use the LR/ACR edits? (Same might apply to tonal corrections and the like.) I would assume so since it isn’t returning a DNG, but just thought I’d ask. Easy enough to check next time I do a stack, and I have a couple of good subjects patiently waiting for me.

*Moving bugs will leave streaks because they move and sensor spots will leave streaks because of the magnification effect of focus breathing.