Spring Returns (Mountain Ball Cactus)

For those of us at higher elevations in the West, blooming Mtn Ball Cactus is a welcome sight and a clear sign of spring! These little guys are becoming harder to find these days. Although they can be varied in color from deeper pinks to white, these brilliant pink versions are what I admire the most.

On the technical side, I took this with a Nikon d850 and a Nikon 70-200mm lens, at F10. This is the first time I used the focus shift feature and I stacked 15 images in Helicon Focus. Seemed to operate quite well and might just eliminate the need for a focus rail. Be forewarned, the focus shift feature doesn’t work with some older macro lens. My old trusty Tamron 90mm didn’t work :frowning: One thing I should mention is relation to my processing. I left the stigma (center feature of flower) quite bright to bring one’s eye into each flower. That also allowed some separation from the stamens.

I will appreciate any critiques and/or comments.

That’s valuable feedback, and many thanks. This speaks well for stacking, and especially the focus shift feature. I’ve shot images where I KNEW I needed to stack, but either didn’t have the rail with me or didn’t want to hassle with it. Soooooo, I merely shrank the aperture in vein hopes but was disappointed in the end.

This is brilliantly composed, exposed and reposed. :wink: The square crop works especially well, and the pattern of spine clusters provides the perfect background to complement the blossoms. It speaks well for the value and beauty of this diminishing species.

Thanks, Hanks! I especially appreciate your comment about the square crop. I am particularly fond of it, even for some landscape images.
Yea, one of the strong advantages of focus stocking is utilizing the lens’ best quality f stop and being able to use a lower f stop to bring in more light. I find the later really important at times when one has to use a higher shutter speed to freeze slight vegetation motion. Unfortunately, since I couldn’t use my old Tamron 90mm lens, all I had available was my 70-200mm. I would have like to used f 5.6 or so, but I know that lens sweet spot is around f 11.

More good feedback. We have a stack of older macros dating back to the 1970’s, and case by case we’re being forced to update. Food for thought is especially welcome.

Hi Ken
Great photo and thank you for the stacking explanation. I really like the detail here and the background with the star effect is very nice I just got an 850 and helicon focus and played with the focus stacking for the first time yesterday. Focus stacked a cup (LOL), because the weather was lousy .
Question, how did you decide intervals? That is one thing that mystified me. Have you found any good tutorials?

Another general question on file maintenance. I know that I will most likely throw out the NEF files I don’t use for a stack but how about the underlying NEF files that are used in the stack. If you are happy with the stack is there any point to keeping them? Seems to me hard drives are going to start filling up faster than normal if all the stacked photos are kept.

Thanks for the comment, Kathy!
Yep, as you found out, there isn’t a lot of good info on the use of focus shifting. I’ve read a few posts by different photographers who have tested it more than I. So, for macro work, the interval should be one or two, depending on the f stop. If one is using an f stop around 5.6, then definitely an interval of 1 or 2. As mentioned, I shot this image at f 10, so I set the interval at 3. Really comes down to some experimentation; particularly, on the number of images. For smaller size subjects (one to two inches) at f 8, Nikon suggests 80 images for a 60mm macro. Whoa! For landscape image, I would set it at 5 or so and around 10 images at f 8 for a 70mm lens. There are many variables with macro photography, in particular; size of object, f stop, lens focal length, etc. It is because of all those infinite variables that Nikon probably didn’t publish any exact details on some of the settings.

Exposure smoothing is a setting that could be useful. It tries to match the exposure on all images based on the first shot. Would be quite useful if clouds rolled over or other light changes within the few minutes of snapping images. However, for that to work, one must set Auto ISO sensitivity. As indicated in the Nikon manual and it somewhat obvious, the aperture must remain the same. So, one should shoot in Manual or Aperture Priority.

You might want to check out this technical document from Nikon. It provides more explanation and some charts on the number of images based on object size, focal length, and focus width setting. https://nps.nikonimaging.com/technical_solutions/d850_tips/useful/focus_stacking/

Regarding file maintenance, I always keep those original NEF images. One never knows where the technology may end up. One may want to reprocess older images with new software. Because of this reasoning, there is no doubt backup drives are now in the terabytes for me. On the positive, storage is getting cheaper.

Ken: Great subject and a superbly crafted image. I like the square crop and think it works really well for this group of flowers. If you want some stacking tips be sure to contact Phil Hodgkins who is a stacking wizard. :+1::+1:>=))>

1 Like

I love the framing of this flower cluster, Ken. The square composition works very well. Your stack also worked nicely with no anomalies that I can detect. No nits at all from me.

1 Like

This is a wonderful, eye catching composition. Very unique and wonderful. I like the brightened center, the colors, and the comp is full of wonderful patterns.

1 Like

I love the processing and the square format, which works perfectly with the centered comp. The pinks and oranges are electric ! Lots to like here, Ken.

1 Like

Ken, a solid stack and I like the square format. Your comments on stacking and focus shifting are interesting. For my purposes, focus stacking is as much intuition as it is precision focusing. There are two objectives: an expanded DOF and a well blurred background. But it is also true that flowers are irregular and they move. A lot! Grass and other impedimenta within the frame will also move faster than the flower itself. As a result, timing and a fast shutter are equally as important as overlapping intervals. It is also more important where you start a stack than where you end it. Rules of thumb–take more than you think you will need, check the wind forecast and the light forecast before you go, Observe, observe, observe, and don’t be afraid to start over if you screw up!

1 Like

Yea, Phil, always some challenges with macro photography outdoors. So far, I’m fairly impressed with the focus shift feature on my Nikon. Sure beats the using a focus rail! I’ve shot macro for many years and the technology to create an impressive image has improved dramatically.