The Rains Have Come

It’s been a dry fall particularly compared to typical Pacific Northwest (US) weather. But it looks like the pattern may have shifted as of today!

I shot this with a Nikon D850 and a Sigma 105mm f/2.8 macro lens. I used the D850’s “focus shift” feature to step the focus through the scene, shooting at 2.0 sec at f / 25. I focus stacked the exposures in Helicon’s software. It took a little experimenting to find what f stop and “focus shift” step width combo would yield an easily stacked and crisp image.

Open to any and all feedback.


Interesting lines and textures. I like how the drops magnify the details of the leave locally!

Jim: Really good drop shot with the drops and refractions within them in sharp focus. I don’t stack but this looks pretty good to me. I also like your comp. :+1::+1:>=))>

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Jim, the contrast between the magnifying effect of the drops and the leaf is quite eye catching. This kind of view, where everything is in a single plane, is where stacking works best and results in the fewest artifacts. Your framing looks very good.

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Mark - it turns out that it’s not really as much “in a single plane” as I thought at first, fwiw. I tried F / 11 for a similar view a few days before, thinking that I may as well use what I think is around the sharpest aperture setting for this lens given that I was going to stack. But I got vexing artifacts in and around the large and medium sized drops - both within the spheres as well as around their top and side edges. I was able to use Helicon’s retouching to re-mask a bit to improve it but it was not possible to get a truly good print-worthy result. I needed to shift to a sufficiently small aperture to get the drop and the background it overlapped into focus (or nearly so, at least) at the same time for this to stack well.

This is great Jim. Love the composition with the focus on the lines leading you through. Great contrast and textures

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@Jim_Oker, I understand totally. The fundamental optical physics issue is that you need the entire depth of a particular area in focus to avoid getting softness in the overlappped regions. When I’ve made stacks where it was impossible to get the overlapped region in focus in a shingle shot, I’ve spent hours first in Helicon and then in Photoshop “cleaning” up those regions because of the “fringe” of softness that must be there due to the optical constraints.

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I’ve found Helicon does better - i.e. let me push the overlapping a bit further than stacking in PS, but it’s not magic. I’m not keen on spending hours in the retouch tab in Helicon!!

This is very nice, James. I do love those drops and how they magnify the lines in the leaf. I also like that there is mainly 3 lines of the leaf that draws my eye through the image. I like the number of 3 in an image. I do see the 4th at the top edge, but I am enjoying the other 3 most. So glad that you got the rain. We had a dry summer here in NC as well, so I know what getting the rain means, and it is enough to get you out taking photos of the rain drops!

Jim, I do all of my detailed retouching in PS. On my Mac, Helicon’s tools are astonishingly slow… I’ve tested PS, Helicon and Zerene. Both Zerene and Helicon do much better than PS with the stacking.

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I built out a loaded Windows PC (with lots of RAM and a super fast primary drive) from parts a year ago, and things like stacking and stitching and such are much more pleasant to do now :slight_smile:

Well done, Jim! Isn’t Nikon’s Focus Shift Shooting the bee’s knees?! I love it on my Z7.

I’m curious as to why f/11 didn’t work. Do you recall what your Focus Step setting and number of frames were?

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Thanks Greg. For the f / 11 shot I used a focus step width of 2 which was perhaps even more fine than needed. I had nice sharpness from near to far in the leaf veins that were not adjacent to the drop boundaries. But on the medium and large drops in that image, the automatic stack yielded blurry top halfs of the borders of the drops. I had frames, though, with those borders sharp, so I retouched them in via Helicon’s retouch mode. But that left an blurred halo beyond the drop edge, where there should have been definition in the leaf veins. When I walked through the images that had those vein areas with good sharpness, all had the blurred halo in them, as the depth of field was not sufficient to have the adjacent drop boundary also be sharp, and the blurred drop was bleeding out beyond the edge of the sharp drop image, if that makes sense. Here’s a cropped bit from that image (this image looks fine at screen resolution but the borders will look weird in a decent sized print…). The only fix I could think of was to manually paint in some vein detail in those haloes, which was beyond what I was interested in doing to nail this image. I also had to deal with a fair bit of weirdness on the interior of the drops, as the surface reflections were sufficiently different in optical distance versus the magnified leaf veins that in most of the drops I had to choose which to keep, via the retouch function (the auto result was ugly with a weird mix of what Helicon chose to keep).

I found it worked much better to use a smaller f stop that yielded enough depth of field to have the edge of the drop and the leaf veins behind it both be in decent focus in some single frames.

Does that make sense? I’m pretty early in experimenting with stacking at this scale so I may be missing something here - I know I’ve had much better luck generally with Helicon with overlapping elements in larger landscape scenes, even when the near item and adjacent far item were not both in focus in any single frames, though I’ve had to do a certain amount of retouching in such cases. These images seemed to far a stretch…

Oh, and thanks for your very useful guidebooks to WA and OR!! I have both :slight_smile:

Ah! I see what you mean on the edges of the drops. I would have gone with f/11 and step width 2 also, but it looks like f/22-25 was needed in this case.

Thanks for the compliments on my books, and thanks for purchasing them. FYI, there are some updates and corrections for both books at

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Thanks for the link!