At the end of last year, I began revising my focus stacking system to make it more portable and to be able to produce higher magnification work. At the same time, I decided it was time to organise my office and ‘lab’ space more effectively, in light of the new work I am expecting to do in 2017. Now it is near the end of January and after the Christmas kerfuffle and two bouts of sickness, an update is in order.
First, the essentials of the macro bench are complete and I am now shooting focus stacks up to 10x magnification, with magnifications up to 20x possible in the future. I’ll give more details on the set-up later, but here are just a few of my observations:
◊ The most difficult part of focus stacking is not, as I had first assumed, perfecting the lighting and calculating the right step size, it is cleaning the specimen! I haven’t yet worked with fresh individuals, but it is amazing how many particles can accumulate on older specimens. I now use an ultrasonic cleaner plus a cleansing liquid to rid the specimens of most particles and fibres, and am still working on the best way of getting hairy species (like the bumblebee above) properly fluffed up and unmatted again.
◊ Lighting is still a challenge. In order to keep the stacking system portable, I have opted to keep it light-weight, which means there is more chance of vibration. To counter this, I am using high-speed flash to make each exposure in the stack. While uniform diffused lighting is not so hard to achieve, I still want lighting that provides some modelling effect, so I continue to play with the lighting configuration.
◊ Dried pinned specimens invariably have eyes seem to take on a patchy appearance that is not always like the natural representation of the eye. For accuracy’s sake, live photographs for a guideline and fresh specimens would certainly help here. Some photographers are using Decon 90 (a cleaning agent/radioactive decontaminant) to restore eyes, but I haven’t found a source yet, and I am looking out for other possibilities. If anyone has any information in this area that might help out, please let me know.
The process, from finding specimens to cleaning, arranging, positioning and lighting is very time-consuming, but the results are amazing and certainly worth the effort. I can only hope that this winter hangs on long enough (!) that I can develop a firm methodology before fine weather and greenery pulls me outside again to explore the world of live bugs!