Increase Depth of Field with Focus Stacking

Cactus stack & None-Sm

Combination image of cactus with spines. Deep focus stack with 28 images, front to back, (left) and single image from center of stack (right). Nikon D800, 105 mm F2.8 Micro Nikkor, SB 910 flash and circular diffuser.

There are many times when a single image, even at the smallest aperture simply will not produce enough depth of field (DoF) to render the image sharply. This is regardless of the lens quality, camera or technique. The image above is a demonstration from a recent Nature and Macro Photography Workshop.

We have learned that DoF is dependent primarily on Aperture. (The bigger the aperture number; the bigger the DoF.) But DoF is also dependent upon Subject Distance, and lens Focal Length. As we get closer to the image and increase our lens focal length in macro photography, the total measured distance of the DoF gets smaller. Working in close-up am macro photography we are working against ourselves when it comes to DoF. Therefore, we need to improve upon this fault.

To extend the DoF we can now rely upon computer blending of several images into one with greatly extended DoF. Each image is focused at a different distance from the lens. An additional benefit of this technique is the use of a middle range, somewhat sharper aperture. When blended in computer software, part of the resultant image uses near focus detail, part uses mid-focus detail and another uses far focus detail, and so on. Often, as many as 10 or more sequential images are “stacked” and blended into one.

This blending process can include the use of multiple layers in Photoshop or free software called CombineZ or Zyrene Stacker. However, the most powerful software and today’s industry standard is Helicon Focus. The current version is 6.3.7 and its cost ranges from $30 to $200 depending on length of subscription service and number of computers licensed.


Nikon D2Xs, 50 mm flat field EL Nikkor lens on bellows, two SB-800 flashes, tripod. Image magnification in camera: 1.6X.

In this image (above) of the head of a bee 53 individual images with a different point of focus from the antennae to the rear of the head were made. Each image was spaced 0.005 inch from one another from the front to the back. These multiple images spanned the overall distance of o.265 inch, (or about a quarter of an inch).

So as you can see, focus stacking can help produce a little more DoF or a great amount as in the bee. It is also useful in landscape photography to produce foreground, midground and background in equally sharp focus.

Copyright © 2015 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

Tiny Views: A Nature & Macro Photography Workshop

Lenses were recently turned to the smallest of creatures at Mo Ranch in the heart of the Texas Hill Country. A dedicated group of eight Central Texas photographers from novice to accomplished image makers gathered for the the third Nature and Macro Workshop led by Austin natural science photographer, Brian Loflin.

Stick insectA walking stick or stick insect of the family Phasmatodea appears as if by magic from camouflage among a grouping of wildflowers. Close focusing lenses and dedicated lighting makes this possible.

The photographers endured three days of classroom work and photography in the macro lab and field capturing a diverse cross section of natural subjects — all much smaller than the proverbial “breadbox.”

The workshop features the tools, techniques, processes and procedures for capturing high quality images of our smallest natural world via digital camera. It includes: The equipment for nature photography; Understanding and perfecting digital exposure; How to make pictures extremely close; Lighting with off camera flash; Focus stacking; Wide angle close up-images; High key, white box and black box photography and much more.

Some of the student’s images from the workshop include:

Details found on a prairie coneflower, Mark Laussade.Macro workshop Macro workshop-2
A tarantula with reflection and Fire ant- Don Simpson.DBS-Peekaboo Terantula DBS - Fire Ant 2
Praying mantis and unidentified bee (possibly a mason bee)-Doug Farrell.

DSC_3853-reduced DSC_3726-reduced

A whimsical nature assembly and coneflower detail- Cathey Roberts.



Participants have high praise for Brian’s workshops and instruction, stating, “Thanks to Brian for the extensive preparation that he did for our workshop. He has expansive knowledge and photographic expertise. On top of that, he is a very capable communicator and teacher who shows much interest in his students. He goes above and beyond what you would expect in order to make the learning experience worthwhile and memorable. Our workshop was first rate!”

Brian Loflin is a veteran nature photographer, author and teacher. His multi-day workshops include Nature and Macro Photography, Bird Photography in South Texas and Flash Photography. Classroom instruction includes Nature, Macro, Flash, Photoshop for Digital Photographers, Photoshop Lightroom and Composition & Light. He has authored photographed and published several books on natural science with his wife, Shirley, including the award-winning Grasses of the Texas Hill Country, and Texas Cacti. Another book featuring Texas wildflowers is in current production.

Copyright © 2015 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved. Images copyright by their respective makers.

Photograph South Texas Birds-Only Two Seats Left!

Workshop Dates: October 30 – November 1, 2015

Goluch Jays
Image by participant, © Richard Goluch.

Just two months away, only two seats remain in this workshop. Don’t miss an opportunity to Join noted photographer Brian Loflin for a highly instructional, hands-on bird photography workshop in the heart of the South Texas flyway. This workshop features a half-day of full, hands-on instruction and three half-days of shooting in some of the best South Texas birding habitat available where the neotropical South Texas varieties abound. The late-October date takes advantage of cooler temperatures and the opportunity to photograph a large variety of resident and migrant species.

Take a moment to view participant images from previous workshops here:

The workshop will be held at the Laguna Seca Ranch north of Edinburg, Texas in the heart of the lush Rio Grande Valley. Features of this 700-acre ranch are purpose-designed for photography and preserved with all-native plants and animals. It features four constant-level ponds, each with permanent photography blinds oriented for the best use of light. Each location has been hand-crafted, and they all provide outstanding birding and photographing opportunities. Nearly eighty species have been listed on the ranch. Laguna Seca Ranch clearly offers a unique South Texas birding and photography adventure!

At Laguna Seca Ranch we bring the birds to you! We will set up natural perches considering the best photographic light possible. Most photography of the best scenarios is just 12-15 feet from your lens! Birds have water, dripping attractions and are fed year-round so attraction of the best species is stress-free.

Dolph-Laguna Seca 3-484
Image by Participant, © Dolph McCranie.

This workshop is designed for serious photographers who are competent in the use of their camera and equipment, yet may not have experienced the thrill of producing bird photographs of the highest quality. Copious instruction will include hands-on demonstrations in bird photography, understanding best exposures and camera settings, and the use of flash. Instruction will also include how to set up in a blind and shooting etiquette, setting up perches, best management of backgrounds and light and much more.

“Brian put so much work into this workshop, it was amazing! He took care of absolutely everything that you could imagine, meals, lodging, bird attracting set up, and always making sure that we were comfortable. At times there were so many birds around us, you didn’t know which shot to take first. We all had a great time, and I am ready to go back again! ” –C.C. – Austin, Texas

For more information see: RGV Bird Workshop
or, Email direct to:

Copyright © 2015 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

The Queen Emerges


Several days after the Monarch eclosing, I had the second chrysalis develop. This butterfly was a Queen. I was a bit late in starting preparations so I missed the first part of the emerging process. I did however get some images in the process.

The cameras, setup and procedure was the same as the Monarch, except that I used a live stem of Blue mist flower, a Queen favorite.

Here is another pair of views of the same adult:

Queen Butterfly

Extreme close-up

Copyright © 2015 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

Emerging Monarch Butterfly

Monarcg butterfly emerging from its chrysalis.

In July, 2015 I was given a couple of butterfly chrysalises by a friend and butterfly enthusiast, Linda Avitt. They were very near the state when they were ready to emerge (or eclose, as the experts say) as adults.

I quickly went about setting up my lab as an expectant photographer knowing I would see adults at any moment. I wanted detailed closeups, and timed sequential images and video of the event. So for all the stills, I used SB-910 Speedlights with Lastolite EZBox Speedlight modifiers and reflectors. For the video, I used a daylight balanced, flat LED panel. All lighting was balanced for balanced flash and ambient light exposure.

Cameras included Nikon D800 for stills (RAW and JPG) and Nikon D90 for the MP-4 video. Timed sequences were setup using  Nikon’s MC-36 remote cord intervalometer set to shoot every ten seconds. All cameras were securely mounted on tripods. The composition was set loose so there was ample room around the chrysalis for the emerging activity so nothing had to be moved.

For the staged insect, I picked a fresh stem of butterfly weed and kept it in a bottle of water. The chrysalis was secured to the plant stem with a drop of super glue, mimicking the natural attachment. Everything was clamped securely to the lab table.

Test images were made and exposures adjusted and composition and equipment fine tuned. All was in readiness, only to wait. This was Tuesday morning at 7:57 AM. And wait. And wait. . .  NOTHING!

Finally, the color began to change at 11:22 PM, some fifteen hours later. So much for the butterfly being ready to go. So it is with nature photography. The following sequence is selected from 45o images made that evening and early the next morning. Times are listed within each image.

So after a twenty-seven hour process a pristine male monarch butterfly was released into my garden and I was able to take a nap!

Butterfly collage

Copyright © 2015 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

Life after central Texas flooding

Early this year parts of the Texas Hill Country were in the most severe category of soil moisture drought – “exceptional” – for the first time since February 2012.

We can remember however as recently as 2010 when lake levels around Texas were near all time high levels, more than 50 feet higher than they were in the first part of this year. It was more than five years ago when Lake Travis was completely full. Contrast that with April when Lake Travis was less than a few feet from its all-time low.

Wimberley bridgeBlanco River bridge at Wimberley, TX, Memorial Day, 2015. Photo by Jay Janner, Austin American Statesman.

Change came quickly and with devastation this Spring as weather conditions brought record conditions. May 2015 became the wettest May and the wettest month on record for the lower 48 states dating to 1895, according to the State of the Climate report released by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Record rainfall ripped through parts of South Central Texas over the Memorial Day weekend causing flooding and displacing thousands of people.

In Austin extremely heavy rainfall on May 25 dumped 5.20 inches of rain at Camp Mabry, lifting Austin to its wettest May. The month’s rain tally was 17.59 inches, making it by far the wettest May on record since 1895.

The welcome and much-needed rain came with a serious price — severe flooding and catastrophic devastation. The Memorial Day weekend storms, combined with more rain from Tropical Depression Bill, brought widespread flooding to Texas, killing more than 30 people and resulting in flooding that damaged thousands of homes and other structures.

After the floodwater subsided, I had the chance to conduct a macro photography session with a friend and student, Nancy Norman. We went to a wooded  roadside parcel on the banks for the Blanco River near the town of Blanco, Texas. This is the same Central Texas stream that rose more than 43 feet above normal, wiping out several bridges, destroying more than 800 homes and resulting in the deaths of ten people in the Wimberley area.


Our purpose was far from photographing flood damage, but to photograph the life thereafter. And we were quite successful. We found many birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects, lichens and fungi in the wake of destruction. As we were focusing on macro, we concentrated on insects, and fungi.

Hundreds of cave swallow nests line the concrete structure of one of the bridges destroyed over the Blanco. Photo © Nancy Norman.


A small, yet perfect mushroom arises from the stem of a Possum grape vine on the river bank. A small, recently emerged Rush cicada found near the water’s edge.


Nancy concentrates on several small groups of mushrooms. Her equipment includes Canon 70D, 100mm macro and 430 EX Speedlite flash, all on a tripod with ball head and Mike Kirk flash bracket.

All together we had a good morning. Lots of good images were made successfully. We also learned that Mother Nature rebounds quickly. Life goes on.

Copyright © 2015 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

Meet Austin Artist, Shakti Sarkin


A few weeks ago I had the pleasure to photograph my artist friend and previous photography student, Shakti Sarkin. I was invited to do so with some of her new abstract art in progress. She is developing a very interesting theme around trees and water. In the images may also be found additional forms that really stimulate the imagination.

As my followers may know, this is a big departure for me as my work is predominantly natural science. Never the less, I got a big thrill in making this portrait. I must admit I had a little preconceived idea as to how I wanted to work.

The portrait is in front of a window to our left with indirect light from an overcast day. In addition, I place a much diffused Nikon SB-910 Speedlight on a stand high and to the camera right using a lot of the ceiling as fill.

I believe these types of images must be created with much care to reproduce the artist’s colors and skin tones accurately. I used a Color Checker Passport to get white balance, color and exposure values down correctly. This is a tool that I use regularly in my natural science work and it makes great sense to do so with this type of work as well. The image was post processed primarily in Lightroom and in Photoshop CC.

To see more of Shakti’s inspirational art, visit her web site at:

Copyright © 2015 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.
Artwork © Shakti Sarkin.