Well, there are some buzz words for you — focus stacking, macro rail … but what does it all mean?

In layman’s terms, it is a guide that sits on your camera to help with moving your focal point in macro photography. I bought a dual-axis/ 4-way macro rail, which goes forward and backward and left to right. But let’s try to break it down a bit more …

Focus stacking

Focus stacking is a term that means an image is made up of multiple shots with different focal points. Think of them as slices from left to right. Each image has the same exposure and aperture … you’re just moving the focal point along a little at a time.

This is really handy at high aperture like f/2.8, when you want the background to remain nice and soft, but want clear focus through your image. It then becomes a matter of merging these into one image with software like Photoshop.

different focal slices

Four-way macro rail

A four-way (or dual axis) macro rail is great for achieving a smooth transition with your shots. I must admit I found it was a bit fiddly getting it on my camera. But once on and I played with it, I really did like the movement action. The more I used it the more I loved it.

No more trying to just move your camera and tripod just a touch! Just need to turn the dials and it moved like a dream, little forwards or backwards, a little left or right.

So putting it through its paces

So time to put it all together and make some magic. Sitting my camera on the rail and then the rail on my tripod I set my scene up (just a simple flower) and moved in close. Working from the left to the eight I move my focal point slight through the image in slices (like above) and then merged it all together in Photoshop, I took seven images in total.

And here’s the end result …

Stacked image

What if you don’t want to focus stack?

I must admit I shoot for the blur, it doesn’t need to be all tack sharp. To be honest I might need a little more practice with the whole focus stacking thing. BUT if you just want to play with your macro lens and move your focal point around to find the best composition, then this macro rail is PERFECT for that too!

In fact, I think I had more fun with that than focus stacking … I love blur! Normally I am trying to move my camera and tripod around, focus and move or I get frustrated and take the camera off the tripod. I found this to be a dream.

I thought this tool might help my focus staking skills, but I actually found it pretty handy full stop. I’m sure it would work really well with insects too if you could put it all together BEFORE the bug gets away!