A beautiful morning dawned with sun shining. I filled the watering can to add moisture to my chocolate mint plants.

As the water sprinkled down upon the planter I noticed a tiny flash of brilliant green. Close inspection showed the smallest preying mantis I had ever seen. It was approximately 1.25 inches. As luck would have it, I had a macro lens on loan from Olympus to test, the M. Zukio ED 60mm f/2.8 macro.

Rush to shoot!

Thinking there would be little time for a live subject I raced for my camera and macro lens. I realized very quickly that handholding with that magnification was not going to be a winner in any way, shape or form. Back I went to the studio to grab a tripod and figure a way to get it close to my subject.

It took a few manipulations to find the combination that was steady and close enough to fill the frame.

Meanwhile, to my surprise, the mantis waited patiently through my machinations.

Refined shoot

Once I started photographing in earnest the reality of macro reared its head. The depth of field is extremely shallow at that magnification even when stopped down to f/22, which meant it was time to add focus stacking to the mix. I wasn’t sure I’d have enough time to get the stack completed before the mantis started to move.

Fortunately, the OM-D E-M1 Mark III has a focus stacking feature built into the camera. I chose a focus step of one and a Step and Repeat of 25 frames.

A quick review of the first stack of 25 showed I could get the depth of field needed in 15 frames. Choosing the number of frames captured allows for focus to fall off leaving a pleasing background. I don’t always want sharpness from front to back. A quick adjustment was made and I began photographing numerous sequences.

fotopro tripod
Fotopro Eagle E6L tripod maneuvered into close-up position.

Then it was time to tweak my camera’s position to get a portrait with the mantis looking at the lens. Aided by opening two of the tripod legs to the flat position and extending one leg to the ground below the planter, I also used the tilting head of the Fotopro Eagle E6L (B&H | Amazon).

Success! After a series captures, the mantis looked at the camera and held the pose through the entire sequence. Lens was set to the closest focusing distance.

Processing

Attaining the images is just the first part of the job when shooting a focus stack. Off to the computer to download and choose the 15 shot stack with no movement in between frames. The images were processed for color and clarity, then stacked into Photoshop Layers.

Under the Edit menu you’ll find Auto-Align. This makes sure the images are perfectly aligned, as the sizes change with a change in focus.

All of my layers were then selected, and I went to the Edit menu, and chose Auto-Align All Layers. This step is critical, as focus changes impact the image size a tiny bit.

Auto-Blend Layers invokes Photoshop to create Layer Masks showing the sharp parts of the images to activate.

Then I went to Edit > Auto-Blend All Layers. Photoshop will build masks and allow the sharp areas to be shown.

Layers palette with masks created by Adobe Photoshop using the Auto-Blend Mode.

A note of caution is to look carefully at the result. Depending upon the amount of contrast or how much overlap each image has, there may be small areas of blur. These can be fixed by adjusting the masks by hand.

Result of blended stacked images.

Final processing tweaks

Layers Palette showing final image clean-up and color grading.

Artistic license is taken with final clean up. Since the eye goes to the area of highest contrast extra leaves were added and dark areas and distractions were removed.

Apparently the mantis’ right antenna was moving during the capture and did not record due to the 1/8s shutter speed. To get around this, I added an antenna from another image in the series. Can’t have our subject looking less than stellar, can we?

Final image after processing.

Yours in Creative Photography, Bob