Future presence

Ok, so it’s not my best stack, but I’ve been trying and failing to photograph seedlings like these for a long time now. But I keep trying and when I spied this little one on a log trailside, I had another go. It might be a hemlock and it’s sprouting on a dead birch tree so that bit of curling bark was perfect to help show off this tiny tree to be. That’s always been a hindrance with these little seedlings - even if you get a good background, they can often get lost in the scene anyway. So it might not be perfect, but it’s a favorite because it comes so close. It’s about 1 inch high IRL.

Specific Feedback Requested

Ideas for future captures or processing welcome.

Technical Details

Tripod & possibly a CPL, but I forget - natural light
Focus bracketing using the 0/-/+ method because it was hard to tell which was the closest bit - took probably 40 or so images and used maybe 1/2 of them for this stack


Lr for a bit of a crop and the usual improvements - Zerene for the stack - Ps too for some distraction removal.


I love the idea of capturing these little seedlings, Kris. For me at least, it symbolizes so much about life; beginnings, survival and all. I am curious about when you refer to “focus bracketing?” I see you have a Panasonic (w/Leica lens) and I’ve got a Nikon Z6ii. I do have focus stacking and also focus bracketing, but have not used focus bracketing to combine images. What am I missing? Or miss understanding?

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I don’t think you’re alone, Linda. I’ve seen the terms used to mean similar or the same things even though to my mind they don’t. When I say focus bracketing I mean the internal camera function that takes a series of photos at different focus points within the scene. Like exposure bracketing, the user can set the parameters for each photo which will be combined to make a single image using external software.

Some cameras do focus stacking, too, which is basically automating the process of combining multiple photos at different focus points without having to use dedicated software. It’s similar to in-camera HDR in that you get a final image right out of the camera. The important point is that it’s going to be a jpg file. Bracketing can be done with RAW files (at least on my camera). I don’t think I’ve ever seen a camera system that can produce a RAW file made from more than one image.

Phew. Hope that made sense.


Yes, thanks for taking the time, Kris. I think the terminology is getting me confused. My camera has what it calls focus bracketing (which allows setting parameters for exposure compensation above and below any given beginning point). It also has focus stacking. This allow the user to set the number of images, focus step width, interval til next shot, exposure lock. In this mode it does not automatically combine the image but creates however many “# of images” requested in a RAW format for processing in Zerene, Helicon or PS. So, if I am getting this correct; when you refer to “focus bracketing” for me that means “focus stacking.” Does that sound about right??

No problem at all. Happy to help.


Looks like Nikon calls Focus Bracketing Focus Shift Shooting - ugh, thanks for confusing things Nikon engineers! It’s more exactly descriptive of what’s happening, but muddies the water a bit. I read through the user manual more for info about in-camera image merge, but I didn’t see it. I think Canon includes that option in the menu for image bracketing sessions; ending with do you want to combine these photos now or not, but I am not 100% on that. If so, that could also further confuse the terms bracketing versus stacking. My G9 has a completely separate function for automatically doing a focus stack in camera. As a matter of fact it’s located on the drive selection ring and not in the function menus. I sometimes wish camera companies would get together for naming conventions more.

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Thanks Kris for checking this out. From what I’ve read (also in the Nikon manual) the Z6ii does not have “in-camera image merge.” I have been using/experimenting mostly with focus stacking and the variables available to create the best set of images. In hind sight, I do wish I had gone the Cannon route, but at this point, that’s water under the bridge. Thanks again I appreciate your help and clarification.

Eh, I wouldn’t sweat it. One of the features that made me buy the G9 was the in-camera focus stacking. I thought that it would be a great time saver, but after using it a few times and only getting one or two decent shots, I haven’t touched it much. Using dedicated stacking software like Zerene or Helicon is the way to go for truly excellent images. I’ve since compared in-camera to external stacking now and again, and doing it yourself wins every time. You’d have to ask some of the Canon owners here if they use the function.

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Hi Kris,

The curling bark really does add a lot of interest and the little sprouts of moss on the curled bark adds continuity to the fallen tree, and it serves well for the BG.
I see what you mean about the “tiny tree to be” (I like that BTW) getting lost in the BG even if it’s a good one, but to me the curled bark seems to be a good choice.
I’m sure you’ve already thought about lowering the exposure or darkening the highlights of the bark but maybe that would help to make this better than it already is?

I’m still battling with how I want to go about focus stacking, my camera doesn’t have focus bracketing and that’s fine because I like the idea of using a focusing rail even for one shot images.

Really nice work, Kris :slight_smile:

Thanks @Merv - I did bring down the lighter bits of the bark quite a bit as I recall and this is as far as I wanted to take it. The canopy was open here and not enclosed so it seemed appropriate.

I’ve never used rails, but I imagine the end results would be similar. I’d toyed with the idea now and then, but didn’t want to have more bulky kit that I wouldn’t want to bring with me. Silly me. You should see my stupid kit now. :laughing:

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Thanks Kris,

I had a feeling you had already went that route, I still feel like the image you posted was well done and I like it very much as is.

Zerene is affiliated with (link to their website>) “Cognisys”, and it looks like they have some really good equipment. You probably already know about this company and the affiliation but maybe someone reading this doesn’t know.

Zerene being affiliated with Cognisys focus rail systems should mean they will work well with their own software?

It’s kind of hard for me to buy the whole setup since I can make the rail system and the accessories myself in my machine shop (I’m retired but I still have the shop), I will probably buy their controller though and still save a few hundred $$$.
Some DIY stuff is needed because I need to slow down on my spending spree, the new camera, two new lens, remote flashes, other miscellaneous items and the software is starting to add up. :frowning:

The rail setup will probably just live on my macro dedicated tripod since I have another tripod for long lens stuff. Leaving it on the tripod should make it a little easier to deal with.
One thing I really like about the Cognisys controller is that it will automatically move the camera, take the shot, move it again, take the next shot and so on (after a hopefully quick programming).

I’m willing to bet that most of us have kits that wouldn’t make much sense to anyone but us :laughing:

Thanks for your time, Kris and I will probably be tapping into your knowledge concerning focus stacking when I get started.

I’m not sure the rail/controller has anything to do with Zerene directly - meaning I don’t believe you shoot tethered as an example. I assume it’s only an affiliation that makes sense for the type of software it is. Any rail system and camera would produce images that can be stacked. Photography can be such a money pit, any way you can save some is valid. Lucky for me my husband is a competitive shooter of the bang, bang, make holes in paper targets variety so he understands.

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Hi @Merv and @Kris_Smith. Just thought I’d chime in here as I have been using a Cognisys Stackshot (with an automated rail) and Zerene for many years now. While I (try not to usually!) use in-camera stacking occasionally for outdoor photography with a G9 (just a wonderful camera), my main passion is in high magnification work. I use a high mag rig that is constructed to avoid vibrations as even the very slightest vibration will result in blurred images when working at about 10:1 or more. That rig includes a Stackshot that is connected to the camera for triggering the silent shutter on a D850, and the Stackshot is also connected to my PC so that each of the images in a stack (usually about 200 or so per image) are fed directly to Zerene (or sometimes to Helicon Focus) and are automatically stacked or just stored ready for stacking. You can see a example of a stacked image at about 10-12:1 in my portfolio here (Fern sporangia and spores).

The Stackshot is very customisable in terms of shutter release, rail movements etc, and I use it to take images at step sizes of 8-250 microns. You can programme in timings for flash etc, although I usually use continuous lighting and long exposures. While there is a lot of co-operation between Cognisys and Zerene there is no business connection there. Zerene was written by Rick Littlefield (a photomacrography guru) and he sells it though his own family business.

Merv, you can either just connect the Stackshot to the rail and your camera, and then download the images for stacking later, or you can connect it to both your camera and computer and get a direct feed into your stacking software. With the latter you can control the camera, Stackshot, and rail movements with your computer. Although some have used a Stackshot outdoors, it is quite a cumbersome arrangement as the stackshot controller, plus the automated rail, plus a battery to run it all, adds up to quite a weight and requires quite some dedication to use it.

In general, for magnifications up to about 1.7:1 direct camera lens focus adjustments work fine (as with in-camera stacking), whilst camera movements (via a manual or automated rail) are best for higher magnifications.

Hope this helps, but let me know if you have any specific queries about it. Cheers.

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Hi @Phil_G , I appreciate you chiming in.

I studied the Zerene software and I noticed that I could go into their menu, click on Tools > Stackshot to access the Stackshot Controller Interface within Zerene and I noticed that Zerene has links to Stackshot as well as Stackshot having links to Zerene so I assumed that they were affiliated in some form even if it was nothing more than pushing internet traffic towards each other.
The word Affiliate seems to have a fairly loose definition these days so I used it.

I remember reading about Rik Littlefield back in 2010 or 2012 when that software came out but I didn’t dig in too deep because I wasn’t ready to get back into micro photography at that point.

Yeah, I understand what’s involved in using an automated rail in the field and I’m OK with it since I have a stool that allows me to spend as much time as I want on one scene or subject.
I appreciate you pointing that out though!
I read where you don’t like to use a tripod so that may be part of why you prefer to use it in a studio scenario over field work? Well…that and you have a camera with focus bracketing and stacking :smiley: (Had to do that :smiley: )

I don’t plan on using the computer to stack the images as I take them while in the field but I’m sure I’ll use that method in a studio scenario.
Of course there may a time limit to the field shots just because the lighting can change fairly quick so that may be something to play with and learn about as well.
Another reason for me to use the automated rail is because my camera doesn’t have in-camera focus bracketing or stacking and that’s fine with me, I would prefer to use the rail, it’s very similar to what I used to do many years ago.
Most of the field work I do will be at 1:1 or less, mostly because that’s the best I have at the moment, at some point I may get one of the Laowa 25mm, 2.5- 5x macro lenses but not right now. I’m also interested in trying a tilt shift lens at some point.

I really enjoyed seeing your Fern sporangia and spores image! :slight_smile:

Again, I really appreciate you chiming in, Phil!

I have nothing to add regarding the technical parts, I think most of it has already been covered. I just want to say that I like this image a lot. One idea could be to crop it more tightly at the top and from the left.

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