Red Maple Leaf
Barbara Gerlach of www.gerlachnaturephoto.com flew up a few days early for a recent night photography workshop that I co-instructed with Vincent Lawrence of www.acadiaimages.com. For the first couple of days it was rain and 50mph wind gusts, so we didn’t get out much! But we had a lot of indoor time to go over shooting / editing techniques and hardware / software, particularly regarding panoramas and macro photography. For this shot we gathered a bunch of leaves from outside and set them on the kitchen table under the ceiling light. I wanted to demonstrate Promote Control’s focus stacking with HDR in the field and the batch features of Lightroom, Photomatix Pro, and Helicon Focus Pro for post processing. We used Barbara’s Nikon D4s & 70-200mm f/2.8 lens with my Canon 500D closeup filter, Promote Control, and Really Right Stuff pano/gimbal head.
I setup the Promote Control to shoot 9 focus planes at f/22 to cover the entire depth of field we wanted, with 3 exposures of 1.3 EV steps from 1/1.3 to 5 second shutter speeds at ISO 1250. We then shot a grid of 4 rows by 3 columns for a total of 324 photos! Shooting was easy, a single button press on the Promote Control would shoot 3 exposure brackets at each of the 9 focus planes, and then we’d pan the Really Right Stuff panning head to the next position looking at the degrees on the vertical and horizontal panning clamps and repeat. I shoot a lot of manual panoramas this way, but this was my first for a “macrorama” (a word I think Vincent made up… haha!).
For post processing, I reverted back to Lightroom’s 2010 process under camera calibration, zeroed out blacks, brightness, contrast, and set the point curve to linear under tone curve. This results in very flat images without much contrast or punch, but they yield better results with tone mapping and exposure fusion later I’ve discovered. I dialed in white balance, sharpening, noise reduction, chromatic aberration, lens distortion, and vignetting to taste (the default lens profile worked very well). I exported the RAW files to 16-bit TIFFs in three simultaneous batch exports of equal number of photos (three simultaneous exports seems to saturate the processor threads and SSD in my laptop, four is more efficient on my desktop).
I chose a bracket somewhere in the middle of the image sequence of the red leaf with proper focus and tonemapped it in Photomatix Pro with its exposure fusion engine and saved a preset. Then I batch processed all 324 photos down to 108 using the preset.
After tonemapping, we batch processed the 9 focus stacks in Helicon Focus to 12 final images for stitching. I was going to use PTGui Pro to align and blend the photos, but a quick test with Photoshop’s own Photomerge feature worked perfectly fine. I cropped the flattened panorama in Lightroom to a 1:1 square ratio and added a little more contrast, clarity, tone curve, and brightened the exposure slightly—things that are harder to do in Photomatix. The finished image after cropping is 8597 x 8597 pixels or ~74 megapixels.