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Outdoor Photography Tips 37 - Stop the Movement - Active Subject Stacking

WOW, 2018. The new year, and I noticed it has been a month or so since the last blog. So here I am listing a bit to one side from the holiday recovery, but ready to help you with a few more tips in the new year.

About mid-way through last year I acquired a new piece of equipment that has really revolutionized my shooting when it comes to stacking. I have recommended it in two other blogs, and it will also be emphasized in this one. The reason? This blog is focused on (no pun intended), capturing subjects that are not easy to capture via the stacking process. I hope the couple of tips I have here will help you to expand your subject base to include some new species into your captures.

Helicon FB tubecheck their lens list for compatibility It is a small extension tube containing a micro-processor that controls the focus and refocusing of your camera during captures. Set the camera to continuous or burst mode, and the tube will automatically focus and refocus the lens to capture your stack in consecutive exposures with directional refocus steps. I shoot at 4 to 6 frames/sec and can acquire entire stacks for close-up in just a couple of seconds time. The days of monorail increment stacking for close-ups is a thing of the past for most field shooting. These would take a minute or two for each image.

My recent series of captures illustrated a species of jumping spider. These are very active subjects for anyone who has had the opportunity to shoot them. Several of my blog followers inquired as to how I was able to stack such active subjects. Well here are a couple of tips that should help them, and you, with your more challenging subjects.

The activity level for most invertebrates, and some vertebrates as well, is dictated by the surrounding temperature. Not a new scientific discovery, and certainly many of you have heard of the procedure of setting the subject in a cool environment such as a refrigerator for a short time and this will cause them to slow down - well, until they warm up again and are moving about. While this technique works in some cases, some individual specimens look as though they spent a few too many hours at the local bar at the end of the street. But I have used this technique from time to time. But I needed something that worked a bit better for me.

But what about amphibians who already enjoy the cooler temps, and continue to motor about even when they have just enjoyed the refreshing chill of the inside of your frig? Here is something I found works with a great many subjects - Bright Light. "What?", you say. Yes, bright light.

I sequester my subject inside a dark container until I am ready to shoot. When the set, or diorama reflecting a specific habitat has been constructed with leaves, flowers, sticks, rocks, or whatever the setting is supposed to be, I remove the specimen from the dark enclosure, placing it in the setting with a very bright light source. Almost always, they will sit for some time attempting to adjust to the light - similar to what you experience when you come out of a movie theater. This is your opportunity to capture some wonderful stacks of often very active subjects.

What do I use for lighting? I use flood lights. You are probably poo-pooing the idea of flood lights already, since they will warm up the already active subject. Not so with today's lighting.

In the past, I have used electronic flash for my lighting, but find that many of the amphibians, and some of the invertebrates, will shift after firing a few frames of electronic flashes. Then your stacking has to begin all over again. Not a fun task.

If you have a Lowes, Costco, home Depot, or other places that carry portable shop work lights, you are in luck. The older ones used to be very bright, but they consisted of quartz halogen bulbs that were equally hot as they were bright. Great for keeping your lunch warm, but not good when you have four of them pointing at the subject from a distance of a foot or so. Recent floods are LED lights. Mine are 3,000 lumens each (and I have 4), and they provide great light for the stunning power, and also very useful for focusing for the initial exposures.

I use them two ways. Sometimes I still want to use the electronic flash, so I have one bright light from above(LED). The electronic flashes are set up in their regular configuration. When I place the specimen out to shoot, I turn the overhead LED on. The LED is utilized to focus for the first exposure and to stun the subject. The electronic flashes are set to deliver a larger quantity of light than the LED, so when the flashes begin to fire, the bright light from the LED reduces the effect from the distraction the subject would receive from the flashes, but does not interfere with the flash lighting for the exposure.

To reduce the effect from the LED during these shoots, I use the lowest ISO and fastest shutter speed I can. That way the LED light does not interfere with the short duration, higher intensity light from the flashes.

If I use just the LEDs and choose not to use the flashes, I will take an exposure of a white color card, or even a piece of white paper first. The color temperature of LEDs can vary, and this gives me a white balance image I can work with in the final set of images.

I have 4 lights for most shoots. Two in the front above and in front of the camera, one behind and above, and one below and in front of the subject.

As a side note, light tents are a great tool for small invertebrates, as many have very shiny reflective surfaces which create more work in the post processing of the stack. They can be purchased through Amazon less than $30, depending upon the size you require, less than $20. This one is $14.99.

The other techniques that works with reptiles and amphibians, especially with frogs, is having them exercise before placing them in a setting for captures. Place the subject in a reasonably large container - large box or open area in your living room. For safety measures, I would do the living room thing when the wife is out. Much safer for you. And release the subject to jump around for a brief while. Usually by ten hops, a frog is out of energy, and it will take some time for it to recharge. Dip them in a bucket of clear water to wash off anything that might be clinging to the moist body and you do not want to clean in post processing later. Reptiles have very smooth, dry, scales, so the water bath isn't usually required.

Pick them up, and place them in the setting under the bright light. They will sit much better than just shooting them with a flash right out of their container.

So there you have it. A New Year photo stacking tip or two. I hope this was helpful, and as always, happy shooting.


LED lights, Helicon FB Tube, Light Tent, if you desire, and time to work with your subject.

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