After reaching out to the talented photographers behind some of our favourites, they were kind enough to share their processes with us. Read on to learn how each incredible image was captured and edited.
The vibrant colours in this stunning shot captured by Marit van Ekelenburg (@macrobymarit on Instagram) immediately caught our attention. “This is a green immigrant leaf weevil (Polydrusus formosus) sitting on the petal of a yellow tulip. The blue you see in the background is from lovely out of focus forget-me-nots. I held the petal of the tulip some 30 centimetres from the forget-me-nots to create this shade of blue. I’m always at the mercy of the whims of insects I’m photographing, so when it decided to pause for a bit and sit very still, I had to move fast. I was able to get 20 shots of this colourful weevil,” Marit reveals.
“In Affinity Photo I used Focus Merge to stack the 20 shots. Since I only shoot live insects in the field with a manual lens and no macrorail, the shots don’t always align perfectly. It needed some brushing up and for that I used the Clone Brush Tool. While editing, I noticed two layers that weren’t in focus, and for that I used a combination of the Patch Tool, the Inpainting Brush Tool, the Blemish Removal Tool and again the Clone Brush Tool.
Once I was satisfied with the stack work, I adjusted Levels, HSL Shift and Vibrance to make the colours pop a little more. I cropped and used the Patch Tool for two tiny corners that went out of frame while changing the angle. Then as a finishing touch I used the Fine Bandpass Sharpening from James Ritson’s Macro preset.”
We love the character and energy captured in this stunning shot of a Maratus electricus by photographer Paul Harrison (@pvharrison on Instagram). “This particular species of Peacock spider is found in the Lake Muir area of WA and was first described by Otto & Hill in 2017. They are small: Around 4 - 5mm long, so they can be hard to find and they are jumping spiders, so they tend not to sit still for very long. The males do this dance display to attract the attention of a female. I’d found a female and just had to wait for a male to make his move (whilst trying to ignore the clouds of mosquitoes that were buzzing around me). All my spider photos are shot on location without disturbing the spiders, so it is actually rare to get a photo of a male in full display mode like this,” Paul reveals.
“My gear for macro photography is: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with the Canon MP-E 65mm macro lens. This photo was taken at f/7.1, 1/160, ISO 125 with diffused flash. It is a focus stack of three images shot in burst mode. The focus stacking and post processing was all done in Affinity Photo. I really don’t do too much post processing on my nature photos as I want the colours to remain true to life. I’ve used; Levels, HSL (for the background), Brightness/Contrast and another Levels layer for the spider to bring out the details. Finally I used the Inpainting Brush Tool to remove a distracting fern from the left side of the photo and a gentle High Pass Filter to bring up the sharpness.”
To find out more about Paul and his photography, check out our interview with him here on Spotlight.
We think you’ll agree, the level of detail in this snowflake image captured by Greg Murray (@gmphotography.ca on Instagram) is incredible! “It’s still one of my favourite crystals, caught under the best conditions. The morning was cold but clear. I think the temperature was around -15C, and I remember looking outside seeing the air twinkling in the sunlight. This means that small snowflakes were forming in the cool air and slowly drifting to the ground. Because there are no collisions, the temperatures are right and there is no wind, the crystals form some of the best shapes. In this case it’s a small stellar plate with a secondary cap growing on a column between the two. I caught it as it fell from the sky on a frozen fabric mitten with an ice pack in it,” Greg reveals.
“With my camera and 4x Plan microscope objective, I took a series of images using my home built macro rail slide and a warm LED lightbulb for lighting. I edit the RAW in a third party program and export them in order to do a Focus Merge in Affinity Photo. I prefer Affinity over other focus merge software because it gives me the ability to fix areas the focus merge didn’t quite get right. Even some of the most expensive programs out there don’t do a perfect job, but the ability to use the Clone Tool to pick areas from the source images is brilliant. Once it’s cleaned, I make some selections saved as spare channels, clean up and darken the background a touch, sharpen, lighten, and adjust the colours of the crystal, then flatten and export it for minor tweaks and storage.”
Incredibly, the image above shows the tiny hairs and scales on the claw of a Rhinoscapha (a type of weevil). This particular specimen was 3cm in size, and the claw only 4mm long! “To reach this level of magnification, you need a special kind of lens; normally a microscope objective lens or an enlargement lens with an extension tube above or below. The result will have a very shallow depth of field, which is why we need to take many photos and merge them together,” macro photographer Hasan Jasem (@ihasan on Instagram) explains.
“The final result consists of 106 photos and I used Affinity Photo to stack them together. The application has a very powerful tool that is perfect for undertaking this kind of work. It also gives me the ability to do the stacking and retouching in one app, which makes the process relatively easy.”
“The final result consists of 106 photos and I used Affinity Photo to stack them together. The application has a very powerful tool that is perfect for undertaking this kind of work. It also gives me the ability to do the stacking and retouching in one app, which makes the process relatively easy.
To capture photos like this one, I begin by cleaning the specimen—which can be tricky with something so small and delicate. I then put it into the right position and start taking photos. Finally I open Affinity Photo and complete the stacking and editing process.”
The vibrancy of green, gold and orange tones in this image immediately caught our eye. “The insect in this image is Teratolytta dives, a beetle of the Meloidae family. I found it on top of a dry plant, where it really stood out because of its vibrant colours. It was somewhat active, so I used a flash and a diffuser to “freeze” its movement on the sensor,” Photographer Panagiotis Dalagiorgos (@p.yo_photography on Instagram) explains.
“My post processing was pretty simple and consisted of these steps: Firstly, I removed any sensor dust using the Healing Brush Tool for harder spots and the Inpainting Brush Tool for more uniform spots. Secondly, I cropped the image to fit the composition I had in mind. Thirdly, I created a new soft light layer and did some dodging and burning with a soft brush—white colour for dodging and black for burning. I always do my dodge and burn before the basic adjustments, which is step four. This includes a Levels adjustment layer, where I extend my histogram to touch both edges of the container, and, if required, a Curves adjustment layer where I slightly increase my contrast. I then grouped these layers and proceeded to step five, which is colour grading. I added a Selective Colour adjustment layer to balance the colours and a Vibrance adjustment layer to increase the overall chromaticity of the image, because the flash flattens the colours a bit. Sometimes I also add a Gradient Map adjustment layer, for example, if I want to set a certain mood, but it was not the case here. That sums up my post processing in Affinity photo for this image.”
The areas of rainbow colours and crystal patterns in this frozen soap bubble by John Fawcett (@john_david_fawcett on Instagram) are truly incredible. He was kind enough to explain in detail how he captured and post-processed the image: “Photographing frozen soap bubbles has been somewhat problematic for me this past winter. For the bubbles to freeze properly, the temperature needs to be in the vicinity of -12 degrees Celsius (10 degrees Fahrenheit (-12C) or below. By mid-January, Northeast Ohio, USA, hadn’t really had many days in that range, so when the temperature dropped to near-optimal conditions, I decided to go out and give it a go,” John recalls.
“The first challenge was finding a suitable location. Although it was a crisp and sunny day, there really wasn’t any snow to speak of. I tried using the bows of a small pine tree, but they were a bit too rough, and the bubbles popped immediately. A nearby lichen-covered birdhouse caught my eye, and fortunately, most of the bubbles froze before the slight breeze could pop them.
I experimented with various angles, shooting mostly with the sun backlighting the bubbles. While they were perfectly acceptable, it wasn’t until I moved around so the sun was coming from over my shoulder that the images really… popped,” he reveals.
“Every time I play with frozen bubbles I am absolutely captivated by the beautiful crystal structure. There is something truly magical about them and it is an incredible spectacle seeing those icy crystals form until the entire bubble is a delicate ice ball.”
“I use an iPad Pro as my photo editing platform. As a graphic designer I’ve used many design and image editing products for nearly thirty years. Unfortunately, few, if any of those apps were available for the iPad or just weren’t up to the task. After a good bit of research and trying different apps, I finally found a workflow that suites me. I now use RAW Power for my cataloguing, culling, and rating, and my image processing is done with Affinity Photo.
Once I had my favourite frozen bubble image open in Affinity Photo, I duplicated the image layer. I knew I’d eventually be posting it on social media, so I cropped the image to a 4x5 format. Moving to the Develop Persona, I lowered the exposure a little, and adjusted the Contrast, Highlights and Shadows. The white balance was pretty much where I wanted and just a small adjustment really dialled it in. There wasn’t much chromatic distortion in the image, so I moved on to details where I added some Sharpening and a small amount of Noise Reduction. I adjusted the Split Toning to warm up the image while still keeping the bubble itself an icy blue/white.
In the Photo Persona I again duplicated the image layer before using HSL to slightly enhance the colours. At this point, I selected the Inpainting Brush Tool and carefully removed debris specks and a few other distracting elements. I consider the Inpainting Brush to be the best spot removal tool of the current image editing apps. This is also where the advantages of using Affinity Photo on the iPad Pro really come into play. I can zoom into a specific area, and using the Apple Pencil, I can make precise edits or create extremely accurate masks.
Once I removed the specks of debris and cleaned up the image a bit, I added a touch of Vignette. I was satisfied how the image looked, so I once again duplicated the image layer. The last step in editing the image was to run a custom “sharpen with blur” macro. Finally, I went to Export and saved as a JPG, ready for uploading.”
In 2020, we commissioned photographer and art director Paul Hollingworth (@paul.hollingworth on Instagram) to create a macro photograph based on his Flight series of feather close-ups, with one stipulation—we wanted him to put the Focus Merge feature in Affinity Photo through its paces. It may have been two years ago, but this is still one of our favourite macro shots edited in Affinity Photo.
If you’d like to learn how he created it, you can go behind the scenes with Paul and read about his process here.
We find the composition and colour palette of this image by Grzegorz Łysiak (@grzegorz.lysiak on Instagram) very pleasing. “This simple red mason bee portrait is a stack of six pictures. In the field, my camera was set to manual exposure with auto ISO and manual focus. I took a few bursts of pictures while gently moving back and forth to get different parts of the bee in focus,” Grzegorz tells us.
“The chosen source RAW files were adjusted for white balance and exposure in Affinity Photo’s Develop Persona. The processed pictures where then exported as TIFF files for a batch denoising process.
Back in Affinity Photo the denoised files were opened as a Focus Merge. After the merging process was complete, I ran a set of custom macros. The first was for writing new metadata. The second added a layer for inpainting. The last one added two curve layers with black masks for dodging and burning.
In this image only some small dots of pollen and one fiber near the bee head needed to be removed. For dodge and burn I focused on emphasizing the natural light that is coming from the top left corner of the picture. Using the Burn Brush Tool I burned the bottom and the right part of the image, and also some parts on the bee’s body and eye. Dodge was mainly done on top of the eye usinf the Dodge Brush Tool. Lastly with dodge and burn I emphasized some local contrast areas on the wings and body.
Using HSL adjustments some blue cast was removed from the picture and some orange colour added. Lastly I bumped the Vibrance and Saturation a little, adjusted the black and white points with a Levels adjustment and added some contrast with a custom Curve adjustment.”
We were drawn to the composition and circular shapes in this stunning image of a crab spider captured by macro photographer Doris Berlenbach-Schulz (@fotografie_doris_berlenbach_s on Instagram). “The crab spider was in the protection of a nest-like rolled-up fruit umbel of a wild carrot. The photo was taken in a summer meadow in south-west Germany and photographed from above into the calyx of the flower. The camera was too close to the little hunter, so the spider made a threatening gesture with its powerful pairs of front legs,” Doris explains.
“I always shoot in RAW format, develop the photos in the Develop Persona and do the fine processing in the Photo Persona.
The main challenge in freehand nature macro photography is that you usually have a very shallow depth of field. Therefore it is very important that the focus point is on the right spot. This is usually the eyes of an insect. I select these regions, in this case the crab spider, using the Selection Brush Tool and then subtly sharpen them with the High Pass Filter.”
We had the pleasure of interviewing Doris about her photography last year. Read our interview with her to learn how she developed an interest in photography, how she post-processes her images in Affinity Photo and her tips for photographers just starting out in nature macro photography.
We love the detail in the eyes in this macro shot of a Marmalade fly by photographer Emmanuel Okorie (@eokoriephotography on Instagram). “This image was taken in the early hours of the 31st May 2022, and it is one single handheld shot. The Marmalade fly wasn’t spooked for the entire time I spent snapping it, so I captured it from all possible angles. I used the Sony a6400, paired it with the Sony 90mm F2.8 Macro G OSS and used the Godox TT350s with a portable diffuser to light the subject. The camera settings were: Shutter Speed: 1/160s, ISO: 800, Aperture: F9.
For this image there was no stacking required. To achieve the final result in Affinity Photo, I used an Unsharp Mask to bring out some extra details around the head of the fly, reduced the image exposure by a tiny amount and bumped up the Contrast and Saturation slightly. I tried to avoid doing too much of an edit as I wanted to keep it looking natural.”
If you’re new to macro photography or are think of giving it a try, check out our articles Up close and personal: what you need to know about macro photography and The photographer’s guide to at-home macro photography to learn how to achieve beautiful macro shots of your own.