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Creating a macro Focus Merge feather with Paul Hollingworth

Photographer Paul Hollingworth gave us a rare behind the scenes look at his process of capturing a feather in macro and trying out the Focus Merge photo stacking tool in Affinity Photo.

Paul Hollingworth has the incredible ability to expertly photograph a myriad of different subject matters. You may have already followed his process for creating an amazing liquid skull photo composition, but now for something completely different! We commissioned Paul 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!

Here’s how he got on…

A behind the scenes look at how the shot was captured and edited.

The photoshoot


It was a small studio space I have at home. The beauty of macro photography is that it takes up a minimal amount of space. A table next to a window can become an instant studio. This was actually shot on top of an old, broken iPad screen.

Photography equipment

A Nikon D850. The camera was locked down onto a tripod as focus stacking requires absolute stability.

Lighting equipment

Two Bowen’s wireless studio lights. These were softened using white diffusion panels/softbox modifiers.

I wanted the lighting to really define the structure of both the water droplets and the feather. For this reason, I conducted multiple test shots prior to shooting the final image. This took around half a day. These were to test lighting and general composition. The shoot then took around a day to set up and capture. There was also time required afterwards to compile and edit the image in Affinity Photo.

A behind the scenes photo showing the camera pointing at the feather with water droplets on it.
A close-up test-shot of the feather showing how shallow the depth of field is before the photos are stacked.
A close-up test-shot of the feather and water.

Photo stacking is an amazing macro technique that produces some stunning images. I wanted the content within the image to really test what this technique can do. For this reason, the intricate and vibrant feather sits alongside a series of smooth and reflective water droplets.

I wanted a glossy, reflective surface for the feather and water droplets to interact with. Whilst I would normally use a section of acrylic for this effect, I opted for an old iPad as when I conducted a few test shots the iPad screen surface seemed to give a red tint to the water sitting on it. A happy accident that I was keen to include within the final shot.

The contrast between the textures really shows how photo stacking can handle refracted light, shade and reflections. The light bending effect that water droplets have when interacting with something as intricately detailed as a feather is also amazing to see at such a large scale.

The feather, covered in water droplets from a different angle.

Using Focus Merge in Affinity Photo

This was my first time using the photo stacking feature Focus Merge in Affinity Photo and I must say, it was brilliant. Compiling and combining your images is very simple. Whilst watching the multiple images build in front of you is really satisfying.

Aside from some minor tweaks here and there, there really is little to fix afterwards too. Some of the weird light bending within the water droplets had to be fixed in post-processing. Also, as with most macro photography, there is quite a lot of general cleaning to do with the image as dust and random particles not visible to the naked eye, can come through very clearly within your shot. Something to be aware of if you’re planning a shoot such as this.

The end result…

The final image.

Watch our Focus Merge tutorial

You can learn more about how to use Focus Merge to create crisp macro images from multiple shots by watching this Focus Merge video tutorial by our resident Affinity Photo Expert James Ritson.

About the creator

Paul Hollingworth’s fascination for photography was born out of his love of design. Photography started as a means to capture material for his graphic design work but soon became a medium of exploration for all things weird and wonderful. From skulls dripped in paint to wild landscapes and almost abstract macros.

Check out more of Paul’s work on his website, and follow him on Instagram.

Artist relations

Charlotte is an illustrator and arts lecturer who is passionate about the creative industries and is now part of our artist relations team. Her interests include mid 20th century inspired design, comic books, board games, movie memorabilia, baking cakes, feminism and yoga. She shares her 1960’s home with her graphic designer husband and her toddler son who likes to hide her iPad. Get in touch with Charlotte if you have work you have made in Affinity apps to share with us, or tag your work with #madeinaffinity in the usual places.

Credits & Footnotes

All images are copyright © of Paul Hollingworth and used with permission.