How can I get a sharp photo like this photo:


For macro photography, I use a Nikon 105mm VR II with D300s. Can I get something like this photo? I have an extension tube too.

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    Just as a caution, you might want to credit the source of the photo, or better yet, make sure you're not violating copyright or licensing by using the photo here. Jul 4, 2011 at 23:12
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    This question should give some ideas: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/13389/…
    – Imre
    Jul 4, 2011 at 23:14
  • This photo, like others by the same photographer, is licensed CC-BY-NC, which isn't compatible with CC-BY-SA (which allows commercial use, like, arguably, this ad-supported site).
    – mattdm
    Jul 4, 2011 at 23:18
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    I notice that the photographer, Thomas Shahan, talks quite about about his work including his equipment and technique in the comments to his photos on Flickr. One could certainly learn a lot by looking through his photographs and reading the notes.
    – mattdm
    Jul 5, 2011 at 1:13
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    @mattdm In fact, he made a video - youtube.com/watch?v=wqRn3at0H60
    – rfusca
    Jul 5, 2011 at 3:23

2 Answers 2


I wouldn't worry about exotic techniques like focus stacking -- the depth of field in the example photo isn't very deep (perhaps 1.5-2mm of relative sharpness at most). You should be able to achieve that by going to the minimum aperture for your lens then opening up about a stop. (With the 105, that would be the physical aperture size that gets you f/22 at infinity focus. Since the lens is an internal focus design and the actual aperture ratio changes with lens draw when focusing close and I don't have a 105 to test with, I can't tell you what the aperture reading will be on the camera.)

The trick is to put the zone of sharpness where it makes the most effective picture, and then to make the most you can of that depth of field. Don't try to use autofocus; set your lens manually to the magnification you want, and use your body (or a macro focusing rail, if you have the time) to focus. Shoot when the image in the viewfinder looks good -- if the details of interest are in focus in the viewfinder at maximum aperture, they'll be in focus on the sensor when the aperture is stopped down.

Chilling† a cold-blooded subject can help a lot (and gives you time to use the rail), but flash or a high shutter speed (if the ambient light level is high enough) will do the trick if the critter lets you get close enough.

Horseflies are fairly big -- the species depicted averages about 1/2" in overall length -- but to get the magnification in that picture you're either going to have to use an additional extension tube or crop your image (the Micro-Nikkor 105mm only goes to 1:1). For an insect this large or larger, cropping is a worthwhile approach. When the bugs get much smaller, an extension tube (or bellows) is the only way to go since there won't be enough image to work in post and critical focus gets a lot harder to achieve.

Oh -- expect failure when you're shooting live, unfrozen subjects. There is, of course, more to photography than taking a lot of pictures, but there are times when you pretty much have to assume that you're not going to get "the shot" on the first click. If it takes you a hundred shots to get one good one, all you've spent is about six calories of finger-twitching energy and one write cycle on a few cells on a memory card.

† It could also be argued, at least where unendangered freakin' horseflies are concerned, that one needn't be overly careful about the life status of the subject. I wouldn't argue that, of course (he said, reassuring his Buddhist friends), but some people might. Just sayin'.

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    +1 - I might make that last argument after having been swarmed by the darn things on the weekend up at the Luther Marsh!
    – Joanne C
    Jul 5, 2011 at 1:46
  • You could also stack a 50mm on the end of your 100mm to get approximately 2:1.
    – rfusca
    Jul 5, 2011 at 3:11
  • If you prefer not to refrigerate subjects, a bit of bait (e.g., some honey) can be quite helpful as well (the line from the Bible about attracting flies with honey comes to mind...) Jul 5, 2011 at 7:19
  • @mmr - thanks. It's not that I wanted access to all the grown-up goodies (I have to act like an adult now) but that 9999 on the odometer was just a little annoying :)
    – user2719
    Jul 5, 2011 at 11:48
  • Welcome to the 10k club, Stan. :)
    – mattdm
    Jul 5, 2011 at 17:47

The common techniques for achieving deep depth of field in bug photography are

  • using smallest possible aperture
  • focus stacking
  • using a frozen or dead subject, or at least shooting when it's cold (so the "model" would not move during long/multiple exposures)
  • Looking at the EXIF info for this photo, it looks like most of the info has either been stripped or it's missing by virtue of having been assembled via focus stacking.
    – D. Lambert
    Jul 4, 2011 at 23:33
  • @D.Lambert - Looking an some other work, he does lens reversal, so that could likely be the cause.
    – rfusca
    Jul 5, 2011 at 3:18
  • @rfusca - Excellent - that would explain the lack of EXIF. It does look like it's been through PS, though.
    – D. Lambert
    Jul 5, 2011 at 11:41

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