Macro Workflow

I shoot alot of macro images at home (currently with a Nikon D610 & a Sigma 150mm Macro and occasionally a Raynox DCR-250).  Most of my images are typically of insects, spiders and other creatures which are hanging around my house. My personal favorite animal to photograph are jumping spiders which in my honest opinion have personality, and they are actually interested in their reflection in the lens which always helps and they tend to (at times) stand still which helps with focus stacking. I am not against photographing other creatures, it is just that Jumping Spiders tend to be the easiest to find in my backyard (which is tiny), in addition to other spiders. That said I have put somethings around the yard to function as Insect “Hotels” to encourage other insects and interesting creates to visit and take up residence (preferably outside).

Given people seem to be becoming more interested in Macro photography, I thought it might be worth giving a bit of an idea on the sorts of tools that I use within my macro photography, what they do and the reason I use them. My work flow of course starts off with a digital camera, I shoot with a Nikon D610 primarily (I started off with a Nikon D5300) because I started with Nikon and invested in glass. I would not call myself a Nikon fanboy and if I had my time again I may have considered getting a Canon as some of their lenses seem marginally better for macro work (e.g. the MP-E65mm) but since all the glass I have is designed for Nikon cameras those are the ones I use.

In terms of the glass, I tried extension tubes which worked but I quickly discovered how much I loved macro and updated to the Sigma 150mm f/2.8 Ex DG OS HSM APO Macro. I ran this as my default setup for many years before I bit the bullet and late 2020 purchased a Raynox DCR-250 lens magnifier. This connects to the filter ring of the Sigma 150mm macro (via a step down ring you need to find on ebay) and increases the magnification of the lens by a few times (dependant on focal length). The downside of this is that the depth of field becomes SUPER shallow and most of the time you need to manual focus, but with high magnification photography that is to be expected which is where the requirement to focus stack comes in.

My photo editing workflow is described below, but basically I start off with Lightroom to manage my photos, I then denoise using Topaz Denoise if required, and focus stack (to increase the depth of field) using Helicon Focus. Now that I have my base image I then improve the details in the highlights, midtones and shadows using Aurora HDR and apply edits to the image (improve exposure, color, contrast and more) using Luminar 4 or Luminar AI (more commonly now Luminar AI). Affinity photo is used for cleaning up the image and removing distractions as well as more advanced edits before I sharpen the image up intelligently using Topaz Sharpen AI. If I need to enlarge the image I most commonly use Topaz Gigapixel AI to increase the overall resolution, and if I have exported the image as a JPEG and want to manage the overall filesize I typically run the image through JPEGMini.

 

I have summarised the programs I use, their purpose and a description of why I use them below. The order is typically chronological with the first steps at the top of the list and the last steps at the bottom of the list.

 

TitlePurposeDescription
LightroomDigital Asset ManagerPrimarily used to group, and manage the photos I currently have on my system, as well as some VERY light photo editing, cropping, and to hand photos off to the various pieces of software below.
Topaz DeNoise AIRemove NoisePrimarily for when I have high noise images, this might be in low light when I have to bump the ISO up to increase the shutter speed to freeze the movement, or when the environment is dark.
Helicon FocusFocus StackingPrimarily used to increase the depth of field within my macro photos. Because the Sigma 150mm Macro has a 1:1 reproduction rate (depending on focus), the depth of field is VERY shallow and to get a full subject in focus I often need to stack multiple images into one more sharp final image.
Aurora HDRHDRThis is not always used in my macro images, but occasionally if I want to apply a HDR look to an image, bring out the colours or shadows I will run it through Aurora HDR which gives great HDR images (just be careful not to overcook them).
Luminar 4Photo EditingI use Luminar 4 to apply edits to my images, I use a number of different AI tools within the software which are most commonly Accent AI which applies general lighting and colour improvements, I then usually apply Structure AI (sometimes with masking).
Affinity PhotoAdvanced Photo EditingIf my photo needs some more advanced editing I will commonly use Affinity Photo. This is a photoshop alternative which I use for cloning out items, cleaning up the image overall, and making some more advanced edits.
Topaz Sharpen AIPhoto SharpeningGenerally once I am happy with my photo I will feed it through Topaz Sharpen AI which uses AI to enhance the image, it looks at the image to try and understand what the image needs (i.e. is the lack of sharpness because of movement, blur, is it just out of focus) and tries to correct that and apply additional but targeted sharpness to the image (this is not a global sharpness, so it is only applied to where it is needed.

 

I have not done a side by side comparison, but there may be some duplication between Structure AI in Luminar, and Topaz Sharpen AI, but I find that Topaz Sharpen tends to cover a wider set of sharpness issues.

Topaz Gigapixel AI Photo EnlargingOften there is a need to enlarge the image, when this is needed I use Topaz Gigapixel AI which uses machine learning to try and increase the resolution with the photo without leaving artifacts.
JPEGMiniPhoto Size OptimisationFinally, if I am exporting my image for Social Media, or anywhere as a JPEG I will typically run the image through JPEGMini which analyses the image and tries to reduce the size of the overall file without affecting the resolution or the users perception of the image.

 

I hope you have found this run-through of the various products I use in Macro photography useful, the workflow does sometimes change but for the most part this works very well for me. Depending on how your setup works, your camera and lense, and your capability, your mileage may vary :).