New software lets you to create images that are tack sharp from right in
front of the camera to infinity -- even with macros and telephotos!
Here are a few pointers I have found from my experience using Helicon Focus:
• Using a fairly small aperture works best. For close-ups, try using f/11 or f/16 and changing the focus very little. For scenics, back off to f/5.6 or f/8 -- often your lens's sharpest setting -- and refocus four to eight times.
• One effect impossible to create any other way is extreme depth of field of your macro subject with the background rendered completely out of focus. Shoot with larger apertures -- f/5.6 or larger -- and refocus many times between the back and front of your subject, intentionally shooting with the background completely out of focus.
• Consider shooting in RAW and then processing all the images using the same settings, converting to TIFF files. Helicon Focus will process RAW files as well as JPGs and TIFFs; I prefer, however, to use a separate RAW converter and bringing 16 bit TIFFs into Helicon Focus.
• Sometimes camera or subject movement is too much for Helicon Focus, and sometimes intricate subjects, e.g., ones with many crossing lines and patterns, cause artifacts. It seems that most ghosting and other artifacts occur along well-defined edges in the picture, and I have found that these often can be fixed with the cloning and healing tools in Adobe Photoshop. Helicon's Pro version of the program also offers versions of these corrective tools.
• Generally, for macro and micro photographs, more images focused in smaller increments are required than for landscape photographs.
• All ranges of lenses can be used. Macro lenses are great for small subjects, and wide angle lenses work well for scenics. Telephotos can also be used to isolate a part of the scene while still maintaining extensive depth of field.
• Don't hesitate to run the program on older computers. The company's web site says that images over 8 megapixels require at least 512 MB of memory -- not a whole lot. A machine with at least 1 MB of RAM would seem preferable. If your machine is older, processing may take a bit longer, but the time will not be prohibitive. I have run Helicon Focus, for example, on a 2 year old Pentium 4 with 1 MB of RAM, and a half dozen high resolution, 16 bit TIFF files from a Nikon D2x ($3495, street) take about three minutes to process.
• Two main parameters for conversion are radius (from 1 to 30) and smoothing (from 1 to 10). Higher radius settings decrease detail in the final image, and lower settings increase detail. I recommend using a lower radius setting, e.g., 3, for highly detailed subjects. The smoothing parameter determines how well-blended the images are in transition areas. You may want to keep this fairly low, e.g., the default setting of 4, but you may find some artifacts left from processing. In this case, either touch them up using an image editing program or reprocess the image with a slightly higher setting. Higher smoothing settings result in less sharpness in the final image.
Helicon Focus is available in the "Lite" or "Pro" versions, which are compatible with both Macs and PCs. Both versions handle unlimited images, offer dust mapping, and read and write 8- and 16- bit files. The professional version has built-in retouching and batch processing capabilities. The basic version costs $30 for a one year license or $115 for unlimited use. The pro version is $70 for one year and $250 for unlimited use. For more information or to purchase Helicon Focus, visit www.heliconsoft.com.
--David FitzSimmons is a freelance photographer and writer as well as an Assistant Professor of English at Ashland University in Ashland, Ohio. His images have appeared on regional postcards, in international calendars, and in a variety of periodicals. Check out more of David's work at www.fitzsimmonsphotography.com.