Extreme Macro Photography

House Fly photographed at 5 times life size with the Lawoa 2.5-5x macro lens.

I saw an ad for the Lawoa macro lens that could photograph things up to 5 times life size. The price was only $399 and it came with a mount for my Canon R5 mirrorless camera. In a moment of weakness, I clicked the button and ordered the lens.

I’ve always loved high magnification macro photography but it was expensive. Canon has the MP-E 65mm that photographs 5 times life size but it’s well over $1,000 and I’d need an adapter for my mirrorless.

Here’s a link to my blog article from 2020 about using the Canon MP-E to photograph monarch butterfly eggs.

Laowa 2.5-5x Ultra Macro lens

Once the Lawoa lens arrived, I needed to find a subject. I went on a search around the house and found a tiny moth about 1/3 of an inch long. Perfect subject except it didn’t want to be captured or photographed.

No, I am not going to kill a moth so I can photograph it. Nope! That’s not how I live my life.

So an hour later, the moth was resting on a leaf under a glass jar in my office. Equipment was assembled for the photo session: Tripod, Neewer Pro 4 Way Focusing Rail Slider, camera, Laowa lens attached, flash, Savage LED light on the right, and Lume Cube LED light on the left. (Scroll down to see a photo of the set-up.)

Moth photographed at 5x life size. Actually 1/3 of an inch long.

My time with the moth was highly frustrating — for it and me. The moth wanted to wander off the leaf. When it settled I would move the leaf and get it back in the frame and focused. This is not easy when the subject is magnified 5 times.

The moth twitched its antenna often. This messed up any hopes of focus stacking.

Eventually, the moth was set free. I left the equipment in place until I found a new subject.

The next day a fly got in the house and needed to be swatted. Turns out the little fellow wasn’t totally dead so I had a moving subject once again. Back to putting my subject on a leaf and waiting for it to calm down.

Lesson learned on the moth was that focus stacking would be necessary to get the photos I wanted. I settled in to take 5 to 10 photos for each focus stack.

The Laowa is a manual focus lens so there’s no in-camera focus stacking or focus bracketing as Canon calls it. I needed to move the knob on the focus rail to create each set of focus staked images. (Practice this skill ahead of time.)

The fly was still alive so the number of images I could get depended on its movements. Sometimes it sat still and other times it wiggled or twitched.

House fly with three photos in the focus stack.

In a series of images, maybe only two or three would work. Below is an example of only two photos.

House fly, using only two photos in the focus stack. Notice that the eye is in focus but the rest of the head is out of focus.
House fly, focus stack using 10 images.
House fly, again, but using only 5 images in this session.
House fly using six photo in this session. The fly was moving so I had to wait for it to be still.

Focus Stacking in Photoshop

My software of choice is Photoshop for focus stacking. Open all the photos into a Layer stack. In Bridge, that’s (1) highlight the photos, (2) click on Tools>Photoshop>Load into Photoshop layers. In Lightroom, (1) select the images, (2) click Photo>Edit in>Open as Layers in Photoshop.

In Photoshop, highlight all the photos in the Layers palette. Edit>Auto Align Layers and wait. Then Edit>Auto Blend Layers and choose Stack from the options. Then wait again for Photoshop to do its work.

Most of the time, Photoshop does a pretty good job. A bit more work might be needed to fix tiny details.

Equipment needed for high magnification photograph: tripod, shutter release, focusing rail, flash, continuous LED light(s), camera and lens. The fly is in the center of the flower.

Thanks for reading. Let me know below if you have any questions.

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