Winter, Stay at Home Photography Project – Circuit Board Macro
Sometimes, especially in the winter, you can’t get outside for photography. Winter indoor macro photography projects can be a lot of fun and produce some terrific images.
So, why macro photography of circuit boards?
- First, electronic circuits are in just about everything these days. Save your old electronic equipment and tear them apart to get to the circuit boards. I’ve used old hard drives, computer mice, cable boxes, etc. for my macro photography.
- Every circuit board is different with the components forming unique shapes and patterns that can be the subject of your macro images.
- There is a lot of creative opportunity to provide different types of images using circuit boards.
Get Creative – Some Ideas for Photographing Circuit Boards
Find the Patterns
Shoot directly overhead finding the patterns in the circuit board components. Don’t forget the back of the circuit board – there are also some unique patterns on the back of the board.
Create a Circuit Board Cityscape
Photograph the circuit board from the side to create a Sci Fi cityscape photograph.
Circuit boards are a reflective surface. Try adding a colored light source to give a creative look to your macro image. There are a good selection of LED Lights on the market where you can change the light temperature and the color.
Try Black and White
Circuit board macro images can look great as high contrast Black and White Images. I use Silver Efex Pro in the Nik Collection by Dx0 to convert my images to black and white.
Warp the Image
Try some of the filters in Photoshop under the Filter – Distort menu to give a creative look to your circuit board macro images. The Boris FX Optics plugin for Photoshop also has a S_WarpFisheye filter that can give creative warp and mirror image effects to your image. You can also create a mirror image in Adobe Photoshop.
Equipment for Circuit Board Macro Photography
You can get started photographing circuit boards with just a DSLR / Mirrorless camera, macro lens, and a tripod. Below are some additional items that will help make photographing circuit board macro images easier.
Remote Shutter Release
Since you will be photographing really close, there will be less light on your subject which means longer exposure times. A remote shutter release helps to reduce vibrations which can cause a blurry image. You can also try shooting in a delayed shutter release mode if your camera has one.
Focus Rail Slider
A focus rail slider allows you to precisely move your camera closer to or further from your subject to achieve focus. I find this easier than trying to turn the focus ring to get precise focus. It also prevents me from bumping and moving my subject while getting focus.
Extension tubes allow you to focus closer to your subject. If you don’t have a macro lens, extension tubes can also be used on non-macro lenses to allow them to focus closer. If you are using extension tubes on a macro lens, you may want to use Focus Bracketing to get all the components on the board in focus.
Since there will be limited light as you are focusing very close to the subject. LED lights can help to brighten your subject. There are relatively inexpensive LED lights allow you to change the light temperature, intensity, and the color of the light. I used two of these JIGA AE LED lights to help illuminate and add color to my subjects.
Since some of the components on a circuit board are metallic and reflective, I encircle the circuit board and lens in diffusion material to reduce the specular highlights on the metallic components. I use opaque packing material that came in some shipments to my house. I secure the pieces of the packing material together with small binder clips.
Giottos Rocket Air Blaster and Soft Brush
I use the Giottos Rocket Air Blaster and a soft brush to remove some of the dust on the circuit boards to save time removing the dust specs in post processing.
Camera Settings for Circuit Board Macro Photography
I like to shoot macro photographs in manual mode where I can control both the shutter speed and aperture. Since I’m shooting on a tripod, I most frequently change the shutter speed to brighten the exposure.
I keep the ISO as close to the base ISO as possible to keep noise at a minimum. ISO 200 for my Olympus Micro Four Thirds camera.
When I’m not focus stacking, I generally shoot at f/11 – f/14 to ensure everything is in focus. When focus bracketing, I find that the aperture in the range of f/5.6 – f/6.3 works well.
I vary the shutter speed to increase the light in the exposure. This works well since I’m shooting on a tripod. I do use a remote shutter release to reduce vibration on during the long exposures.
For images where I am focused closer to the subject or if the circuit board has taller components, I use focus bracketing. My Olympus camera has focus bracketing in camera and can also stack up to 15 images.
I found that shooting 15 bracketed images, with a differential of 3, and an aperture of f/5.6 or f/6.3 gets everything in focus when shooting from above the circuit board. When shooting the circuit board skyline, I used 15 bracketed images with a differential of 8 and an f/8.0 aperture.
If your camera does not stack the images in camera, you can use software like Helicon Focus or Zerene Stacker to merge the focus bracketed images. You can also stack a lot more iamges using these software programs.
Set Up / Shooting Tips
- Ensure your camera is parallel with your subject. If you have a built in level in your camera, you can use this to ensure your camera is parallel to the circuit card when shooting from the top.
- Avoid vibration. Vibration is one of the biggest challenges when shooting close up, macro photographs. Use a remote shutter release, turn off image stabilization, and either stand still or walk softly during the exposure.
- Take test shots. This is important to ensure your entire subject is in focus, or if using focus bracketing that your focus stack covers the entire depth of the image. I just don’t check on the camera’s LCD screen. I’ll upload the images to my computer to check on the large monitor prior to continuing shooting.
Macro Photography Post Processing
Here are some basic steps for post processing and some ideas for creative processing of your circuit board macro photographs.
- I start by making basic adjustments in Adobe Lightroom. Set the black point, white point, shadows, highlights, contrast, exposure.
- Image cleanup. Even if you use the blower and brush to remove dust from the circuit board, there will likely be some clean up work on the image like scratches, left over residue from the manufacturing process and dust spots that weren’t cleaned up with the blower. I use the Clone Stamp, Healing Brush, and Content Aware fill to clean up the image.
- I use Topaz DeNoise to reduce the noise and sharpen the image.
- Creative processing. There are a lot of options for processing your image. Some of my favorites are:
- Color Efex Pro 4 – Has a lot of recipes to make the circuit board photo pop and also has other creative looks. I also like their Darken / Lighten Center filter to add a vignette and brighten the center of the image.
- Silver Efex Pro 3. – I use Silver Efex Pro to convert my image to black and white. Silver Efex Pro has quite a few preset recipes to provide a high contrast black and white image.
- Boris FX Optics. Optics has quite a few filters to add special effects to your image. My favorite filter for circuit boards if the S_WarpFishEye where you can create a mirror image effect or a warped look to your image.
Written by Martin Belan
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