Purple Coneflower, Focus Stacking - 6 shots, Diff = 4
Macro,  Olympus / OM System,  Photo Gear

8 Tips for Handheld Focus Stacking for Macro Photography on Olympus / OM System Cameras

Olympus and OM System cameras have terrific In Body Image Stabilization (IBIS) with the OM-1, E-M1 Mark III, and E-M1X having 7 stops of stabilization in the body. 

Olympus / OM Digital Solutions have also built multi-shot computational photography features that take advantage of the image stabilization while handholding the camera.  The computational photography features include: Live ND, Handheld His Res Shot, Focus Bracketing, and in camera Focus Stacking.

Although Olympus / OM System cameras have fantastic In Body Image Stabilization, handheld focus stacking for macro photography can still be a challenge, especially when shooting at 1.0x or higher magnification.

In this blog, I share 8 tips for more success while handholding your Olympus / OM System camera using Focus Stacking.

Focus Stacking Menu - OM-1
Focus Stacking Menu – OM-1

1. Try Less Shots in the Stack

Olympus / OM System Focus Stacking allow you to stack up to 15 images in camera.  It can be difficult to hold the camera steady for 15 shots.  Try using a smaller number of stacked images.  I’ve had better success shooting focus stacking with 6 or 7 shots.  If the entire subject isn’t in focus increase the differential between shots.

2. Stable Stance and Grip

A stable stance and grip is important for macro focus stacking and can be the key to getting more successful in camera focus stacks.  Here are a few stability tips for handholding your camera for macro focus stacking.


  • If you are standing, you will need a stable stance.  Stand with your feet shoulder width apart with one foot slightly in front of the other.
  • Brace your elbows tight against your body
  • If you are using the viewfinder, press the camera tight against your forehead
  • If you are using the LCD with the camera at chest or waist height, cradle the camera with both hands from underneath, and gently press the shutter button with your right thumb.

Sitting / Kneeling

  • Brace your elbows tight against your body
  • If you are sitting or kneeling on one knee, rest the camera on your leg to stabilize the camera
Blooming Vines, 7 Shots, Diff = 3
Blooming Vines, 7 Shots, Diff = 3

3. Gently Press the Shutter Button

If you press hard on the shutter button it could move the camera during the shooting sequence. Practice pressing the shutter button softly.  This is a good practice for any genre of photography, but it is especially important for macro photography.  One technique is to gently roll your finger off the front of the shutter when pressing the shutter button.

4. Control Your Breathing

Before you press the shutter button, take a breath and slowly exhale and press the shutter button at the end of the exhale.  This is called the respiratory pause.  This will help the body to relax and help with stability.  This technique is also taught to people learning to fire a gun.

Curvy Bloom, Focus Stacking - 5 shots, Diff = 3
Curvy Bloom, Focus Stacking – 5 shots, Diff = 3

5. Use a Flash

This is especially helpful when there is less light like early mornings or cloudy days.  The flash will allow you to shoot at higher shutter speeds when you are handholding the camera for focus stacking.  However, Olympus / OM System cameras limit you to 1/50 of a second for the shutter speed when using Focus Stacking with a flash.

If you are using an Olympus Flash like the FL-700WR, it will determine the interval between stacking shots when the flash recharges.  If you are using a 3rd party flash, you will need to set the flash charge time between shots.

My Olympus FL-700WR charged quickly between shots and didn’t really hold up the stacking sequence.  It is a good idea to have fully charged batteries in your flash when doing focus stacking.  I use Energizer rechargeable AA Batteries and recharge them before each macro photography outing.

6. Get Out Early

If you are going out to photograph insects, get out early.  Many insects are less active or not active at all until it warms up.  When you are focus stacking, even a moving antennae on an insect can ruin your stack.

7. Focus a 1/3 of the way into Your Subject

Focus Stacking will take one shot where you focus, then 2 closer to you and then it progresses toward the rear of the subject.  For Focus Stacking, focus about 1/3 of the way into your Subject.

Focus Bracketing differs as it does not take the 2 closer shots, it progresses toward the rear of the subject from the focus point.  So for Focus Bracketing, focus on the front of your subject.  Focus Bracketing does not stack the bracketed images in camera.

One way to easily know where your camera is focusing is to use manual focus and use focus peaking.  Focus peaking will show you exactly what part of your image is in focus.  I slowly move the camera closer and further from the subject until I get to the right focusing point.

Japanese Beetle, 5 shots, Diff = 3, Processed in Helicon Focus
Japanese Beetle, 5 shots, Diff = 3, Processed in Helicon Focus

8. Process the Image Stack in Stacking Software on your Computer

One nice thing about Focus Stacking in Olympus cameras is that it gives you all of the images in the stack as well as the  image stacked in camera. 

If you don’t like the results of the in camera focus stacking, try stacking the photographs in software like Photoshop, Helicon Focus, or Zerene Stacker.  You can closely review each image in the focus stack and only stack those images that add an in focus area to the stack. 

I’ve had many images where I didn’t like the stacking output in camera but got a good result when stacking selected images in Helicon Focus.

Written by Martin Belan

Related Posts

A Comparison of Flash and Diffuser Options for Macro Photography
Settings for Using Flash for Macro Photography on Olympus OM-D Cameras
Should you Shoot with On or Off Camera Flash for Macro Photography?

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One Comment

  • GC Fiederl

    Focus stacking with a flash on my OM1 simply does not work for me. The camera will not use the strobe (The STF-8 Macro flash) and Iʻve tried a variety of settings, even shooting at 1/100. My OMD M1 Mark III had no such issues – I may have to go back to the older model now.

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