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Capturing slices with a Nikon DSLR


Slicing is a photography technique that every professional and most competent enthusiast photographers should be able to handle. It allows you to get sharp images where those with lower skill levels are limited to producing 'artistic' work.

If this is new to you see the article Introducing slicing.

If you have not tried this before, then try our project Depth of field magic this includes sets of photos (slices) and access to a shareware version of a program to allow you to try it out yourself without any cost to you.

There are at lest two programs available that allows you to put the slices together, and we cover these in the Introducing slicing article, plus look in more detail in both the project mentioned above and the article  What we can do with Helicon focus.

You can capture slices with any camera, they are just photographs where the subject, camera and lighting do not change but the point that is in focus does.

This article is looking at just how we go about capturing slices if you have access to one of the top range of Nikon DSLR cameras. If you have another make it could still be worth reading as you may have access to similar facilities and software for your camera.

We are using Nikon Capture Control 2. You can get a 30 day trial version of this, without cost, from the Nikon website.  Link to Nikon UK

See Larger Image

Nikon Capture Control 2 on a laptop, background is the image viewer, top right is the main camera and exposure settings, top left the Liveview controls and below is the last photo taken and its curve.

You can click on any of the screen displays on this page to see a full screen sized image in a new window. If it does not show then check you don't have pop ups blocked. We never have pop up adverts on this site, so you can unblock this without concern. If we are taking you to another website we show you with the red link symbol.

The images used on this page were taken when creating the set of slices for the chips slices set - you can see the results of these and download the slices sets and resulting image from Slices - Chips.

Slicing on a Nikon

This article is most relevant to any of the Nikon DSLR's that have Liveview.

The slices that you can see used in the project Depth of field magic,  and others we have provided, were taken with a Nikon D300. The series of photos for the money example was taken in a few minutes and were the  only photos taken. Most of the other series were also produced in a few minutes as a first run.

If we are going to use slicing as a production tool, for example with macro photography, product photography, food or property photography we need to be able to get what we want and when we want it, and for the editorial, advertising, commercial and industrial photographer economically.

I can achieve this toady, reliably and without difficulty, and would like to share with you how this is possible.

You don't need all that I use but lets take a look at my setup for the coin example and several other setups that were taken at the same time.

The equipment

Nikon D300, lens usually a macro lens in the case above Nikon 105mm macro, camera on a focusing rack, on a tripod.

I used a Nikon EH5 power supply, just simply so I did not have to watch battery levels.

The camera was in Liveview (tripod mode) and connected to a laptop computer running Nikon Capture Control 2. The laptop had a larger screen and a mouse plugged in.

Camera also had a 90 degree viewfinder just for ease of positioning.

The subject was at table height lit by 2 cool-lights with softboxes. I used this so I had plenty of light for the focusing and had a known colour of light (daylight equivalent).

I did not have a pan and tilt unit between the tripod and camera on this occasion but some times this is useful as it allows the camera to be moved finely up, down and from side to side. I tend to use this more where I want to control the camera at a distance than for macro use. We can do most things now remotely, the major item that we still have no way of remotely controlling is the zoom, when a zoom lens is on use.

Working method

I set up the subjects, lighting, tripod, camera and 105mm macro lens, setting the camera up initially using the 90 degree viewfinder. I put the camera onto spot metering.

Connected it to the computer and started Nikon Capture Control 2, and used this program to then control the camera and take the exposures.

With Capture Control 2, you can set most of the cameras settings, make it focus and take photos. The major difference between this and the earlier version 1, is that it can use Liveview and in one mode, fine control the camera/lens focus.

Switching on Liveview you get a direct display of what the camera can see live, and then selecting tripod mode, gives fine control over the focusing. The control, information and images are coming through the USB cable.

Main camera controls as well as storage and processing is achieved by setting on a number of tabs and choices of the drop down menus.

In tripod mode focusing is done using the main sensor as opposed to the cameras normal focusing

See Larger Image Capture Control 2 on the laptop - click on the image to see a screen size image in a  new window

system. You can move the focusing point to any point of the screen, and can use both a focus button to focus, to make it focus at that point and have control over the focusing. You can move the focusing back or forwards, plus(+) being focusing further away from you, minus(-)  being focusing closer to you, the size of each focusing step is set by a slider that moves in steps just under these buttons, a smaller step by moving it to the left and a larger one by moving it to the right. The Liveview display can also be changed so that you are looking at only a small part of the image greatly magnified, allowing fine tuning of focus live.

Checking the lighting, composition and sorting out the exposure and setting the white balance is the same as for any photograph. On some occasions I may just take one shot at this point that I can see then, full screen or blow in to see closer areas to check this information. The photos when taken go onto the computer disk. I set the area to save my slices.

Deciding on how many slices or shots is a case of

See Larger Image Left display is Liveview, in this case with magnification up so as to see the fine detail
in the blue chips

looking at how many steps, presses of the plus key, it takes to go from focus being sharp at the very front to being very sharp at the very back, and seeing how much difference each step makes. Changing the size of the step so that this stepping works out well. Having worked out a sensible and practical number of steps that will, between the slices, show everything sharp, take on last photo.

I then focus on the very nearest thing to me and just to be absolutely sure that there is nothing missed I press the negative button once. So the camera is focused to start one small step in front of the item. I then take an image by clicking the button that takes an image without focusing first, press the plus key and take another and so on until the very furthest point is in focus, and then like the front I go one more beyond this.

I can now switch off the cool-llites and using the viewer part of Capture Control 2, I can look full screen at the images I have taken, moving through the sequence I am checking that everything is

See Larger Image Viewer allows you to step through photos
taken nearly full screen

exactly as I expected it to be. Confirming that it is, the slicing capture is complete. I then transfer the images to my desk computer where I have more processing power, multiple screens and importantly the editing and special programs. In this case I will be using Helicon Focus.


The most likely alternative would be to use flash instead of the cool-lites. This might have some benefits with very close (magnified) macro where I have the Nikon R1C1 kit (several SB200 flash units connected to the front of the lens with other accessories in use). Using spot metering the flash is the main light, it only uses balance flash when matrix and centre weighted is in use. This means I can work with enough light to focus. Focusing works well and the image quality on Liveview is good when you have enough light.  With flash make sure the flash units have recharged and are ready between each shot/slice.

You can use Liveview on the tripod and use tripod mode without Capture Control 2, using it directly on the back of the camera, you can make it focus at any point. You can also magnify the screen. You may find you need to have someone to help you and have a small item that the camera can easily focus on and use this at varying points back through the scene to allow the camera to focus for each slice. Alternatively using the manual focus you can fine focus on the blown up section of the image. This is of course harder work and far more time consuming than using the electronic control approach.

If you were producing slices of a landscape scene or similar you could take them using normal viewing and auto focus being moved to the relevant points. The points to remember are that the camera needs to stay still, including the zoom, and nothing should be moving in the scene.

If you are using the Nikon 18-200mm VR lens and many lenses by other manufacturers, you need to watch out for lens zoom creep if the lens is pointing at an angle down or up.

See Larger Image

See Larger Image

2 of the screen displays with menu drop downs allowing more settings.

The images used on this page were taken when creating the set of slices for the chips slices set - you can se the results of these and download the slices sets and resulting image from Slices - Chips.

By:Keith Park   Section: Key:
Page Ref: Capturing_slices_Nikon Topic: Photographic Techniques  Last Updated: 05/2009

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