The Snail Close-Up

When it rains, the snails really come out around here and I have been thinking about trying to shoot some close-ups of one. They are relatively easy to capture, even for me, and they sit really still when you take their photo. This is important because in order to take a close-up, I was planning on focus-stacking multiple images to get everything in focus. I’ll explain why in a minute.

First I captured one of the larger snails crawling up somebody’s shrub out near the street. I put him in a little box and brought him home. Once home, I opened up a cardboard box and taped a piece of white paper to it for a backdrop. My plan was to just have the snail against a plain white background. Below is my elaborate set up.

I waited and waited for the snail to poke his head back out of his shell, but he stayed in there hiding. I know he was alive because I could see slight movements. Below is the snail close-up on just plain white. I didn’t really love the way this came out, but my focus stacking worked quite well as this is a merge of about 9 photos with different focus points.

Snail on a White Background

The reason for focus stacking is that when you are shooting a subject so close to the lens, the plane of focus is very thin and you can really notice the focus fall-off in the image. The image below was my first photo in the series and I was focused on the closest part of the shell where the spiral is the tightest. You can see that the focus really drops off past this point.

I shot this with a manual focus 150mm macro lens. A macro lens has a short minimum focusing distance allowing you to get really close to your subject. To focus, I put the camera in live view mode and zoomed in to my focus point and manually focused for every shot. It was a very tedious process and you can’t really tell whether or not you got it all until you go process the photos on the computer.

Once I have imported the photos into Lightroom, I select them all and open them as layers in Photoshop. I then auto-align them and blend them, which takes about 5 minutes on my computer. Then I save them and a merged TIF file shows up in Lightroom and I can edit the final image.

I decided that I didn’t like snail on white, so I went out and plucked a bunch of bright fall colored leaves off of one of my trees and made a setting for the snail. My snail cooperated with this plan but refused to come out of its shell. Below is my first stack of images.

When I shot the images, I took a capture focused on the foreground leaf and incorporated that in the stack. Unfortunately it didn’t get all of the leaf in focus and the final image didn’t really look good in my opinion, so I re-stacked it without that image and got a much better final result. In the below image the foreground leaf is left blurry but all of the snail is in reasonably good focus. I did adjust the colors to account for the bright LED light that I was using to light the snail.

Focus Stacked Snail in Leaves

When I was through, I put the snail in my front flower bed where I hope he is happy. No snails were harmed in the making of this blog. I would have like it if the snail had poked his head out for a photo, but it was a fun activity on a rainy Sunday morning anyway.

27 thoughts on “The Snail Close-Up

  1. I’ve never heard of focus-stacking before, but I like the effect. Great photos, even if the snail didn’t come out of hiding. The sharp, multi-point focus brings out all the beauty in the shell’s design. I guess it’s a matter of personal taste, but I prefer the photo where the leaf edge is in focus against the snail’s shell.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would have liked that too if I had taken more focus point on the leaf for stacking. Focus stacking is difficult to get perfect. Newer cameras, like the Nikon Z7, can automate focus-stacking so that you just have to let the camera shoot. The manual process is kind of a lot of work, but I had nothing else to do and it was kind of fun.

      Liked by 1 person

          1. I have the Coolpix B700, which cost me about $500, three years ago. I just priced the Z7 on Amazon, and it’s going for $2,649. That’s a helluva high price.

            I notice that it’s also a mirrorless camera. I had a Lumix mirrorless before I bought my Nikon. It lasted a little over a year, then the picture quality suddenly went weird. If this tends to be something that happens to mirrorless cameras go, then I’m not sure I’d want to sink $2,600 into a Z7.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. I have a Z50, which is a baby-brother to the Z7 and also a mirrorless camera. I have not had an issue with picture quality. The sensor is similar to those of the DSLR, the main difference is looking at an electronic viewfinder rather than directly through the lens via a mirror.
              The cost of those cameras is only the start of the battle. Next comes expensive lenses.
              The Z50 is a nice compromise as the camera and two kit lenses came in at around $1000. Nikon also makes a Z5, which is a lower end full-frame camera that is much cheaper with the kit lens and it currently has a special deal going. You can always add better lenses in the future.

              Liked by 1 person

            2. I think you can spend more on a lens, than on the camera. And then there’s the cost of filters. And a good tripod isn’t cheap. Then you want to have strong, protective cases and bags, to carry all this expensive, fragile shit in. And then there’s all the time it takes to learn how to use all this fancy equipment properly. I was getting into all that, with my Lumix, until I finally decided this might not be the hobby for me. I don’t have the patience for it.

              Liked by 2 people

  2. Nice snail, reminds me of a seashell in a way.
    Using Fall leaves as a background worked really well! The 2nd image of the snail in the leaves is my favorite. Maybe it will poke its head out for you as it gets used to your flowerbed. I hope you gave it a name. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

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