There’s so much story behind this picture I almost don’t even know where to start. In fact, I really don’t know where to start so instead I’ll just talk about the particulars of the image you see and then get to the backstory in a bit. Though I should caution you: don’t examine this picture too closely or the many flaws will become immediately apparent, and what is seen most definitely cannot be unseen. I almost didn’t even put this picture up but since Weekly Fifty is all about learning and improvement, I do like sharing images that serve more as examples of that process than a highly-polished end result.
A few weeks ago I shared a picture that I created using a technique called Focus Stacking, but that was more of a happy accident than anything. For this shot of an old AA battery I knew in advance that I would need to use focus stacking so I approached the entire composition with that in mind. And even though the end result is far from ideal, it’s still a good example of my educational process and hence worth sharing here. Let’s just say that I clearly still have a lot to learn :)
Alright so let’s get down to it: This is the third version of this picture. I created the first with six exposures shot at f/22, with the battery about six inches from my 105mm f/2.8G ED macro lens attached to my Nikon D750. I thought six images would be enough to work with, but when I stacked them in Photoshop the result was far from ideal:
To do proper focus stacking, I am learning, requires enough in-focus elements to be blended seamlessly and that’s precisely what is missing here. Just look at all those seams visible between the letters, the jagged edge of the pink plastic below the battery, and the A in ULTRA skewed like someone banged the printer as the label was rolling off. My solution was simple but flawed: repeat the shot with a lot more exposures. Twelve, to be exact, all at the same aperture:
This image, while better, was still far from ideal. I was kind of running low on patience though since each shot required a ten-second shutter while my kids tiptoed around the living room so as to not shake the tripod. I wasn’t happy with the rough transitions between the letters and the blemishes on other parts of the image, but I had to admit that it was, in fact, an improvement. Still, I knew I could do better.
For my third and final attempt I repeated the process with a smaller aperture of f/32 so as to get a wider depth of field, though it meant a 20-second shutter at ISO 100. The result was 15 separate exposures combined using Focus Stacking in Photoshop and, after some minor tweaking and color adjustment in Lightroom, ended up with what you see as this week’s featured photo. It’s closer to what I had in mind when I shot it but still a far cry from what I was actually hoping for, though I don’t want to be too hard on myself. It’s not bad, and the overall shot does show some promise, but I know I can do better and I certainly aim to try :)
So why this particular picture?
People of a certain age, like myself, remember a time when Toys R Us was the place to go for video games. They had rows of NES, SNES, Genesis, and N64 cartridges along with playable demo stations that could easily occupy a kid for an entire afternoon. I remember seeing a Sega Saturn for the first time at Toys R Us, and being floored at Panzer Dragoon and Nights into Dreams. I even got an N64 from Toys R Us three days before the launch day because back in the mid 90’s that just wasn’t something that stores cared about like they do today. My buddy Drew spent years working up the ranks at Toys R Us and stayed with the company until it filed for bankruptcy in 2017, and he even met his wife there. I think it’s probably safe to say that when I was a kid, Toys R Us was my favorite store to browse and wander around in except for, possibly, Best Buy :)
Recently we were looking to acquire some Nintendo Wii controllers for our Wii-U (we don’t have a Switch yet; we’ll get there someday) and lo and behold, Drew and Casey had several that they no longer needed! We gladly accepted their offer and, upon testing them out, realized that some of the batteries needed to be replace. And as luck would have it, one of the little AA power cells hailed from Toys R Us. Just seeing this battery brought back so many memories of a simpler time, and a place that had an outsized impact on the lives of Drew and Casey and so many others as well.