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Printed Circuit Board (PCB) Photography

Taking close-up photos of printed circuit boards can be challenging due to problems with limited depth-of-field. Inevitably, regions of the photograph will be out-of-focus, resulting in a less-than-professional appearance. The solution to this problem is to use a technique known as focus stacking, which has been used to advantage in capturing most of the images on this website.

Focus stacking takes a collection of images of a subject that each contain some region sharply in focus and combines these into a single (overall) sharp image. The images needed for this process are conveniently taken with DSLR software that controls the focus setting of the camera.

My PCB photographs are taken with a tripod-mounted Canon EOS550D DSLR using a Canon 100 mm macro lens (f2.8 IS USM). PCB’s are placed inside a homemade light-box (to achieve good uniform illumination) and are located approximately 0.7m from the lens.

The camera is tethered to a MacBook Pro and DSLR Assistant is used to acquire a small stack of images (typically 10 or so), automatically adjusting the focal depth between successive images. Images are then processed using focus stacking software (Helicon Focus) and then brought into Photoshop Elements 11 and cropped. Some slight image rotation and lighting adjustments can often be desirable in order to obtain a nice final image.

Some newer camera models perform focus stacking fully in-camera. If you are thinking of purchasing a new camera this might be a useful technique to explore…
Stacks Image 586

Phacops Rana - a Devonian trilobite from the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, captured using the focus stacking technique described here. The yellow object (a banana !) in the background being used to support the trilobite gives an indication of the impressive size of this ~400 million year old fossil.