How to Make Gigapixel Macro Photographs

The Overall Process

The GIGAmacro images featured are assembled from hundreds, or more often thousands, of individual photographs. These photographs are captured using the GIGAmacro Magnify2, and are then combined to create a seamless image that has astounding resolution and depth of field.

Diagram of How To Create a Gigapixel Image

How to create a gigapixel image, generally known as Stack and Stitch.

The resulting GIGAmacro image can be explored using a tiled-image viewer, (you’ve seen and used one every time you use Google Maps where, as you zoom in, the image gets more and more detailed), designed specifically for gigapixel imagery. Also, multiple GIGAmacro images can be compared to each other using the  GIGAmacro Viewer, and shared with the public and other researchers. This new approach to photographing and studying subjects is typically used for research, but can also be applied to curriculum, interactive exhibits, industrial quality control or print formats.

An Amazing New Tool

In the GIGAmacro workflow we integrate a number of different technologies to provide a complete systems to produce, manage, share, annotate and view the images. Because we have designed and assembled the equipment, software, and workflow processes, creating GIGAmacro images is now straightforward and relatively easy.

The Magnify2 System Includes:

The robotic capture system that controls the camera and image capture.

The robotic capture system that controls the camera and image capture. The system may take many thousands of images, depending on the size and resolution required in the final GIGAmacro image.

  • DSLR Camera
  • Telecentric Optics
  • Focus Stacking Software
  • Image Mosaicing and Image Stitching Software
  • Tiled Map Viewing Technology
  • Image Viewing and Sharing.

How Thousands of Images are Captured

The process of taking thousands of images of a small subject can be quite difficult; shooting the images manually exacerbates the challenges of precise positioning, focusing, and subsequent file management.

The GIGAmacro Magnify2 is specifically designed to make all aspects of this task efficient and straightforward. It includes specialized robotic hardware, photography equipment, and software programming. Together, these tools allow for precise positioning of the camera in relation to the subject, and automation of the process of taking images in a specific pattern.

Camera, Lighting, & Telecentric Optics

A range of different cameras and optics can be used with our imaging system. The standard configuration uses a Canon T6i DSLR Camera (24 megapixel), with the Canon MP-E 65mm Macro lens. The camera, optics, positioning and focus are controlled by specialized software (GIGAmacro Magnify2 Motion Control System & Automated Capture Software) to automate the process of capturing the images. The lens is fitted with an adapter which produces a telecentric view and image. The adapter is a custom milled optics holder fitted with an acrhromatic lens that corrects for parallax between adjacent images.

Subject illumination is provided by a combination of high intensity LED for setup and Macro Twin Lite flashes. Adjustments can be made to the light position and intensity and this can be previewed in the GIGAmacro Automated Capture Software in real time using the live view image from the camera.

Combining Thousands of Photographs into a Single Seamless GIGAmacro

In this process, we digitally combine the images using a “Stack & Stitch” methodology. We first “focus stack” the individual photographs to increase the depth of field and then “stitch” the images together to create a higher resolution image.

This is a diagram of the combined techniques of stacking and then stitching a set of photographs to produce a single high resolution image which is sharp throughout.

Focus Stacking

Focus stacking is a technique which combines multiple images taken at different focus distances to give a resulting image with a greater depth of field.

Image Stitching

Image stitching or photo stitching is the process of combining multiple photographic images with overlapping fields of view to produce a segmented panorama or high-resolution image.

Stack & Stitch Tools

Currently, there isn’t a single software package that does both stitching and stacking for macro photography. The GIGAmacro Magnify2 provides the tools and workflow programming to do both with easily and simply. The capture software is designed to organize and prepare the images for the stack and stitch process. The software is preconfigured with templates and settings specifically designed to optimize the quality and speed of combining the individual photographs into a single seamless GIGAmacro.

Software Used in the Magnify2 System

Zerene Stacker one of the best focus stacking software packages available. Available from Zerene Systems. This software is integrated into the GIGAmacro Automated Capture Software.

Autopano Giga is an advanced and powerful professional stitching software package available separately from Kolor. This package is integrated in the GIGAmacro Magnify2 Software.

Viewing, Comparison, Annotation & Sharing Technology

Viewing a GIGAmacro image is possible by using tiled image viewing technology. This technology allows for extremely large images to be viewed online by almost any computer (or mobile device) that is connected to the internet. While these technologies are predominantly used for navigation and mapping, the process is the same and translates well to GIGAmacro images.

We provide the GIGAmacro Viewer for sharing, analyzing, and comparing multiple gigapixel images. It is specifically designed for high-resolution macro and micro photography. 

Day 1 and Day 2 comparison of the brood in a bee colony (Source USDA)

Using the GIGAmacro Viewer you can:

  • Make side-by-side comparisons.
  • Make layered comparisons with an “xray” tool.
  • Take measurements on each image.
  • Link GIGAmacro images together at specific points in each image.
  • Load GIGAmacro images from the website.
  • Load GIGAmacro images from a Zoomify tileset.
  • Load GIGAmacro images from your local hard drive.
  • Flip GIGAmacro images vertically or horizontally.
  • View in Fullscreen Mode
  • Use on your own website.
  • Use in exhibits and curriculum, kiosk displays, etc.