Single source image of Monteithium ascetum, a strange, rainforest darkling beetle with antler-like lobes on its thorax, from the summit of Mt Sorrow near Cape Tribulation, North Queensland.

It used to be difficult to take photographs of small insects because at high magnification, a camera cannot focus on the top of an insect at the same time as the lower parts. This is called low depth of field.

New technology takes all the sharply-focussed parts of a series of digital photographs, the source images, taken in slices from the top to the bottom of an insect and combines them into one sharp image. The resulting photograph has been “montaged”. The most common programs used to do this are Automontage, Combine Z and Helicon Focus.

This is a similar process to what an illustrator does. The resulting image is not as clear as an illustration and cannot emphasise important structures or compensate for viewing-angle distortions, twisting of the body or curled up legs. However, taking a digital photograph is so much faster that fewer scientific illustrations are now being done. Four or five photographs might be needed instead of one drawing but this is still less work than a top-grade illustration takes.

These montaged photographs sometimes require careful editing when the automatic selection of the sharpest parts of the source images makes mistakes. The images can be further refined using digital illustration techniques.

After all the hard work is done Automontage software can then produce a 3D image.

Combined high-depth-of-field image of Monteithium ascetum.

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