Product Images, Half 7: Magnification and Shut-ups

The best product photos give online shoppers precise information so that they know what to expect when the goods arrive. Special enlarged images can help.

This is the seventh post in my series on helping ecommerce retailers improve their product photography. “Part 1” dealt with the importance of backdrops. “Part 2” explains tripods. “Part 3” dealt with the basics of artificial lighting. “Part 4” dealt with angles and angles and “Part 5” dealt with the selection of a camera. “Part 6” assessed the lens and its importance.

In this episode, I am going to describe the advantages of macro and tilt-shift lenses.

Macro lenses

A macro lens acts as a magnifying glass for your camera and provides extremely sharp photos up close. Macro lenses typically magnify 1: 1 and can produce images that are larger than the subject. Unfortunately, the disadvantage is that the focal plane is parallel to the sensor of your camera, which leads to a very shallow depth of field. But that shouldn’t matter when photographing small products.

A macro lens, like this example from Canon, serves as a magnifying glass for a camera, for very sharp photos at close range. Source: B&H Photo.

Even if depth of field affects the focus of your images, a process called photo stacking layers images and creates a single version that is fully in focus. I will explain how to do this in a later episode.

My favorite macro lenses include:

360 degree photos consist of 20 to 80 shots with a macro lens from the same fixed position using turntables and a variety of cameras. 360-degree images significantly improve the online experience while increasing trust and conversions. And because they provide incomparable detail, 360-degree photos can avoid surprises and thus reduce chargebacks from customers.

Example of a 360-degree animated GIF image from Product-360.com.

360-degree photos consist of 20 to 80 pictures taken with a macro lens from the same fixed position. This screenshot shows the details of multiple recordings in one animated GIF. Source: Product-360.com.

Extension tubes are cheaper alternatives to macro lenses. Extensions are sometimes called “macro tubes” and are hollow cylinders that fit between the body of a camera and its lens. They change the proximity to a subject and thus increase the magnification. Extension tubes do not distort the image and are attached to each other to achieve the desired magnification with each lens.

The disadvantages of extensions are changing the minimum and maximum focus distance as well as the effective focal length and aperture. A “longer” lens makes your camera much more prone to camera shake and lets less light onto your sensor. Vello, Mieke, Viltrox, Kenko and Fujifilm all make high quality extension tubes.

Example of a Viltrox extension tube from B&H Photo

Extension tubes fit between the housing of a camera and its lens. They change the proximity to a subject and thus increase the magnification. Source: B&H Photo.

Tilt-shift lenses

A tilt-shift lens is very useful for changing the focal plane of an image to maximize or minimize the depth of field. Tilt-shift lenses allow a lens to be moved up or down and from side to side for the perfect shot.

The tilt function is particularly helpful in product photography as it enables you to focus on certain details. More importantly, unlike traditional wide-angle lenses, a tilt-shift lens projects a much larger area onto your sensor than necessary while producing a very sharp image.

My choices for tilt-shift lenses are Canon 50mm f / 2.8L Macro or Canon TS-E 90mm f / 2.8. Both are, however, quite expensive.

Example of a Canon tilt lens from B&H Photo

Tilt-shift lenses like this one from Canon allow a lens to be moved up or down and from side to side. Source: B&H Photo.

Macro vs. Tilt-Shift?

Choosing between a macro lens and a tilt-shift depends on your products and budget. A macro lens with photo stacking is best when you want everything in focus. (Again, I’ll explain photo stacking in a future episode.) For less money, use extension tubes (or even with one of the lenses in “Part 06” and a larger aperture setting).

However, if you want to create interesting and engaging images and are on a budget, consider investing in a tilt-shift lens.

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