Photography marketing

Product photography, part 7: magnification and close-ups

The best product photos provide online shoppers with accurate details to know what to expect when the goods arrive. Specialized magnified shots can help.

This is the seventh post in my series on helping e-commerce merchants improve their product photography. “Part 1” discussed the importance of backgrounds. “Part 2” explains tripods. “Part 3” looked at the fundamentals of artificial lighting. “Part 4” went over angles and viewpoints, and “Part 5” covered choosing a camera. “Part 6” assessed the objective and its importance.

In this article, I will describe the benefits of macro and tilt-shift lenses.

Macro lenses

A macro lens acts like a magnifying glass for your camera, producing extremely sharp photos at close range. Macro lenses typically magnify at a 1:1 ratio and can create images that are larger than the object. The downside, unfortunately, is that the plane of focus is parallel to your camera’s sensor, resulting in a very narrow depth of field. But that shouldn’t matter when shooting small products.

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

Also, even though depth of field affects the focus of your images, a process called photo stacking layers the images together and creates a single fully focused version. I will explain how to do this in a future article.

My favorite macro lenses include:

360 degree photos consist of 20 to 80 shots with a macro lens from the same fixed position using stages and a variety of cameras. 360 degree images dramatically improve the online experience while boosting trust and conversions. And because they provide unparalleled detail, 360-degree photos can eliminate unpleasant surprises and reduce customer chargebacks.

Sample 360 ​​degree animated GIF image from Product-360.com.

360-degree photos are made up of 20 to 80 shots with a macro lens from the same fixed position. This screenshot shows details of several shots in an animated GIF. Source: Product-360.com.

Extension tubes are cheaper alternatives to macro lenses. Sometimes called “macro tubes”, extensions are hollow cylinders that fit between the body of a camera and its lens. They change how close you can get to a subject and thus increase magnification. Extension tubes won’t distort a shot and attach to each other to create the desired magnification with any lens.

The disadvantages of extenders are having to change the minimum and maximum focusing distances as well as the effective focal length and aperture. A “longer” lens will make your camera much more susceptible to shake and allow less light to reach your sensor. Vello, mieke, Viltrox, Kenko, and Fuji film all of them make quality extension tubes.

Example of Viltrox extension tube from B&H Photo

Extension tubes fit between the body of a camera and its lens. They change how close you can get to a subject and thus increase magnification. Source: B&H Photo.

Tilting lenses

A tilt-shift lens is great for changing the focal plane of an image to maximize or minimize its depth of field. Tilting lenses allow movement of a lens up or down and side to side as needed for the perfect shot.

The tilt function is particularly useful in product photography as it allows you to focus on specific details. More importantly, a tilt and shift lens projects a much wider area on your sensor than necessary while still producing a very sharp image unlike traditional wide-angle lenses.

My picks for flip lenses are Canon 50mm f/2.8L Macro Where Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8. Both are quite expensive, however.

Example of a Canon tilting lens from B&H Photo

Flip-up lenses, like this one from Canon, allow movement of a lens up or down and side-to-side. Source: B&H Photo.

Macro versus Tilt-shift?

The choice between a macro lens and a tilt-shift depends on your products and your budget. A macro lens with photo stacking is best if you need everything in focus. (Again, I’ll explain photo stacking in a later episode.) For less money, use extension tubes (or even back up with one of the “Part 6” lenses and a setting larger opening).

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

See “Part 8: the essential elements of composition”.