DOF in product photography

I was asked several times in the last few days about a previously made point (yes, since you ask: I repeat things quite frequently, since repeating is the way we learn – especially if, as I do, you explain in a slightly different way each time).

In product photography, you often want great depth of field (“DOF”) – i.e. everything is sharp from front to back. Like in this picture of one of the best calculators ever made, and shame on HP for stopping production: this is still the best calculator I have ever owned:

Oh, but we cannot see the calculator at the back. DOF is insufficient. Well, I suppose we could shoot at f/45 if our lens allowed it, but that would lead to slow shutter, fuzzy pictures, and might still not be enough even then.

So? The tilt-shift lens to the rescue. Resulting in this, at the same settings, including an aperture setting of f/3,5!

This is that lens:

It is a manual focus only lens that allows tilting, which moves the focus plane, like for the shot above:

And it allows shifting, for occasions where you point up or down or left and right, like in architecture, and you do not want verticals to converge.

It also allows turning by 90 degrees, so your tilting and shifting can be along any axis, horizontal or vertical or diagonal.

The last adjustment is interesting: unlike the DOF, this you could usually also do in Lightroom (or PS if you feel so inclined), but why bother if you can do it while shooting?

Tilt-Shift: A specialized lens, but invaluable (meaning valuable – the English language is illogical) for product shots. Real product photographers should own one, so if you need product shot and you do not own this type of lens… call me!


4 thoughts on “DOF in product photography

  1. The tilt-shift lens is pretty cool and this was a good demonstration of one of the things it can do for you, but it is an expensive lens, Vistek is offering the 45mm for $1649. If you are just shooting it at home, you can use Canon’s 50 mm f/1.8 and Photoshop instead.

  2. Ah Ron, but that is the point: for this kind of shifted focal plane, you cannot use the 50mm lens: you will get the shot on top. Unless you go way back and shoot at f/16, say, and then you get a tiny image which you then have to magnify, losing detail. Hence, for professional product photography you will end up needing a tilt-shift.
    That said: you can, of course, rent one!

  3. It’s a bit grainy, I shot it at ISO 12800 because I was too lazy to turn on a light, but it is in focus. It’s scaled down for the web. In the original the near edge is 3000 px wide.

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