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Distance of camera to subject

Tzvi H , Nov 18, 2009; 03:27 p.m.

When shooting small products with a macro lens such as jewelry, watches etc., how close should the camera be to the subject?
Another general question- Is it necessary to use a light meter to get a really good (if not perfect) exposure?


Matt Laur , Nov 18, 2009; 03:40 p.m.

What sort of camera? What sort of macro lens?

What is the image supposed to look like? Meaning, are you trying to include them item (like a watch) in scene with other objects, or a visible background... or are you going for close-up detail elements? When you say jewelry, do you mean rings, or large necklaces?

How are you lighting the scene? What sort of surface are you shooting on?

No, you don't need a meter - though it will help you get there faster. At least with table-top product shooting, you have time to shoot, then check the image's histogram so that you can see whether you're blocking up the shadows, or clipping the highlights. Shoot an 18% grey card in the same light, and look for a spike right in the middle of the histogram.

Distance between the camera and the subject will impact perspective distorition, depth of field, and the amount of background that's visible. And, of course, how much of the frame is filled with your subject. Can't provide specific pointers until you explain a bit more about what it is you're trying to accomplish, and using which tools.

John A , Nov 18, 2009; 03:59 p.m.

Another factor with lens to object distance is really the intent of the shot. For years I shot table top but it was all for the purpose of creating dynamics and image shots. In that case, I shot with very wide lenses, much wider than what might be used for standard table top work. When I needed to shoot a descriptive shot, then I would move to a longer lens, usually a bit longer than a normal lens. The main reason for the switch was to get distance and prevent distortion of the object. For really small objects, like rings, you probably can get away with a lens position closer to the object, but the same distance on a watch might create substantial distortion. There is sort of a relativity thing here that will prevent a one correct answer.

Tzvi H , Nov 18, 2009; 04:11 p.m.

The camera I am shooting with is a Canon Rebel xt. The lens is a Canon 60mm macro f2.8. The images I am trying to shoot need to include close-up detail elements. As far as jewelry is concerned, mostly rings.
I am lighting the products with an AB 800W and using reflectors/diffusers to enhance the one light.

Matt Laur , Nov 18, 2009; 04:15 p.m.

Will you be using these for large prints, or mostly for display online?

Here's why that matters: if you back away, you can get more of the ring in focus. But then you'll have to crop the resulting iamge, which loses you some resolution - which is a problem for large prints, but not much of an issue with, a modest sized JPG for display on, say, a web site.

If you get up close, then you'll get far more detail, and have more data to work with... but you'll have very little of the object in focus. Sometimes that's a good thing (because it allows you to dictate what you want to emphasize), and sometimes that's a bad thing (if you need the entire object to be in focus).

If you stop down to f/11 or so, you'll get a bit more DoF - but more than tha, and you'll start to lose detail to diffraction.

John A , Nov 18, 2009; 05:44 p.m.

Tsvi, it still kind of goes back to the distortion issue. You need to get your client to let you know what works for them and what doesn't by showing samples at varying distances--and then, as Matt suggested, determine the final use of the images. I don't use macro lenses. If I wasn't shooting 4x5, I used extension tubes where I could use different lenses to get the effect I was after.

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