Photographing small objects is a unique challenge, and if you want to know the right gear to showcase those items, the best I would say is to look no further than a DSLR or mirrorless camera and a macro lens. After slapping a sweet macro lens on your camera, you will be amazed at the brand-new world you have access to—one that is tough to imagine. You’ll be able to capture the beauty of a water droplet or the surprising detail found in an everyday object. And, if you are lucky enough to be a working photographer, it can boost your product photography game, especially once you add in compositing as an editing trick.
For the product photographer, macro lenses and the images they create can be used to showcase smaller products in unique ways. Macro photography brings a new dimension to the image when you get up close, giving an almost three-dimensional wraparound feel. Macro images also come with some beautiful bokeh. We all love the blurred background look, but if you are photographing a product for a client, they typically hate when the blurred background manages to blur out part of their product. It’s understandable, and as product photographers we need to showcase the product in the best way we can. A key to that is making sure the entire product is in focus. That’s where compositing comes in.
We will be taking multiple macro images, all with different focus points, and making one complete photograph. Also, while we are doing that, we are going to use this compositing trick to manipulate the lighting in different images and build the perfect shot in post.
Our subject is a mug for Chelsea Gilligan’s Little Imperfect line of ceramics. We shot everything at f/16 and used a tripod at all times. A tripod is an absolute must when compositing images. Now let’s go back to the beginning and walk through how we did this.
When I start photographing a product, I like to work from the ground up. Literally.
In the image above, I liked the way the shadow was sharp and well defined. To “levitate” the product, I used a couple objects I had available to me. When a product is elevated, even just a bit, it gives a feeling a movement to the item. And movement brings a bit more interest to the photograph as a whole. In this case, I must admit that the items I used to prop up the mug were a couple of dog treats. They aren’t ideal, especially for a shot on white, but you use what you have to make the shot you want.
Now we have created an image that gives us a dramatic shadow. This will be our background layer, which we will build on.
Let’s focus on the mug next, keeping in mind that the background image captured the handle and shadow in sharp focus and those are the two parts we will be keeping as we move forward.
This shot focused on the lip of the mug. We even adjusted the lighting to give it a brighter exposure. We can then take the new image and layer the in-focus area over the background shot, providing the illusion of deep focus.
One thing to keep in mind is that when you shift focus, many lenses suffer from “focus breathing”—even with a tripod. This means the image will appear to shift slightly, and your various images won’t line up perfectly. There are a lot of ways to fix this, but I have found that Photoshop’s Clone Stamp tool does the best job. It gives me more control over the end result, and I am able to be more precise with where I want the merge to occur.
We were able to take the lip from the previous image and stamp it onto the background layer. This gives us a good place to start, so now it is time to work on the inside of the mug.
Another shot will help us bring the inside of the mug into focus. However, I personally don’t like the blown-out reflections from the glass coating on the ceramics, so we will deal with that later.
First, I wanted to make the shadow inside the mug look more realistic. I burned in the shadow to darken it and make it appear more realistic. Then, because they need to come out of the shot at some point, I removed the treats from underneath the mug. Now we have a proper “floating” object.
Great. It all looks like it is coming together. The reflections are next to be dealt with. Using the Clone Stamp tool, we can carefully sample other parts of the mug to make those bright spots disappear. The handle also seems to be a bit blown out, so we use the burn tool to lower the brightness there, too. The final step is to polish it off where you think it needs some work.
Here are some more images using similar techniques to the one above.
This has been a lot of fun, and I hope it helps your technique. Feel free to ask questions and share your own experiences with compositing images in the Comments section below!