Had a bit of time to play with photography this weekend, and turned my attention to a couple of VC pieces.
One of the things that I think we all struggle with when doing macro photography is getting the entire piece in focus. I like those shots with the artistic bokeh well enough, but sometimes I want to get it sharp from edge to edge. Given the depth of field of macro lenses, this is not easy! This is especially true if you don't want to view the piece straight on, but rather want to see it at an angle.
For a long time I followed the practice of choking down the aperture to increase DOF and then using a light tent, tripod, and remote shutter release to take really long exposures (as long as 30 seconds). This yielded some good shots, but the small aperture causes diffraction of long-wavelength light, so some of the yellow gold or brass pieces in a movement get reddish.
This led to experimentation with a bounce flash -- which can work well, but which tends to create an artificially bright look and can "blow out" some of the details. There can also be issues with reflections of the flash gun in the bright surfaces of the watch. I spent many hours holding the camera in one hand and a piece of paper over the watch in the other, trying to create an impromptu tent -- this sort of works, but I think would require me to do a lot more practice.
I then started working with a tilt/shift lens -- one of the greatest inventions ever, as it allows you to adjust the lens to get the entire subject in focus by creating a virtual focal plane. Basically your camera thinks that its sensor is parallel to the watch when in fact the piece is at an angle to the body of the camera. This technique still requires a tripod, though, and I usually used a light tent as well. All in all this is probably still the "best" approach that I have found.
Enter computer technology -- I'm up to Photoshop CS5 now, and it has the latest version of auto-align/auto-merge, which to me is a miracle. What this lets you do is to take several photos of the same object, focusing at different depths, and then use Photoshop to pick out the sharp parts from each photo and meld them together into a seamless composition. Basically you start with the near edge of the watch in focus, shoot, focus the lens slightly farther away, shoot, and repeat until you have a last photo of the far edge of the watch in focus. The photomerge process is not 100 perfect, but it is really good -- and lets me photograph pieces in focus from edge to edge by just putting them and my camera on a tabletop and firing away. Using a tripod would be even better (and would let me vary the positions of the watches more) but for weekend fun while on the road this is just fine. One disadvantage is that the watch has to be stopped -- otherwise the composite image is blurry (and on dial shots Photoshop doesn't seem to know what to make of having the hands in different positions on the different shots, as you might expect).
Enough boring technical stuff! Here are three images taken yesterday and today -- each is actually a merged composite of between 5 and 7 individual photos with different focal points:
Uploading compression doesn't do the sharpness of these images any favors, but I hope that they convey the general idea.
As always, all comments, suggestions, and criticisms welcomed! I'd also be interested to hear (and see the results of) any tips other would be willing to share on how you grapple with watch photography. In my case, wrist shots are particularly troublesome, so I'm eager to hear your thoughts!
All the best,