My recent focus has been in landscape/cityscape work, but my passion for Photography started all the way back in the early 1960s — time enough for me to have dabbled in all areas of this visual art. So, when my wife recently asked me to photograph her grandmother’s heirloom ring (circa late 1800s) I thought… “piece of cake”, been there & done that (product photography). How hard could a tiny ‘product’ like a ring be to photograph?

Well… not so fast. For some readers it may be enough to know that this project turned out to be no cake walk. If you count yourself in this group, thanks for reading this far, enjoy the photo below, and please feel free to stop by next time. Or, if anyone is interested in trying this at home, too, here are some of the major ‘gotchas’ and the solutions I came up with.

First and foremost are the special challenges associated with working in such a tiny scale. This ring’s outer diameter is roughly 20mm (7/8″); clearly a job for “macro” photography –a totally different ball game from my recent work, which has involved subjects ranging in size from three feet to several miles.

To photograph in the sub-inch world one needs specialized macro optical tools; either a special purpose macro lens, a zoom lens with a macro setting, closeup bellows/adapters behind the lens, or an additional closeup element attached to the front.

In various degrees all these macro tools suffer from a limited depth of field. That is, the area in sharp focus is only a few milimeters deep. Especially so with the closeup element that I was using on my lens; its depth of field is not sufficient to cover the entire 20mm heirloom ring. My solution: shoot several frames, each one focused a few milimeters beyond the last, then blend in Photoshop. I proceeded to mount my camera on a solid tripod, produce a total of five such frames, then attempt to blend them together.

However… The problem in attempting to blend frames with a different focus, arises from the fact that when we change the focal point of a lens we also change its “perspective”.   Similar to zooming in, shifting the focus results in slightly re-sized images. In the larger scale world we live in, and working with linearly receding subjects, it is relatively easy to blend frames of gradually receding focus, either manually or by using software tools. In the end we may end up with e.g. a skyline that is slightly shifted in the vertical axis (slightly taller objects) but the distortion is not visible since every point shifts uniformly, according to distance from the lens.

On the other hand in working with a circular object (ring) that exceeds the lens’ depth of field, we end up with vertically and horizontally shifted frames that cannot be easily blended. My solution: manually move each frame to the closest overlap point then manually ‘paint’ the size transition points from one frame to the next. No cake walk but doable… Having a touch-panel ‘tablet’ and stylus helps a lot with such work.

Finally, the other big issue with macro photography is lighting. In attempting to shoot at close quarters it is very easy to introduce deep shadows, and, especially if the subject is shiny (as in e.g jewelry) the result can be strangely alternating bright/dark areas on the subject. I dealt with that one using good old fashioned observation and adjustment. Again the small scale of the subject made it hard to see all the bright and dark spots on its surface, but with a little bit of attention and repositioning ordinary household lamps I came up with a happy arrangement of evenly lit surfaces and interesting reflections.

I hope you enjoy my interpretation of this ring.  Feel free to write if you need more ‘how-to’ details.

heirloom_ring2