Photography Principles - 04 Focal Length and Angle of View II


Before I continue onto long exposure, there was one more thing to add to the Focal Length and Angle of View thread from Part 03.

That is, to show a practical example of what sort of effect different focal lengths can have on the kind of things we, as freelance web-designers, might have to photograph.

So let’s take, for example, the following product;

Yes, I know it looks like testicles on the label, but it’s actually African Sea Coconut, taken for cough (I’ve had a bad cough for a week now). Drinking it is sort of like drinking Vicks VapoRub.

Anyways, so we learnt last time that long focal lengths keep perspective lines straight, and short focal lengths can warp perspective lines.

So, how can that be used?

First of all, let’s set up our lighting.

I’ll be using one of those inexpensive light tree things, plugged in on the opposite side of the room from the product (next to my bookshelf).

I’ll also be using my same, cute, little Powershot from last week. I certainly don’t want to use the pop-up flash, as both the bottle and the box are reflective objects which will pick-up glare from any light pointed directly at them.

See for yourself;

Clearly that won’t work.

What we need here is a soft, overall illumination. One great way to do that, is to take advantage of the small room I’m in, and the white table I have the product sitting on. Notice it’s on a white cloth, with a white cardboard behind, beside a white cupboard.

So what I can do is angle all of those lamps on my treelight upward or away from where my product is sitting; toward the ceiling, toward the walls of the room, letting the light bounce around and fill the room with a nice, soft, even-ish light.

I neglected to take a snapshot of my treelight with all the lamps pointed up, but I’m sure you can imagine it. Something like this;



And we take a look at the resulting photo you’ll see it’s a much better effect. There’s still a little hot spot on the top of the box, but that’s easy to fix by moving around the lights until it goes away.

So, finally we’re ready to photograph.

First up, as we learnt in the second thread, we’ll need a small aperture. This is a product photo, and we want to show off as much of the product as we can. We therefore need as much of the product in sharp focus as we can, therefore a wide depth of field, therefore a small opening in our lens.

We also need a low sensitivity, low ISO, because we want the product to look bright and clean, without grainy noise everywhere.

Dropping the ISO and reducing the aperture has severely killed the amount of light coming into the camera though. We’ll therefore need a longer shutterspeed, in this case, it was 1 second.

1 second is too long a time to handhold a camera. No matter how sturdy you may believe your hands are, you are never perfectly still. There’s a slight movement in your fingers from your nerves firing back and forth, not to mention your pulse, so handholding is out for such a long period of time as a second.

Tripod to the rescue!

The idea of a tripod is to grab and hold onto the camera for you. That way, removing your handshake from affecting the camera, causing motion blurs.

I used a tripod here because I have one, and it was convenient. I could just as easily have brought in a chair from the kitchen, sat down my camera on that, and used that instead. The idea is just to find something to hold the camera steady.

So, camera steady, light diffused through the room, wide depth of field, long focal length to keep our lines straight, let’s see what we get.


A nice, straight forward product photograph, showing off the labels, and pefect for cropping onto a white background and uploading to our product catalogue.

This type of photograph would be perfect for that kind of application.

But now let’s play with focal lengths to achieve something more dramatic.

We know from last time that short focal lengths give us “wide-angles”, warped perspective lines. How can we apply that to the bottle?

There’s a concept known as the “heroic angle”.

Have you ever seen those Superman comics where he bursts through the wall of the bad guy’s warehouse, standing right at the edge of the rubble, looking down at the henchmen, all mighty and important like?

What makes him look that way?

The answer is, the angle at which we see him. We see him from low, looking up, which makes him look more tall, more important, more big. It’s like looking up at a mountain or a skyscraper. You’re at its feet, and seeing the stone or bricks soaring up for miles and miles over your head.

That’s the heroic angle.

So let’s apply the heroic angle to our bottle.

We’re going to come up close, drop our camera low, and to exaggerate the effect, we’ll zoom out to a wide angle to force the vertical lines to converge, the way the edges of a skyscraper would seem to converge at the tower’s top, while looking from the bottom.

Nice, eh?

How about even closer, even wider and even lower?


Notice the trade off though. Our bottle looks more exciting, yes, but we’re not able to see part of the label at the bottom anymore.

That’s not good for a catalogue photograph, but let’s say we were using this for an advertisment or for a special webpage about the product.

ah, Yes. I can see it now…


Tell me you don’t want to drink some of that powerful, big, important African Sea Coconut now!

Someone who’s a much better graphic artist than me could run with it.

Anyways, thanks for reading!

I hope it was interesting and helpful. What you should take away from this is the importance of experimenting. Practice. Play with angles. Play with distances. Move all around your product until you find what suits it and the appication best.



nice work Shaun on both Articles (had to catch up) :tup: hope the cough is gone, that stuff looks like tar :shifty:

When will you be posting the motion blur? :shifty:

Shaun, I’m wondering too. Is there more to come? I sure hope so :slight_smile:

Thanks for the great article Shaun. You make it so easy to understand and follow.

Is there more coming up?

Ah, it all starts to make sense. Thanks! I kept thinking I needed to point the light at the object - oops!


great photography. love to see more pic.

Just to give my thanks too - good stuff, Shaun. Now just to get a camera that has manual settings to try these things out myself. As luck would have it, the new point and shot camera which I recently bought and thought was pretty good, doesn’t actually have a real “manual” mode (darn it!).

amazing lightening effect man

Great post Shaun :slight_smile:
The previous ones where good too, but I really like the practical point of view of this one. I’m learning a lot. Keep up the great work !



Do you have some of that African Coconut Cough drink for sale? :stuck_out_tongue:

Thanks for the Angle o’ View thread, still reading it.

Already looking forward for the long exposures.
I’m totally into night photography for years (with long exposures of course).

Fantastic illustration of some important points, Shaun.
And you have shown off some of your drawing skills, too!

I’ll have to keep the light tree in mind - that would be useful for me even for non-photography stuff.

Show more pictures these one’s have great lighting.