Macro Product Photography Tips (i.e. taking photos of IEMs)
Aug 11, 2023 at 12:49 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 14


100+ Head-Fier
May 10, 2023
For the purposes of quickly demonstrating some tips that I've picked up for macro product photography (shooting photos of small products) I threw together a small setup for an existing set that I had. This doesn't represent the highest quality setup possible, but merely shows some of the basic concepts that you can apply to any photo you take of something small to share over in the discovery thread.

I'm just going to use the stuff I have on my desk and either use the smartphone in my pocket (an iPhone) or my mirrorless full frame camera (Canon R6).

I just gathered a small textured journal to use as a base, and a planter and other objects to use as background items for the shot.

Mostly just trying to get similar colors in the background and get some different textures to be in the photo. Depending on the angle and settings these items might be completely blurred out or not, so I'm not too precious about them most of the time. I care more about the texture and color of the object the IEM will be sitting on since that's most likely going to be in focus along with the IEM.

Which brings me to the first more important thing to keep in mind when taking macro photos.

Rule #1: Depth of Field - you probably need more of it...

There's tons of videos about the exposure triangle and depth of field on youtube. But the quick definition is:

The depth of field (DOF) is the distance between the nearest and the furthest objects that are in acceptably sharp focus in an image captured with a camera.

There are a couple things that affect the DOF--the aperture of the lens, the size of the sensor capturing the image, and the distance between the lens and the focus point. The piece of this that differs greatly from other photography is the focus distance, when you're very close to the subject of the photo the DOF starts to shrink very fast, leaving only the tiniest fraction of a sliver of a plane in focus. That plane will always be parallel with the camera sensor with any standard lens or smartphone.

One benefit of the tiny DOF is that you can manipulate how in or out-of-focus an object is with distance from the subject, pushing away background objects will make them more blurry, likewise with foreground objects but moving them closer to the camera.

The most common thing I see with IEM photos is leaving the DOF too small. Especially for people that have dedicated cameras, which makes sense, you spend a lot of money to get a big camera and lens and it has a really low aperture so you want to use everything you paid for. But with macro photography less is more. And that goes for aperture. I'll show and example using my camera at the widest aperture my lens has f/2.8 and at a much smaller aperture of f/10:

The tendency to use the widest aperture possible is understandable but the reality of macro shots is that razor thin DOF can make the overall image a hazy dreamy blur. Now, this could be a style choice and that's okay if you like it. But the goal of product photography is to show the product generally and only having the first two millimeters of an IEM in focus doesn't show off the best look for the IEMs that I enjoy (I really like the Legato every-now-and-then, don't be mean).

But Kaz, you might say, that second photo looks totally different, like the lighting was completely different...

Rule #2: Light - you probably need a lot more of it...

Less is more with macro photography right up to the part where you light the subject. Then the rule goes out the window and there may not really be a limit to how much light you could need for a scene. Seriously, look up some high-end macro setups and you'll find extremely powerful lights, that will give you a tan, for the tiniest objects imaginable.


For those on a budget the easiest thing to do is find a bright lamp and some material to diffuse the light. I'm going to be ultra cheap and use a white t-shirt and my desk lamp at first. Other options include getting some brighter bulbs and a simple fixture from a local hardware store, but usually what you have around the house is sufficient. Do try and keep the lightbulbs all the same so the color of the light is consistent if you use multiple.

I also used a backdrop that I have that's light in color to have a neutral background and also help throw more light around, the lighter something is the more light is will reflect around for your camera to capture. With the nature of shiny objects like IEMs there's some trial and error to angles of light. Just move your light source and diffusion material around the scene to see what angles let you see the IEMs without reflecting blinding light into the camera that obscures the product.

Even on the iPhone 12 that I have this is helping making the IEMs look better.

But you can absolutely go further if you hate your wallet and have a camera with a hot shoe that is compatible with flashes and triggers.

So what's going on here? I'm using two flashes and a remote trigger to place them on either side of the product and fire in varying amounts of light to evenly illuminate the product, which helps with a shiny metal IEM like the Legato. This is the setup that produced the after lighting above.

Rule #3: Experiment - once your settings are locked in go wild

Once I've got a set of lights, diffusion and camera settings this is when you can start finding different angles and layouts to get different shots of a product. You can emphasis different parts of the product, or pick out details as you choose.

Recommended settings to start with:

Phone Camera:
Use a manual camera app if you can, set the ISO as low as possible, set the focus as close as possible, set the shutter speed as slow as you can without getting shaky images (zoom in really closely and check), you don't have any aperture flexibility so you'll need to make up for it with lighting and placement creativity.

DSLR/Mirrorless Camera:
Shutter Speed - 1/35-1/100 (start with 1/lens focal length)
Aperture - f/8-f/11 (check for diffraction or softness and open up if you see any)
ISO - 100-200
Lens - This is where budget and creative vision hit, I would skip your kit lens if you still have one and snag a "macro" lens if you can, some systems have cheap primes that are partial macro lenses. But there's no making up for just using your system's flagship macro lens (i.e. 100ish mm macro) it will allow you to get really close to the product and eliminate a lot of background distractions.

Now that I had the flashes and diffusion setup and the camera settings dialed in I could start experimenting with different looks to see what I liked. I did a lot of this is a hurry because I was tired last night but you can leave a setup and use it over and over again.


Choosing different objects to hold the product and swapping out the angle and the cord and background objects can drastically change the look. I didn't edit these photos much after the fact. That's probably another guide altogether that I can post after this one. I tend to make sure I edit out all the little dust speckles that show up at macro scale, but that's probably not necessary for a shot to put with your review or a quick impression post.


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Aug 12, 2023 at 7:02 AM Post #3 of 14
Great stuff, thanks!

I'll play around in Pro mode on my S23 and I feel terribly naughty about it cause I'm as amateur-hour as it gets in photography 🤣
Aug 12, 2023 at 11:20 AM Post #4 of 14
Aug 12, 2023 at 7:03 PM Post #5 of 14
On the subject of lenses, I definitely recommend macro tubes if you want to play with macro, but don't want to throw down cash for a new lens! While you're not going to get the best optics, and you're going to lose some light, you can't beat the price of like $30.

Aug 12, 2023 at 11:03 PM Post #6 of 14
On the subject of lenses, I definitely recommend macro tubes if you want to play with macro, but don't want to throw down cash for a new lens! While you're not going to get the best optics, and you're going to lose some light, you can't beat the price of like $30.

I totally forgot about macro tubes, I 100% agree, I had tons of fun with them until I snagged a dedicated macro lens. I will say, be careful to look up a tube length calculator because you can make the focusing plane so close that subject would need to be inside the lens to focus.
Aug 14, 2023 at 1:29 PM Post #7 of 14
This looks useful. Thanks!
Aug 26, 2023 at 12:14 PM Post #9 of 14
These links appears empty (from Spain)
They work for me, have you tried manually copying it instead of clicking on it? (I believe head-fi does something strange to some links.)
Aug 29, 2023 at 8:09 AM Post #11 of 14
Aug 29, 2023 at 10:08 AM Post #13 of 14
Yi m1 is a mirrorless camera.

I need more light a better macro lens
Oh, that's my bad, I only knew Xiaomi as a phone brand until I just looked up that model. It's amazing what little exposure we get to some brands in the US.
Aug 29, 2023 at 6:11 PM Post #14 of 14
Nice tutorial.

I would like to add something to address the lack of dof even when using small apertures like f/10, because sometimes even smaller apertures like that aren't enough to get what we want in focus.

Focus stacking basically consists on taking several shots of the same frame, using the same exposure, just changing the focusing distance in each picture, and then blend them (using PS or Helicoid) to get more dof. For example, i made this one by merging 7 shots at f/10.

I know it's not a basic thing to do, but it's not so difficult either, it can be done with a smartphone that allows to focus manually.


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