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54 frames for one photo: How Apple produces their product shots

Looking at an Apple commercial for an iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad, with the device so completely in focus, you might at first mistake it for a 3D rendering. It turns out it's real photography, however, incredibly painstaking photography. And it produces utterly fantastic results.

The most challenging aspect of shooting store panels for Apple is the balance between the size of the file and the depth of field. Often the products small enough that our depth of field is very narrow. In order for the product to appear entirely in focus, we have to shoot a number of focus zones, which are stitched together in post. This video is a stop motion video made from all of the focus zones that were shot for this iPod Touch. The number in the corner is the number of the focus zone. In the video you can see the progression of the focus march from front to back. For this left iPod Touch, it took 54 frames just to get the product to appear completely in focus.

Just one of many examples of the effort Apple puts into not only making and packaging their products, but producing everything that surrounds their products. It might sound crazy, almost perfectionistic, but if they put this much into the photography, imagine what they put into the device?

We won't be covering these kinds of techniques anytime soon in our iPhoneography series, but if it's something you want to play around with -- even to a much smaller degree -- then jump into our iPhone Photography Forum and have at it

Check out the video example via the link below.

Source: Dwight Eschliman Photography via @duncanwilcox, @sdw

Rene Ritchie
Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • Interesting article!
    I didn't see the video, but it sounds like they are using "focus stacking" which is something that isn't too hard to do if you happen to have a copy of Photoshop. Its like an HDR image, only with shots taken at different focal lengths rather than different exposures. Its very useful for macro photography where depths of field tend to be extremely shallow.
    There are also freeware programs that do this (which I have never tried). Check out "focus stacking" in Wikipedia to see a list of some.
    p.s. I think it would be hard to do this with anything other than an SLR on a tripod. You need to be able to do precise manual focusing.
  • It does conspicuously look like focus stacking, but explained as above it sounds like some special magic technique Apple invented, and not something photographers and advertisement agencies have been doing for years.
  • These guys are going to love Lytro if and when it evolves into a pro-level product. But yes, their product photography for Apple is spectacular. (We always assumed it was done with view cameras.)
  • Hard to know why they shoot it this way. He mentions that because the product is small, the depth of field is small, but those things aren't related (this isn't macro photography). Depth of field is a function of the aperture that's set in the lens. Really confused as to why they didn't just shoot it with a smaller aperture to get it all in a single shot.
  • Because it would still not be as clear as these images are. You would have distortion that to most would not seem like much but add up to be significant.
  • @Sir Nerdalot-
    it is in fact macro photography.
    The closer you are to the subject, the less dof- even an the lens' maximum aperture.
    I wonder why this isn't shot with a view camera.
  • I agree with Ken, shooting a pack shot like that would be quite straightforward with a camera that can do tilt and shift. The correct technique is a very old and well documented one called the Scheimpflug principle