Product Photography: Avoiding the Funhouse Mirror Effect

Hi Friends,

Recently I was asked by one of my wife’s Stampin’ Up! friends and fellow blogger about distortion (“bowing”) she’d been noticing in her images of sample cards.  She showed me an example, and it looked something like this:

In geek code, this is known as “barrel distortion” (presumably because it looks like a wine barrel). Obviously, it’s more apparent when you’re photographing a subject with straight lines, like a card or papercraft sample.  But how does it happen, and more importantly, how can you avoid it in the first place?

The most likely culprit here is the camera’s wide angle lens setting.  I photographed these sample images with a compact point and shoot camera since that’s what many of us have access to.  Regardless of the type of camera though, the issue is related to shooting at the widest wide angle setting of your telephoto lens–usually the default zoom setting when you turn on a point and shoot camera–and moving the camera in close to the subject to fill the frame as much as possible. This close proximity to the subject exaggerates the natural distortion associated with wide angle lenses. So unless you like the funhouse mirror look (and it can be appropriate for SOME images), avoid closeup with wide angle:

To avoid barrel distortion, take a step back from your subject, and zoom in a little to fill the frame.  The telephoto setting eliminates the bowing / barrel distortion completely.  In these examples, by backing up as little as 18-24 inches from the sample card, and zooming in to fill the frame, resulting in the same basic composition as the wide angle / close-up, I was able to eliminate the barrel distortion caused by wide angle and close camera-to-subject distance.

And the result:

But what if your image is bowed, and you can’t go back and reshoot it? Adobe Photoshop and Photoshop Elements provide a quick fix by way of the “Lens Correction” filter (“Correct Camera Distortion” in Elements).  I’ll show the Photoshop version here, but the Elements process is similar.

With the image open, choose FILTER > Distort > Lens Correction…

This opens your image in the Lens Correction filter dialog box, and shows an overlay grid that will provide a guide to knowing when you’ve straightened the bowed edges.

Drag the “Remove Distortion” slider a little to the right until the edges that are supposed to be straight align with the grid overlay.  Then click “OK” to apply the filter.  Save your image.

In summary, to avoid barrel distortion, back up from your image and use your camera’s zoom lens to zoom in and fill the frame with your subject.  Always best to get it right in camera than to have to fix it in Photoshop!

Hope that helps.  Feel free to add a comment or email me if I can answer any specific questions.

Thanks for dropping by!

Share and Enjoy!

1 thought on “Product Photography: Avoiding the Funhouse Mirror Effect

  • AWESOME! I *never* could figure out why that happened! I was just thinking about it the other day, why it happens on some and not at all on other photos. Now I know what to do. And I love the correction lesson in Photoshop–thank you!

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