What is focus breathing in photography?

Today’s article aims to answer a question that we know many a packshot photographer and packshot studio will have asked before. What exactly is focus breathing?

We will touch on what this term means, why it happens and the ways to avoid it. So let’s dive into this article with an explanation of what we mean by the term focus breathing.

So what do we mean by focus breathing?

This term relates to camera lenses and how they will end up magnifying images, based on the different focusing distances used. It can occur when using many different lenses and depending on the situation you’re in, it can negatively impact the quality of your work as a product photographer.

When we say focus breathing, we specifically mean how the focal length of a lens will change, as you change the focusing distance. This can be a subtle change or more noticeable depending on the scenario and as a packshot studio, it is useful to know why it happens and how to avoid it.

If you want to test this out yourself, a good option is to create a scene and then alter the focus of your lens from minimum to infinity. You should see that the image appears to zoom in or out, depending on the change in focal distance.

Why does it happen?

The phenomenon of focus breathing is a result of the way modern digital camera lenses use a focusing system that is internal. Inside this equipment, minimal movement happens with some of the elements of the lens when you change the lens focus.

This design does offer a range of benefits that we as product photographers will appreciate, ranging from increased portability, faster focusing and greater compatibility with filters and hoods. However, the downside of this design is focus breathing.

It very much depends on the lens you choose, with different designs and builds offering potentially next to zero lens breathing but these are far more expensive than standard lenses designed for photography.

How to avoid it

So now we understand the term and the underlying reason for it happening, it is important to explore how best to avoid it from happening.

A quick fix is to buy a better lens, as the issue lies within the construction of it and not how experienced you are as a product photographer. However, this means spending money on new lenses and that isn’t always possible.

One way to minimise focus breathing is to reduce the distances involved, as focus breathing is at its most prominent when the images are shot at the most extreme focal distances. You can also test out lenses prior to starting a photoshoot and evaluate the most suitable distances for your particular equipment.

Summary

We appreciate that this issue isn’t the most prominent concern for many product photographers and packshot studios. However, it is an important one to be aware of because manufacturers generally don’t flag up this issue when selling a lens so you need to do your research and assess the equipment before using it in a professional capacity.