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I would like to take a product photo of, say a glass of water, from different angle increments in a semi-precise way while maintaining the distance between the camera and the object. The end results will be used for stop-motion animation. It doesn't have to be all 360 degree, just 90 degree from top view to the side view.

Is there any device/contraption out there that can help me with this? The easiest way I can think of is to rotate the object itself while camera remains stationary, but unfortunately, you can't do this to something like a glass of water.

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So the question is how to take photos for stop motion animation, right? –  dpollitt Jun 23 '12 at 19:05
@Flimzy, I assume you mean why can't you rotate the glass of water. Because it'll spill. –  pixelfreak Jun 24 '12 at 23:42
@dpollitt Yes, stop-motion, but in a very controlled fashion. Think 3D product photo. –  pixelfreak Jun 24 '12 at 23:43
@Flimzy, you misunderstood which the rotation axis was; read again. –  James Youngman Jun 25 '12 at 18:06
@JamesYoungman: Ahh, indeed. –  Flimzy Jun 25 '12 at 18:13

4 Answers 4

From your description a vertically mounted single row panorama setup would solve this problem. Unfortunately all prepackaged kits I have been able to find are designed for horizontal mounting directly to a tripod, rather than on an existing head (which would be required to mount then vertically).

Assembling your own kit from a ballhead and a bar/slide along the lines of this Really Right Stuff nodal slide (you can probably find a cheaper equivalent if you look around for one though) by attaching one end of the bar to the ballhead and mounting the camera on the other end may or may not be feasible, depending on the weight of the camera you would be using.

An alternative approach would be to replace the water in the glass with something (gelatin?) that would look like water to the camera but not spill when the glass is tipped on its side.

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I certainly would think that a turntable for horizontal rotations would be the easiest way to do it. But if you absolutely need to rotate the vertical angle: You probably need to get three or four images from the locations shown in the diagram below. (You'll have to imagine a camera at points 2 and 3. Sorry for the incomplete figure.)

Four image points

In order to accomplish that, you could build some fancy support structure with mount points at each of those four locations. This would be doable. And if you're going to use this setup over and over then this is your best option.

But if you're only going to do it a few times, then you probably just want to move your tripod forward/back and up/down and adjust the angle of the camera to point directly at the product. The fun/hard part will be calculating where to put the camera, but you would have to do that with the first method anyway. Unfortunately I don't have time to calculate it out right now, but I'm sure you were paying attention in Trigonometry and probably don't need my help anyway.

I'm pretty sure this is what @clabacchio is suggesting, but I couldn't fit all this in a comment.

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Nice diagram. Instead of doing the math, I am thinking I can simply use a thread/string anchored to the base of the glass, pull it straight to the camera and simply use that as a guide for where to position the camera. It won't be super precise but my math is just okay and a fancy support structure might not be wallet-friendly. –  pixelfreak Jun 25 '12 at 23:55

Buy several identical cameras and arrange them in an arc at the correct distance (for example by attaching each to a tripod screw on an appropriately bent piece of steel). Then trip the shutter release of all the cameras. This gives you good consistency (since all photos are taken at the same time) and is quick and uses minimal effort. But it requires several cameras; you didn't state your budget, so I don't know if this approach works with it (i.e. whether compact cameras would be OK).

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Thanks, I am using Nikon D90. I don't think point-and-shoot is gonna be good enough. This is a great idea, but way over my budget unfortunately. –  pixelfreak Jun 24 '12 at 23:41
This seems the most complicated and expensive way to solve the problem. Why not to use the fixed tripod mounts and move the camera from one to another? –  clabacchio Jun 25 '12 at 13:43
That works too - it's a time/cost tradeoff and we don't have any information about the OP's preferences for that. –  James Youngman Jun 25 '12 at 18:06
@clabacchio Using your method, how would you suggest positioning the camera on all the shooting points somewhat accurately? Because it's not a matter of increasing/decreasing the tripod height, it's an arc. –  pixelfreak Jun 25 '12 at 19:28
@pixelfreak just place all the tripod the way you'd do with all the cameras, fix them in position and then put the camera on each tripod in succession. –  clabacchio Jun 26 '12 at 7:04

This is not a solution, but a consideration that may help you in doing it with the normal equipment (one camera + tripod).

In the rotation you want to do, there is one dimension that remains constant in the image: the width of the glass at the point around which you rotate. So if the center of your rotation is the top of the glass, you know that its width has to occupy approximately the same horizontal space in the picture.

I think you can do with acceptable precision with a simple tripod, given that it allows you to point the camera downwards for the shot from the top.

I'd use the golden ratio or the rule of thirds guidelines to set the distance of the glass in a way that it satisfies the aforementioned proportion, so you don't suffer of parallax changes between the pictures.

To divide exactly the 90 degrees rotation in equal steps is a bit tricky with this method, but possibly you tripod has some markers to know the leaning angle. Or you can do it manually with a smartphone and the bubble application :).

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