Tuesday, January 22, 2008

13 Things I Learned about Jewelry Photography

Before I started taking pictures of jewelry, I thought I was pretty okay with a camera. I didn't decapitate anyone, did a reasonable job of framing and rarely blurred photographs. However, as many a jewelry artisan has found, taking pictures of small and sometimes shiny objects is something else. I also made it harder for myself by adding a time crunch - I could not afford much time taking pictures at workshops and beading parties. No fancy photo studio set-up for me!


So in order to help out those who have asked for some tips, here are some things I've learned the hard way, all acquired over a year of taking pictures for this blog. And all without the benefit of a lightbox (so far). I hope these tips will be useful for jewelry artisans who find themselves a little lost in the world of macro photography.

1. Camera
An expensive camera is not necessary but it must have a macro function for really close up shots. So select the macro function (flower symbol) otherwise, pictures will turn out blurry. Although it is useful to show a photo of the whole piece, potential online buyers will want to see closeups as well because they cannot examine the piece in person. Many online artisans on Etsy for example, do precisely that.

2. Natural Light
Working as close as possible to a window for natural light proved very successful. I avoid having to use the flash. I've also tried taking pictures outdoors in sunlight but found the shadows distracting and difficult to minimise. When it is -15 degrees C (5 degrees Fahrenheit), outdoor photography also somehow loses its charm.

3. White Balance
Whilst I was pleased with clearer pictures, my early pictures were rather blue and on the dark side. I was not happy spending way too much time correcting with a photo-editing program afterwards. Fortunately, other experienced artisans on a jewelry forum reminded me to check the camera manual for the white balance setting. By choosing "cloudy" or "indoors" (depending on manufacturer), the camera then compensates for less light.

4. Image size
If you are planning to use your photos in print publicity material, then set your camera to take higher resolution pictures, one with many pixels. This photo printing and resolution chart explains the options. This way you'll have very good pictures for high quality printing with the option of resizing down for internet uses. But if you're like me, where the image is only going to be on the internet or emailed, then, set your camera to take smaller pictures automatically.

5. Focus
Some patience is required when half pressing down the trigger - wait till the jewelry is fully focused before clicking the shot. You know that, I know that. But strangely, I still forget now and then.

6. Tripod
For steady shots, a tripod is needed. But I don't use one due to space and time constraints so I try to brace my elbows on the table or on myself to steady my hands.

7. Background
Chose the background you prefer - either go with textured or coloured background or none at all as in a white background. I like using scrapbooking or wrapping papers and even paper napkins. Other artisans use cloth - I encountered a blog of one who hung her jewelry outside. I've used white mugs to hold up earrings and sometimes some designs look best on a model. There are no hard and fast rules for beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So experiment away to find the look which pleases you best and makes your jewelry look good.

8. Framing
If you are planning to upload your pictures to Flickr or Etsy and such sites where square framing rules, you might want to compose your pictures accordingly or save pictures with more space around the object for later cropping. If you do crop, save it separately from the original image in case you have to go back.

9. Multiple shots
Taking multiple shots in a single session - closeups as well as more distant ones to show the whole piece, varying jewelry positions and backgrounds or even angling the shot will ensure you will have several choices. An example of an angled shot is here. At least one of them is bound to work. After having gone through the hassle of setting up for a photography session, you might as well get it right there and then.

10. Organising and Backing up
These have got to be the most tedious tasks ever. But it is necessary to store your photos in some organised fashion either by date or event or perhaps jewelry category so you can find them easily. Back them up on a CD,DVD. thumb drive etc in case your computer expires from the blue screen of death. The biggest reason for going to all this trouble is to build up your portfolio. Once jewelry items are sold or given away, you'd still have a record of all your creations. You'll be amazed looking back and seeing your growth as a designer.

11. Photo-editing
No one is perfect. Some photo-editing is required to lighten shots, colour correct and other photographic boo-boos. Cropping is the most commonly performed task to reduce excess background. Although backgrounds help set the mood for the shot, too much showing will not do your jewelry justice.

For those who prefer the "light box" look i.e. white backgrounds, then using a good photo-editing program will help you achieve it. Diana Norman, a designer and Photoshop Elements whiz wrote an excellent tutorial on how to whiten your background post-photo session so that your pictures resemble those taken with lightboxes. Photoshop Elements is a simpler and cheaper version of the full size Photoshop. Don't want to pay? Try this free program from Gimp.org.

12. Digital Photo Frame
These high-tech photo frames can be used by artisans to display a slideshow of all their past work at craft shows etc. A great way to showcase your talent and perhaps land commissions. This BBC (UK) overview of digital photo frames includes tips on what to look for when buying one.

13. Get help
Still stuck? Then don't be afraid to ask for help on jewelry forums or search the internet. I did both. For instance, I got some tips from Jim Juris (photographer, jewelry artisan and ebook author) from a forum as well as from his website. He also writes a blog. Rena Klingenberg's Tips for Photographing Jewelry has with many links and is worth checking out. MK Digital Direct's Jewelry Photography Tips is an excellent resource for those who want to get really serious - one tip they show is the use of a bit of wax to keep a ring upright and they discuss LED and halogen lighting too.

How do experts do it? I found this website advertising a commercial tabletop lightbox with fascinating and dramatic pictures showing how they get the reflection when the jewelry appears to be on glass or "black ice". Or how they take "floating jewelry" pictures.

Happy Clicking!

More Photography Posts :
For more tutorials check out my Jewelry Making Tips

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12 comments :

BetteJo said...

Oh thanks for all the tips! I have the hardest time with lighting - as in - never having enough. :(
But - I just keep plugging away and taking advice when given!

The Beading Gem said...

Yep, lighting has got to be the number 1 issue with us, that and using the macro feature.

Miachelle said...

You hit the nail on the head. I had to learn all of these the hard way as well, and just had a fellow college classmate ask me how I got my pictures so clear. I'll point her to your blog this morning in class.

One thing about photographing outside--I do photograph outside in the shade. I watch for color cast coming from the house, depending on the location of the sun in the sky, but photographing in the shade has worked terrifically for me. Another method I have experimented with and it seems to work is setting my portable light studio box outside in the sunlight, and let the sun filter through the box. I photographed a friend's jewelry one day doing this, and I was amazed at how little light saturation and color cast had to be touched up.

The Beading Gem said...

Miachelle - those are excellent tips you've contributed to the post. I did not think of photographing outside in the shade nor using the lightbox outside for natural light!!

Amethysti said...

Great tips on photography. I always find it difficult to get good shots of crystal jewelry.

The Beading Gem said...

Thanks. Solid silver pieces are also tricky - I had to angle the shot to avoid seeing my reflection in the piece!

de Cor's said...

Heya, just thought that I'd contribute a little bit too about focusing and capturing the picture.

When you press half to focus, and then press full to capture - try not to let go the shutter until the image got captured, this is because most of the time the moment we lifted our finger up, camera moved. Blurred image cannot be edited, don't even bother trying.

Also, most of the camera these days allow you to set what do you want to with those button on the camera, so instead of pressing half of your shutter to focus, you may set another button to do the job. :)

Just my 2 cents!

The Beading Gem said...

Any tips we can share always helps! Thanks de cors.

Anonymous said...

hi Pearl and everyone!

another great article! kudos I have done both outdoors and i have a full lightbox and lamps studio setup and I have also used just the scanner and actually you can get some pretty great shots from that! I use earthquake tack on a card to hold my jewelry in place on the scanner be careful not to scratch your glass and then i place a larger box ( 8x11x1 1/2" ) to block any glare of the scanner light spreading out with the openess.

I also shoot with just a small olympus d-535 3x marco but it actually has a built-in timer so when I have it on the tripod I can set the auto timer and step back when I have the shot I want coz I have shaky hands hehe but, maybe everyone's has that feature too so check and see =)

thanks for a really great article!

Best to All

Marilyn
Artisan/Owner
www.mrkjewelry.com

Made by Melissa said...

Great tips! Taking pictures of jewelry can be so frustrating!!

Cross-Cultural Creations said...

Awesome tips! taking pictures is so time consuming and frustrating!

Vanessa Brownson said...

When I am using my tripod, I also like to use the self-timer setting, then you don't get any camera shake from the action of pressing the button.

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