Monday, May 23, 2011

Jewelry Photography Set-Up Tips

By on Monday, May 23, 2011 22 Comments

It's a little comforting to know jewelry photography or macro photography, often of shiny and reflective metals, is challenging even for professionals.

I'm still learning and experimenting long after I wrote this past post, 13 Things I Learned About Jewelry Photography.

The very best cameras today are the digital SLRs but they are also more expensive especially when you add on the cost of a good macro lens.  They do take excellent pictures provided you know what you are doing.

Jewelry artisans can get away with cheaper point and shoot cameras which still take great pictures. (See my past post, A Look at My New Camera and Jewelry Photography Accessories). Some of the compact cameras like my new camera have automatic point and shoot functions as well as manual settings for SLR like controls if preferred.

Point and Shoot Cameras
Even with point and shoots, you still have to set it up correctly. It pays to read the manual!
  • Macro (little flower symbol) - for close ups
  • White Balance - to get  true colors under the lighting conditions you have. If you don't switch this camera setting to Cloudy (or Indoors in other cameras) for the by-the-window shots, the pictures will look bluish.
  • Tripod - This really helps avoid blurry pictures - it's hard to hold the camera steady when taking close-ups
  • Focus - Remember to press down the shutter button half way and allow the camera time to focus before taking the picture. Also make sure you're focusing on the main part of the jewelry piece - I've lost count of the number of times when I accidentally focused on less important areas like the ear wires!
  • Self- timer - (Optional) Using it will avoid the slight camera shake when pressing the shoot button.
Digital SLR Cameras
If there are manual options for a point and shoot camera or if you have a dSLR camera, then the following additional settings are crucial if you want to improve on photographs  :
  • Aperture Priority- This controls the depth of field. Basically choose a small aperture (big number like f/22) if you want all of the jewelry in focus or a large aperture (small number like f/2) if you want only part of of the piece in focus and the rest artistically blurry. Many cameras have aperture priority - so use it! It will automatically select the matching shutter speed for the right exposure.
  • Shutter Speed - This controls the exposure time or amount of light reaching the image sensor. If you are not using aperture priority, you will have to set this as well as the aperture settings. We don't need very fast shutter speeds because nothing is moving in jewelry photography. Experienced photographers recommend using the camera's histograms to get a correctly exposed picture. Check here and here for more about histograms.
  • ISO - This controls the sensitivity of image sensor to light. Try 100 for shady spots on a sunny day or 200 in cloudy/indoor situations. The less light, the higher the number has to be. Going too high though will result in "noisy" pictures.

The easiest way for amateurs  is to use natural light - either outdoors but in a shady spot or indoors by a window. Check out my past post to see how some simple white cards can be used to cast more light on the darker side. Even better, use a homemade light tent by the window as it diffuses the light. Choose a time of day with good light to avoid having to use the flash.

Many jewelry artisans also use light boxes with additional very bright light sources. The local camera shop guy said to use 250W fluorescent bulbs if you have lamps that can take that.

It's convenient because you can still take pictures at night - and perhaps even a permanent set up area if you have the space. Another clear advantage is the ability to eliminate shadows if the diffused lighting is applied in all directions as shown by the above picture of a  fabric covered button bracelet by Allison Fomich (via).

If you don't use a light box, it still helps to use reflectors to bounce more light on the jewelry. There is no need to buy one - just make them with a bit of cardboard and aluminum foil.  Check out this tutorial post by Mariano on the viaU! photography blog to learn how to position such reflectors. It'll help brighten your jewelry.

The Olympus Digital School's lesson on jewelry photography has an "illuminating" article on how professionals used props and lighting to get this photo of a diamond and sapphire ring. Notice how the ring seems to have an inner glow of light? Neat.
Props are optional. They don't have to be anything fancy nor do you have to have an elaborate studio.  I got such a kick out of watching Graham McBride's video of how he takes professional jewelry photography of tungsten rings. His props included stuff he picked up from the beach and his studio appears to be his living room!

One thing I learned quickly was to avoid using white paper backgrounds when photographing with natural light. The photos tend to look a dull blue- gray color even with the right white balance control setting. This is because the background is too light so the camera compensates by reducing the exposure time. So use other colors.  I experiment a lot with scrap book papers. Plain grey seems to work best for many pieces.

See the difference here with my Swarovski Double Heart Pendant taken in natural light by the window with my old camera.

White vs Dark Paper backgrounds

But never say never! Mariano shows it is possible to work with white backgrounds in natural light with his $6 solution.

Photographic Education Jerry Central's tips on how to photograph beads against a dark background involves the right position of light sources.

If you cannot give the potential buyer a modeled picture of the jewelry, then include shots with something like your hand holding earrings, by pennies, rulers, anything to show relative scale. Macro pictures deceive someone into thinking a piece of jewelry is a large design when in reality, it may not be.

My Warrior Princess earrings

I think many creative jewelry artisans will  instinctively know how to compose a good shoot. But if you want some help with such things as rule of thirds, framing and cropping, check out the 10 Top Photography Composition Rules.

More on Jewelry Photography :
For more tutorials check out my Jewelry Making Tips
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  1. I Put two chairs by a window, one with the seat facing the window and the other with its back to that seat on the side furthest from the window (did that make sense?) and then I drape a thick white tablecloth left over from my wedding over everything and put whatever I'm photographing on the seat of the chair. The light reflects off of the white cloth on the chair backs as well as the white cloth on the seat.

    I prefer white backgrounds, though, and I know what you mean about the blue grey from the camera compensating. Sometimes I fiddle with the settings on my camera in manual mode (I know how to use it, but it takes me a while because I don't have much practice using it), but usually I just use my camera's macro mode and photoshop.

    I think the photos turn out ok:

  2. Thanks for sharing your tips, Lauren - the photos you take are wonderful! I do try and avoid having to use photoshop because it is just one more step!

  3. My Songs DesignsMay 23, 2011 at 8:58 AM

    Pearl! What can I say except this article was amazing. Thank you for the information. (via Facebook)

  4. Making jewelry is an art and photography is an art in itself. Getting good photos of my pieces has been something that I have constantly fought with and though I've made improvements over my first batches of off colored and out of focus shots, I've still a very long way to go. Of course a good quality camera might help but I haven't been able to convince my hubby that I truly NEED a $1,000 camera. :(

    Some time ago I did a blog post on my solution for setting up a photo studio in a very limited space. I realize this solution wouldn't work for everyone but it's been a blessing for me. The post is :

  5. Your delightful solution is so clever! Readers should head over to see what you did especially if they have an unused bathroom!

  6. As usual another amazing post Pearl...:)
    even with a light box I was wondering why my white bckgrnd was looking blue...I finally understood and while reading this post what my college Photography prof said a long time back came back to me. He always used to say that gray was the best colour to mount pics or objects that have a lot of colour/shine in them

  7. Lovely post. Thanks for the insights.

  8. A great post Pearl...photoing jewelry is such a difficult thing for me! It doesn't come naturally...I've seen improvement from the beginning but I'm not happy with my light source right now. Hopefully when I move I will find what I'm looking for, regardless I will make the best of it!
    For me natural light works best... I've a light box set up and for some reason I don't have any luck with it.

    I've used gray backgrounds before and when I looked back you are correct they are better...have to give gray a try again! Having said that I've come across some stunning photos taken on a white background...check these out...scroll down the last Thursday!
    Thanks Pearl for all the links, etc.
    Enjoy your day.

  9. Yes, those are extremely well done and were accomplished with a light box and lights - the best way to get a really good white background.

  10. Another great article Pearl. Thanks. There's some very valuable info there. I sometimes find mixing the background with both light and dark helps me. I use white paper, but add a darker piece of wood. Sort of half and half. This works especially well for silver.
    Thanks again Pearl.

  11. Excellent post Pearl! Taking great photographs of your jewelry is a must, if you want your work to look professional. It isn't always that simple to do... unless you know the tricks! Thanks for sharing your information with us!

  12. Thanks Pearl, this is an awesome post. I've been fooling around with my point and shoot camera and finally got the manual out to read after 5 years. Who knew I had all those more professional settings including the ones for the more expensive camera! My photos have gotten better, but now I need to try the light box. In that regard, I wonder if a therapy light box would be a good source of lighting?? Supposed to mimic natural lighting, plus I could get my light therapy while doing my picture taking! LOL

  13. That's too funny! At least you don't need to buy a new camera just yet.

    Yes, the light tent or box does well to diffuse light even if you take pictures in natural light. Experts told me this but I didn't try it myself until earlier this year. It really works!

    Well, there is only one way to know if the therapy lights will substitute for natural light and that is to try it! Doing the therapy at the same time is what I would call super efficient! LOL!

  14. Fantastic post! These are very helpful tips for anyone trying to take an upclose quality photo.

  15. Geez! Nobody commented on what a cutie that photographer was? And the accent, swooooon! And it was of course, very interesting as well. :)

  16. Actually I didn't notice! So naturally I have to look at that video again!

  17. have to agree, it so difficult to create nice images of something so small and shiny. these tips are worth their weight in gold, thank you!

  18. Great article! Many will benefit!

  19. Hello,

    Well i have a online store of Star Rubies.
    And i want to learn the photography only for specifically star ruby as currently i do the photography only in Sun light as it gives the best photo.
    So will you be able to teach me the techniques and the tools required to get the exact same photo i get in sunlight but without the sunlight.
    And lastly what all course materials will you provide me over there?

    In short i need an alternate for sunlight.



  20. I don't really teach jewelry photography but I do write up as many tips as possible. So far, I have only covered natural light photography. Perhaps in the future I will cover studio set ups with light tents and lights. Stay tuned!

  21. It seems photography is only one step of the way there.
    Looks like most jewellery is retouched nowadays

    1. Getting the picture right is the major part of the photography process. The biggest step. Some editing is always needed. No one is perfect.