Sunday, April 1, 2012

Jewelry Photography Using an Ott-Lite Lamp

By on Sunday, April 01, 2012 5 Comments

I've always preferred taking jewelry pictures with natural light because it's easier. But there are occasions when taking pictures at night is more convenient.  Yet I balked at buying lamps.  The guy at our local camera shop told me I needed a lamp that could take 250W fluorescent bulbs. Really?

But what about my Ott-Lite desk lamp? I use it all the time as the light is rather like daylight and gives true colors. Many crafters probably already own one.

When I checked with Lex McColl, the inventor of the Modahaus photo set-ups, he confirmed I should be able to use it. He said, "The lighting manufacturers would have you believe you need special lights but since digital came in that's no longer the case. All you need to do is tune your white balance to suit the lights you have! "  Got it.

Another photographer who confirms what Lex said is Mariano over at the Via U! blog who has a tutorial on how to take jewelry pictures with a common household lamp . The instructions also cover how to build your own set up if you are up to it and have the space.

But I did not have to build one as I have the original Modahaus Table Top 216 studio I bought last year. This compact system is a breeze to use and folds flat for storage. What is crucial is the light tunnel which I used with the shiny side inside. This means the light from the Ott-Lite is diffused when it passes through the tunnel. The light also gets repeatedly reflected inside this area, thus illuminating the jewelry.


1. Do NOT mix light sources
Do this with only the lamp and no other lighting source. That is because the camera gets all confused  if you do and you won't get good results. I set up the Modahaus in my totally dark dungeon basement.

2. Choose the right White Balance Setting
Since the Ott-Lite mimics daylight, I initially chose Indoors (or Cloudy, depending on the camera).

3.  Move the EV setting to maximum if necessary
The EV setting essentially lightens the picture.  You could brighten the picture with a photo-editing software afterwards but this should only be done lightly otherwise the picture will be washed out. So get the EV setting right in the first place!

Other camera settings I used :
  • macro (for close-ups)
  • aperture priority (dSLR and some compact cameras have this) set for a small aperture (larger number) so as much of the piece is in focus.
  • timer and camera on a stand so the picture isn't slightly blurred as occurs when clicking on a hand held camera 
Note :  Don't worry if you can't afford a dSLR camera.  Opt for a good compact camera which gives you a range of flexible settings.  I have a a Panasonic Lumix DMC ZS10 camera  - I just saw it on sale at my local camera store for $300!

    I tried out the blue backgrounds first on a couple of my shop designs. Bingo! These pictures barely needed a little bit of brightening up with a photo-editing program.  I was so excited when I saw these as I have never before gotten such good pictures. The chain maille one below was recently accepted on Craftgawker which is an extremely tough site to get in.  They look for photo quality, composition and type of craft.

    The black cord of this wrapped bead bracelet though looked washed out so perhaps a natural light photo would be better for this design.

    Then I changed over to white backgrounds and realized I needed to do something else with the exposure. I had to really crank up the brightening and contrast in the photo editing program. The result were really washed out pictures with a yellow cast, particularly evident for the metallic jewelry pieces :

    There are two possible solutions for this problem:

    1. Use Dark Exposure Cards
    This little trick was covered in Lex's previous tutorial. A small dark colored card tent is placed so that when the camera is focused on it, the camera is fooled into taking a brighter picture. But make sure you place the card right on the jewelry where you want it to be the sharpest.  You can see that I have "spot metered" right on the black card tent I used. Once I had the button half depressed and the camera focused, I whipped away the card before pressing down the button all the way to take the shot.

    I whined though. Being a klutz, I found it awkward to remove the card without knocking the camera or the light tunnel.  So Lex emailed me his elegant solution. Stick a thread on the card and "wheeched" it away at the right moment. The white cross he marked on his black card tent  gives some definition to the card for the camera to focus on.

    Here is his final picture - tweaked a little in Photoshop.

    2. Find Another White Balance Setting
    It pays to explore what you have on your camera.  The settings may be called different things on different makes of cameras. If you have a Panasonic Lumix DMC ZS10 like I have, see if you can find the "White Set" as shown below :

    So that let me off using the dark exposure card tents!  A huge improvement as there are no more yellow casts!

    The first picture below is the raw shot as taken by my camera looking into the Ott Lite lit tunnel. Notice it looks like a distance shot even though the camera's macro setting was engaged?  That's because a warning came up when I got too close. When I ignored it and took a closer shot, the picture was not sharp. So I then backed away the camera, snapped  the picture and then cropped it as shown.  I did lighten and increased the contrast ever so slightly with the photo editing software for the final pictures.  (One tip, make sure you set your camera for at least 3 megapixels so you still have enough left over after cropping.)

    The experiment with the Ott Lite lamp was a huge success.  I am definitely going to take some of my pictures with this light in the future.  Overhead pictures with the Steady Stand though will have to be done with natural light. (Update : Lex says we can use the Ott Lite for the Steady Stand. Goody!)

    Some time during the long journey learning how to improve my jewelry photography, I started to enjoy photography itself. It has became yet another hobby. Liking something really helps because if you hate taking pictures then it becomes a chore and likely won't be done well. It's like anything we do, something done with passion will clearly show in the work.


    Before You Go:
    Original Post by THE BEADING GEM
    Jewelry Making Tips - Jewelry Business Tips 



    1. Fascinating and helpful. Great explanation and wonderful tips. Thanks, Pearl!

    2. You're good Pearl - really! Wondering if being a scientist helps with this type of thinking .. ?

    3. This is a really good article. It has given me some great tips on how to improve the photos of my jewelry, even without a professional tent for help. I, especially, liked the black card trick for getting the correct exposure.

    4. I use the 2 second timer delay for my shots, that prevents camera shake from your finger on the button, it would also give you more time to get the black card out of the way. Great guide! Thank you so much!