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!  (Update - link no longer available) 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
Liked what you read? Don't miss a post!
Subscribe via RSS OR Via Email* It's FREE!
*Click on the link in the confirmation email to activate subscription

Be a Fan!