My jewelry photographs are steadily  improving in quality due to the Modahaus Table Top Photo Studio set up I bought and the immeasurably helpful tips I received from Lex McColl, the professional photographer who created it.

I previously shared my experiences and photographs in this post, Natural Light Photography with the Modahaus. Lex has since written more follow-up tutorials exclusively for this blog.

His first tutorial below recaps some of the points from before for the benefit of new readers but also includes great additional tips. I've also included some of my pictures following his instructions. If I can do it, so can you!

Be sure to check out next week's tutorial which is on natural light photography using white backgrounds to get really professional pictures. Lex thought it best that we cover the natural light aspect before moving on to using lights which is a whole new ballgame!

Now for even better news! Lex is sponsoring another fantastic giveaway - TWO Modahaus Studio 216! So check out how to enter at the end of this post.

by Lex McColl

As a professional product photographer specializing in jewelry and watches and a product designer to boot, it naturally followed that I progressed to designing my own portable photo studio range, Modahaus, to meet my needs and am delighted to have this opportunity to share my tips and techniques with Pearl’s readers.

One of the popular misconceptions in jewelry and other product photography is you need lots of light for a good result. Not so. What is important however is controlling the light you have and here we’ll learn a few easy techniques to control daylight using the Modahaus Tabletop Studio range.

Let’s see if I can help some of you talented artisans show your creations in the best light.

I’ve shot all the photos in this exercise using a typical compact digital camera (Canon Powershot SX 220) but many of the pointers I give apply if you are shooting with a DSLR or a Smart phone Camera. Pearl uses a Lumix.

Firstly, you want to locate your tabletop studio near to your daylight source - a window or door. Don’t worry if the weather is overcast or dull. In fact my favourite weather for product photography is consistent bright overcast skies.

Turn off any artificial light sources in the room. Mixing light sources is a no no.

Modahaus 216 with Light Tunnel in place

You’ll need a support for your camera as this helps avoid the shakes and also helps you fine tune composition. A mini tripod is all you need for a compact camera and ideally one that has variable height.

TIP – You can adjust the height of your tripod by placing it on a book. Similarly, you can adjust the height of the compact Modahaus Desktop Studio 216 by placing it on a large book, box or directory.


You’ve heard the term ‘point and shoot’. Well, our first technique is what I call ‘Plonk and Shoot’.

Here we are using the Modahaus Desktop Studio 216 with the opaque white backdrop plus the red and blue backdrop on top. Translucent white backdrop forming the ‘light tunnel’. Plonk your jewelry piece on the blue backdrop, camera on support, camera set to Program (P) or Auto (A), shutter release set to 2 sec delay (to avoid shakes), compose, press shutter half way ensuring focus locks, and shoot.

You’ll most likely have a shot looking something like this :

If your image is blurred, you likely didn’t have the focus lock on to subject so move camera back from piece and zoom in to compose piece in frame and check focus is locking on.

If your image is grainy, set your ISO to the smallest number – typically 80, 100 or 200 max. Don’t use Auto ISO.

So let’s evaluate this image. Exposure is quite good, maybe a wee bit dark but we’re in the zone. I’ll explain why.

Your camera's meter just sees light, not color, and its default settings take an average exposure over the whole frame. In the auto or program mode your camera thinks you are taking a picture of family and friends in a local scenic spot.

We’ve managed to fool the camera by using our smooth colored backdrop. The colored backdrop works for us as we have color contrast between the piece and the backdrop and we also have a level of contrast in light between the piece and the backdrop but as the piece is generally lighter than the backdrop it has come out slightly dark but that is easily sorted.

Before we go any further, it is always a good idea to have a notepad to take notes of the settings you use for each picture as this helps you replicate the results you like later on.

‘Exposure compensation’ may sound a daunting term but it is merely a control that allows you to turn light up or down just like a dimmer light switch. It is one of the most useful controls to familiarize yourself with for any kind of photography.

Here’s the button to press on a Lumix camera and here is how the control might be displayed on screen :

Usually you can increase or decrease light by up to 2 notches (stops or EVs) and typically there are 3 clicks to a notch (sometimes two).

Here we see the same image with the light increased by 2 clicks or 2/3rd of a notch (0.67ev). I’d say exposure is now spot on. The amount of exposure adjustment needed will depend on the light contrast between the background and the piece but as long as we are in the + / - 2 notch zone we can handle it with ease.

Controlling depth of field (DOF) is very easy and well worth getting the hang of. A deep DOF can enable you to have more of your piece in sharper focus from front to back picking up important details such as a clasp for example.

On the other hand, a shallow DOF can draw the eye to the main feature of a piece such as a large gem on the end of a delicate chain. DOF, shallow or deep, can help set the mood.

DOF is controlled with aperture so select Aperture Priority (Av) on your camera. Aperture is just the size of the round window in the lens letting in light. A large aperture (window) lets in more light and a small Aperture (window) lets in less light.

Just to try and confuse us, a large aperture has a small number and a small aperture has a large number. On a compact camera typically the largest aperture might be 2.8 or 3.1 and the smallest aperture might be 6.3 or 8.0. The largest aperture may vary depending on what factor of zoom you use.

What is important to remember is a larger aperture gives a shallower DOF and a smaller aperture gives a deeper DOF. When using a small aperture, which lets in much less light, your shutter will stay open for longer to gather enough light for the correct exposure  i.e. maybe a second rather than a fraction of a second but that is not a problem when using a tripod.

Here are two images showing shallow DOF and deeper DOF.  Notice that the right picture is clearer  - the parts furthest away from the camera appears sharper.

Shallow DOF vs Deep DOF
Pearl took these photographs of her Marquis Star Swarovski wire wrapped pendant with her Modahaus and Lumix camera set to Aperture Priority.  Notice how much clearer the chain is with the deeper depth of focus?

f3.3 vs f6.3


The light tunnel performs two functions in this instance. It diffuses light coming in thereby giving a more even softer spread of light resulting in softer less pronounced shadows and eliminating harsh contrast and harsh highlights.

For reflective surfaces like silver or gemstones it gives a clean, uncluttered reflection in these surfaces and helps to define the shape and contours of these surfaces. The close proximity of the smooth interior of the light tunnel to the subject is essential to achieve this. Something that light tents and light cubes fail to achieve.

The images below clearly show these differences. I’d say the silver is better with the light tunnel and the stone has more depth without the light tunnel but both images have their merits. If I were shooting this for a commission, I’d combine the two using a technique I call sparkle stacking. I’ll cover that technique in a future post.

Light tunnel vs No Light Tunnel
To recap, we’ve learned how to:
  • Locate our studio for good light
  • Set our ISO manually for fine detail
  • Set 2 sec shutter release to avoid the shakes
  • Lock on focus
  • Plonk and shoot
  • Adjust exposure with exposure compensation
  • Control depth of field by using aperture priority (Av)
  • Use the light tunnel for smooth shadows, even light and smooth reflections.
For your chance to win a Modahaus, all you have to do is make a comment below. Extra entries if you become or are a blog subscriber or follower  etc - even more entries if you do it for not just me but Lex's sites too. If you also publicize it, those will count as additional entries too!  Please say so in the comments.

This international giveaway ends in a week's time at 6 pm EST Monday, October 24, 2011. I will pick two winners randomly and announce the results as soon as possible after. So be sure to come back and check! Good luck!

Subscribers : To comment, click on the post title to return to the blog post. At the bottom, click on "Comments". If you do not have a website or online store, use Name/URL - and leave the URL blank.
Original Post by THE BEADING GEM
Jewelry Making Tips - Jewelry Business Tips