Take Beautiful Photographs of Your JewelryPosted by Matt on May 15 at 02:32 pm
Photography has always been an interest of mine, but it never really developed into a hobby. So, when Kevin asked me if I wanted to take over the reigns for photographing the new products for the site, my answer was an enthusiastic “Yes!”
I’m not sure if you remember this, but a couple months ago, we purchased a new camera for photographing our beads. It’s big, it’s awesome, and it’s pretty intimidating if you’re anything like me. That’s why I decided the best way to tame this wild beast would be to learn more about it. In doing so, I wanted my experience to benefit our customers as well.
While some of you are already well-versed in the ways of jewelry photography, I bet that most of you are more like me. Maybe you’ve tried a couple of times, but nothing seemed to click. Well, that’s where I come in.
You’re probably familiar with taking pictures of people and landscapes, but photographing jewelry is different. Not only are you dealing with much smaller objects, but the different textures and colors of your pieces make it much more difficult.
What Kind of Camera Should I Use?
There are plenty of ways to photograph your jewelry. You don’t need the greatest, most expensive camera. In some cases, you can use a point and shoot camera or a flatbed scanner. For professional-looking results, I would shy away from the flatbed scanner trick, but if you’re in a hurry, it works just fine.
Digital Versus Film Cameras
The quick answer is: digital camera. The main reason I say this is because digital photos are easier to edit, share and save. Also, you’ll want to play around with different techniques and camera settings until you find something that you really like. Although a memory card is a larger investment up front, you can reuse it over and over. In the long run, you’re going to pay more for film than you did for your card.
Single-Lens Reflux (SLR) versus Point and Shoot
While the image quality of today’s point and shoot cameras are up to par with a lot of SLRs, they lack in support for some advanced techniques. However, there are ways to get around some of those limitations. I’ll go into more detail on those later, but the bottom line is — it depends on what you’re going to be doing with your photos.
If you already have a digital SLR, use it! If you’re a jewelry designer that needs to create stunning catalogs, then a digital SLR would be preferable. If you’re a designer that needs to take photos to put up on on an Etsy page, you should be fine with a Point and Shoot camera.
Setting Up an Environment for Your Photos
It’s all about the lighting. There are many different types of light that can be used in photography. I’m using both daylight and tungsten artificial light for all of the photos taken for this post. Whatever light source you use, make sure that you don’t have any harsh shadows or bright spots in the photo.
If you’re photographing your jewelry inside, you’ll need some artificial light. If you go to your local home improvement store, they should have clip-on work light fixtures for around 6 bucks a piece. You’ll need 2 or 3 if you’re using a light box. If you don’t have a light box, make a light tent from a white bed sheet and a few tacks. We used 5 fixtures for our light tent. Also, buy a 6 pack of Tungsten light bulbs. The Tungsten light will give you a nice soft white light.
- Most cameras have what’s called a white-balance setting. You can change this setting to accommodate your lighting environment. Read more about white balance below.
- Diffuse the light. If you’re outside, try a cloudier day or move to the shade.
- If you’re inside, use a white sheet to diffuse the light. A light box or a light tent will work well.
- Don’t point your artificial light source directly at your piece. If you illuminate the surfaces surrounding your jewelry instead, the result is a nice soft light.
- Don’t use the camera’s flash. The flash from your camera will create harsh shadows as well as nasty bright spots on your polished beads. If your images are looking too dark, you can try increasing the exposure. Read more about exposure below.
- Trial and error. I spent the first 20 minutes trying to find the best way to light my environment without harsh shadows and bright spots. Make sure you have a piece of jewelry set up to use as reference.
- If you’d like to show how your jewelry will look when it’s worn, I would suggest a display neck and/or hand. Real people also work well.
- A tripod is probably the least optional piece of equipment on this list. If you’re photographing with artificial light and you’re trying to photograph the entire piece, you may run into problems. I’ll explain more on this in the depth of field section.
- Using a remote shutter is nice if you’re using a tripod. Sometimes, just the movement of clicking the shutter button will cause a blur.
- Colored craft paper is really nice to have. Try some with textures, but avoid prints.
- Other props like leaves or satin ribbon can work well if used properly.
Photograph Your Jewelry
Now that your environment is all set, decide on a focal point. This represents the message that you’d like to convey with your photograph. If you’re trying to give the viewer an idea of what a necklace would look like around their neck, you don’t want to focus on just one bead. You want to show them the entire necklace. Perhaps you would even put it on a neck display. If you’d like to show off a pendant or an interesting cluster of beads in a necklace, you want to make sure that the viewer is looking at that object.
Most likely, you’ll want multiple photos from each piece of jewelry. I would suggest taking a full shot of the entire piece on a model or display at various angles (front, 3/4, back). Also, it’s nice to take the camera off of the tripod (so to speak) and try zooming in at interesting angles.
I didn’t want to get too technical, but it’s necessary if you want to get the most out of your jewelry photographs. I’m going to try and explain exposure, depth of field, and white balance.
First, exposure is the amount of light that’s let in when you take a picture. Most of the time, you won’t have to adjust exposure. However, if your photos are looking too light or too dark, you should adjust the exposure accordingly. Some point and shoot cameras won’t have a manual exposure setting, but all SLRs should have one. If the image is too dark, you want to increase the exposure to let more light in. If the image is too light, you want to decrease the exposure.
Next, depth of field is the portion of the image that appears sharp or in-focus. Depth of field is controlled by the aperture. The larger the aperture, the smaller the depth of field and vice versa.
When you’re trying to photograph a whole piece of jewelry, it’s important that everything is in focus. In this case, you want to decrease the aperture. If you want to focus on a small portion of the piece, you should increase the aperture so that the focus is only on that portion. On SLRs, there should be an option to manually adjust the aperture. It’s measured with a range of f-numbers. The larger the f-number, the narrower the aperture. With most other cameras, there are ways to get around not having a manual setting for aperture. If you want to increase the aperture, try the landscape (mountain) setting. For a smaller depth of field, use either the portrait (face) or the macro (flower) settings.
Finally, white balance should be changed when you change your light source. Most cameras automatically adjust white balance, but sometimes it helps to have more control. On some SLRs, there are white balance presets for Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, or Flash. Usually the Auto setting works just fine, but if you have the ability, experiment with these settings based on your lighting conditions.
You should now be on your way to taking beautiful photographs! I know that it was a lot to take in, but hopefully you can use this as a reference when you’re photographing your jewelry. It’s important to remember that there’s a lot of trial and error involved during the learning process. Look at what other people are doing with their photos and try to replicate it. Get comfortable with your camera and good things will happen.
If you already have photographs, I’d love to see them in the comments below. If you’re trying to take it to the next level, let’s see before and after photos!
By the way, this is part 1 of 2 in a series about jewelry photography. The next part will explain what you should do with your photos after you take them.