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Take Beautiful Photographs of Your Jewelry

Posted by Matt on May 15 at 02:32 pm
img_7778

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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

img_7132It’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.

img_7822Tips for Lighting

  • 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.

img_7804Optional Accessories for Your Environment

  • 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

img_7768Now 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.

Depth of Field: Wider aperture is on the right

Depth of Field: Wider aperture is on the right

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.

img_77461You 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.

Read the comments (or add your own)

  1. No Photo
    Mary S - Sweet Chick says:

    Thanks Matt!!
    Just the article I need! I hope I can put your tips to good use. Especially the ones on proper lighting, light tent and tungsten bulbs. That seems to be where I’m needing the most help. It just takes so long to figure out this silly camera. Too many bells and whistles.
    Wish me luck!
    Looking forward to the rest of your article too!

  2. No Photo
    Luv2bead - Little Chick says:

    Ditto…can’t wait for part #2. When will that be submitted? Thanks for all the information and tips!

  3. Cuban Queen Crazy Chick
    Cuban Queen Crazy Chick says:

    Wow, Matt thank you SO much for this article!! I’ve been having a really hard time photographing my pieces and this really, really helps. I can’t wait to experiment with your tips! :)

  4. Cuban Queen Crazy Chick
    Cuban Queen Crazy Chick says:

    That sounded kinda weird, sorry, let me try that again: I can’t wait to experiment with the photography tips you gave. ;) LMAO

  5. No Photo
    KWB DESIGNS says:

    Great article! I took a couple of really neat pictures (in my extremely humble opinion). I hung some earings on some flower stems. I took the pics indoors on a beautiful sunny morning. I’m not a photographer (not by any stretch), but I thought these were neat. What do you think?

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  6. Steph
    Steph says:

    Thanks for the tips. Who made these beautiful pieces in the pictures also? I like them a lot. I’ve experimented with taking pictures of the flowers in the yard and have gotten some pretty nice shots. I can’t wait for the poppy’s to bloom now.

  7. Alice P
    Alice P says:

    I struggle a great deal with getting good photos. With my photo editing package I can get them close to what I want, but I’m never really completely satisfied. I have a purchased light box kit that came with two small quartz lights. After reading your suggestions I wonder if I need to purchase additional lighting.

    I’m not very tech savvy, so I also struggle with understanding settings and how they work. Even worse, if I finally think I have it right, I plop down a piece of jewelry to photogaph and it is either darker, larger, smaller, or shinier than the previous piece, and I have to start all over again with the settings.

    Thanks so much for all the great information!

    Alice

  8. Cuban Queen Crazy Chick
    Cuban Queen Crazy Chick says:

    Johanne, those are BEAUTIFUL pics!! What a great idea, to hang earrings on a flower stem! That’s a great wedding pic of you too ;)

  9. WireWrangler
    WireWrangler says:

    Thank you Matt, looking forward to episode #2. Maybe you will address the following in that episode? What lense are you using? I am wrestling with the need, or not, to purchase a macro lense? I have a wonderful Nikon digital SLR.
    I am curious about your lighting, tungsten? My background in the commercial art field has left me with a predjudice toward color correctness. Can you obtain this with a warm light? Your shots appear just fine! Do you need to make adjustments? Have you looked at the LED technology?
    A passing comment to any who are entering the jewelry field with an eye to selling your product. If you cannot afford to have your product professionally shot, and therefore, need to produce your own, I am forever grateful for the requirement of my fine arts education for a basic photography class.

  10. No Photo
    KWB DESIGNS says:

    Thanks so much Cuban Queen!! for both compliments!

  11. J Fish
    J Fish says:

    Great article, Matt! Proper photography is essential to conveying the beauty your jewelry. I’m a bit into photography myself and I echo the importance of a tripod; just a little hand vibration will make all your beautiful pictures blurry (especially macro/close-up shots). Also, applying a timed delay between shutter button pressing and when the picture is actually taken will reduce the vibration caused by pushing the shutter button (and believe me, it can be significant). Most point and shoots have this timed delay function, too.

    For those outdoor lovers, if you decide to take jewelry pictures outside (or by a window for some natural light), take your pictures either early morning or early evening. The light is less direct (woo physics) and it produces softer/diffuse lighting.

    Lastly, for those who are a bit overwhelmed when it comes to dSLR settings (shutter speed, f-stop, apeture, etc) and wondering where to start, I have a quick trick that may help.
    1. Put your SLR in “auto” or “Program” mode and position/aim it at your jewelry
    2. Hold down the shutter button halfway. Numbers will appear within your viewfinder that are the f-stop, shutter speed (exposure time), and apeture settings.
    3. Switch over to “Manual” mode and input those settings into the camera, take the pic, and analyze the results.
    Usually this method does a fair job of giving you a starting point for the settings. Then it’s only a bit of tweaking you have to do, instead of trying random combinations of settings. Hope that helps and let the pretty pictures come!

  12. Happy Chick aka Harriet
    Happy Chick aka Harriet says:

    Wow! So much to learn, and I just realy like making jewelry and sharing fun with my friends. Thanks to everyone who has contributed, and to Matt and the LB staff. Maybe I’ll get it yet. :-)

  13. Leslie W Mtn Chick
    Leslie W Mtn Chick says:

    Johanne, I love your idea of photographing your earrings on the stem of the flowers. I am a flower lover and think the photos would be even better if you showed the inside of the flowers which had similar colors to your earrings!! Thanks for the idea.

  14. Leslie W Mtn Chick
    Leslie W Mtn Chick says:

    Oh, by the way, Matt, great article!!

  15. Matt
    Matt says:

    First, I’d like to say thank you for all of the great comments. I had so much fun writing this article. I really hope that it helps.

    Johanne, I love the idea of using the flower stems. I think the photos turned out great. It’s eye-catching and unique. Which is a part of what I’ll be focusing on in my next post. For those of you who are interested in part two, it’s scheduled to go up on Thursday.

    Steph, Ali is responsible for making the beautiful jewelry you see in the post. She has a unique style that I truly admire. I’ll let her know that you like them too!

    seashellsally, I’m using the standard lens that came with the camera. It’s the Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 with image stabilization. As you can see, my wide aperture shots turned out pretty good with a non-macro lens. I think it would be great to have a macro lens, but as you already know, they’re pretty expensive. I agree that a basic photography class would be beneficial for all of our beaders interested in selling their jewelry. However, a good book and an active online community would suffice in most cases.

    J Fish, I think that last bit of advice is really helpful. Not only should that help everyone get familiar with their camera, but it sounds much easier than diving into the camera settings head-first! Thanks for that.

  16. No Photo
    KWB DESIGNS says:

    All of this has been so helpful! I love the idea of taking pictures of jewelry inside the flowers! I’ll have to try that!
    Matt, I’m really looking forward to Thursday!!

  17. No Photo
    Luv2bead - Little Chick says:

    Can’t wait until Thursday!

  18. J Fish
    J Fish says:

    Another idea for on-hand background material is white poster board or a white sheet. Also, if you want interesting surfaces to place your jewelry on, you can go to a hardware store and get a 1′x1′ tile square (only a few bucks). Here’s some examples of stuff I’ve used.

    Attachment Attachment Attachment

  19. No Photo
    Luv2bead - Little Chick says:

    This has nothing to do with pictures, but I was wondering for the mystic blue feldspath large rice, should I use a .019 inch wire (49 strand) or .024 inch wire (49 strand). It will also have laboradorite too (and some other beads). I want it strong, but I also want it to be able to go through laboradorite and 3mm metal beads. Thanks!

  20. No Photo
    Luv2bead - Little Chick says:

    btw: Cool pictures J Fish!

  21. No Photo
    KWB DESIGNS says:

    Jfish, I LOVE your pictures! And that blue necklace is gorgeous! What stones did you use?

  22. LoriEllen
    LoriEllen says:

    I’ve gotten so much better at photographing my work over the past couple of years. I wouldn’t even want people to see my first attempts, but Ill post some of my recent one’s I think look pretty nice. :)
    (unfortunately no limabeads on this one. But I did make all of the beads myself from polymer clay and copper. :D )

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  23. LoriEllen
    LoriEllen says:

    …and some other things.
    I like using moss. It’s real moss but it’s from the store. Before I used moss for photographing my ceramic pod pendant things, I used the fall leaves that were all over campus last autumn. :)

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  24. LoriEllen
    LoriEllen says:

    Btw, I’ve been super busy and miss you guys. :9

  25. J Fish
    J Fish says:

    Thanks Johanne B! :) The stones were black onyx and snowflake obsidian (these were extra “snowy”) with sterling silver. Aren’t flowers the awesomest?

    And Tab, cool mossy surface :)

  26. No Photo
    L Murphy says:

    Great tips! Thanks and I can’t wait for the next post. My husband is the primary photographer of my pieces and he’s particularly fond of doing “photo shoots” while we’re on vacation. Here’s a couple he took in Colorado this past March.

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  27. No Photo
    L Murphy says:

    Here’s two more…

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  28. No Photo
    KWB DESIGNS says:

    Tab… I love the look of the autumn leaves! wow.

  29. Dizzy Chick Lori Z
    Dizzy Chick Lori Z says:

    J Fish, Tab & L Murphy, your photographs are really good!!!

    Tab, I love your polymer clay beads! You’ve got a cool style with them & I really like the 3 strand necklace.

  30. Dizzy Chick Lori Z
    Dizzy Chick Lori Z says:

    Matt, thank you for all the great info! I have used some of it already & can’t wait for part II!

    I am wondering if I am the only one struggling with the color balance from CFC bulbs. I’m having a really hard time correcting the CFC light. (I’ve tried in camera & editing programs.)

    I have resorted to going outside till I can get some small swing arm lamps.

  31. Dizzy Chick Lori Z
    Dizzy Chick Lori Z says:

    L Murphy, you are one lucky lady!

  32. WireWrangler
    WireWrangler says:

    Thanks Matt.
    Tab, your picts are inspiring! The backgrounds enhance your product without detracting. I am wondering how you light your picts. Thanks.

  33. Cuban Queen Crazy Chick
    Cuban Queen Crazy Chick says:

    Tab, your photography is as amazing as your jewelry!! :)

  34. LoriEllen
    LoriEllen says:

    Thanks everyone. :)
    Seashellsally, I usually use natural light. We live in a basement apartment and our door is literally all window except for the frame. I photograph my items right next to that window. Or going outside would work just as well, just don’t use direct, bright sunlight (as said above). It’s way too harsh.
    For the pics with the moss, I just used a bulb in a work light (the round metal clamp lights).

  35. No Photo
    J Brawner says:

    Love Matt’s article and all of the interesting comments.Hope to be able to add a comment or two of my own soon!

  36. No Photo
    Pendant Moon says:

    I have been photographing jewellery for two years now for my website, and I use natural light and a portable studio, basically it is a mini studio with two lightstands, and trypod and different colour backgrounds, it is great as it all folds away into a carry bag, wouldnt be without it, and can take it anywhere I go. I also use a camera which has super macro which is great for the close up shots and can also capture the real beauty of the stones. I cant say my photos are perfect but as they say practice makes perfect.

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  37. No Photo
    Luv2bead - Little Chick says:

    Pendant Moon – what’s your website? Your jewelry is great!

  38. No Photo
    S doyle says:

    I am still scared!!!!!!!!!!!!

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