Photographing small 3D items can be quite a challenge to do well. One of the big problems with jewellery is that it often has highly reflective surfaces that will reflect light, thanks to all the highly polished gold, silver and gemstones. You will see yourself and your camera reflected back at you too if you are not careful.
Rather than go over old ground already covered in previous posts, lets quickly skim over the stuff I have already talked about in the past.
Gather together all the past lessons to get set up for this one, so use a diffused light source; you don’t want bright white hot spots caused by the flash or bright lights to appear on your shiny products. I have discussed in the past, the importance of using your camera’s white balance tools; getting your colours right from the outset is key in any product photography so don’t miss this step out. Don’t forget what you have already learned about depth of field and selective focusing techniques to make your product stand out. This time expand your practice from just using shallow depths of field and experiment with wide depths of field too – try opening up your focal range by using a very small aperture such as f8 or f16 so that you get a good sharp reproduction of the entire piece of jewellery. Remember to steady your camera on a tripod so that you can get the picture sharply focused and show your product off to its best advantage. The last thing that I will remind you of, is that you can use your shutter speed settings to control how much light is in your final image – this is a powerful tool so don’t overlook it!
Try deliberately over-exposing your photograph a little (letting in too much light) when working with a white background – it will smooth out any imperfections in your background, leaving you with a lovely pure white backdrop. If you think your jewellery best suits a black background try under-exposing to ensure that your background is good and dark with no imperfections visible in the final photograph. When slightly underexposing or overexposing, the technique will only affect the background when done in moderation, it should not affect the jewellery in the photo.
So what else do we need to know to create top quality jewellery photography?
Macro – Close-up photography
This is the perfect occasion to use the macro setting on your camera, if you have one. Check your camera manual to see how to activate this feature that will allow you to get really close to your tiny product and capture all of it’s glorious detail. But don’t forget your tripod – an essential companion to the macro lens, as every hand shake and wobble will be magnified by the macro’s superior magnification capabilities.
Lighting is probably the most crucial consideration. If you are going to avoid the harsh light and deep shadows cast by a flash, then diffused lighting is a must – the best form of diffused lighting for the job is an enclosed light tent, also known as a light cube, a continuous light system, or a soft box. This clever tool gives you enclosed light that wraps around your product casting a smooth even and balanced light. You will be able to turn your flash off altogether as the light tent will eliminate harsh glare, hot spots, most of the shadows and will even light those hard to reach places. Never mix up different types of light though, avoid daylight completely where ever possible, non-fluorescent light is best. A pair of desk lamps will suffice if you can’t afford anything fancier. If you are going to invest in lights, then ideally you will want to aim for two soft lights (diffused light sources, see my earlier post on the subject) and one reflected light source. Put the soft lights on either side of the jewellery, to the left and right, and put the reflector in front, near the camera position.
Many people who are inclined towards craft and making create their own DIY tent – there are lots of examples and patterns on the internet. There are a plethora of light tents and continuous lighting systems available to buy too – just use your favourite search engine to see for yourself, so invest in one if you are serious about photographing your products and you will not look back.
On the subject of reflections and shadows, not all of these are bad; in fact some of them are essential. When working with 3D items you need some light and shadow to show the contours and shape of the item you are selling. Experiment with angles to create different shadows around your product to see what looks best.
Composition and the positioning of your Jewellery within the image is a very important consideration too. I have seen some ingenious methods for holding jewellery in place for photographing it. You can invest in the same accessories that jewellers use to display their items in shops, do your home work, look at jewellery in established shops and catalogues and see how they present their goods to get the best perspective, angles and compositions. Explre the internet for specially designed stands for rings, pendants and earrings. If you don’t’ want to use anything in the photo except your product, use some positioning wax (available online) or good old fashioned blue tack for positioning your product so subtly it will look like it is floating or supporting itself at the perfect angle.
Take your time arranging your jewellery, experiment with laying it flat, using stands and trying different shapes when laying it out. For necklaces and chains, make a perfect, neat, flat circle for the cleanest most striking image. Don’t forget to clean and polish your jewellery before you start, especially when using your macro lens, every smidge, mark and finger print will be very visible and will distract the viewer from your item’s features.
Lastly, take lots of photos. Experiment and enjoy your photoshoot. The more you shoot on the day the more likely it is that you will find the perfect photo to illustrate your product later. And remember, it is better to get it right at the time than try to fix errors on your computer later, any time spent now will be worth it in the long run. If you do have to do some fixing afterwards, try to limit it to just a small amount of brightness and contrast correction, and the tiniest amount of sharpening may be good, but always remember that less is more!