You chose your project. You made the jewelry. It came out well. But now you want to share your creation with other people. Maybe you’re selling your work, or maybe you just want to brag to your friends – in either case you’ll want good pictures. Unfortunately, metal can be tricky to photograph. I’ll describe my three essentials of jewelry photography and hopefully you’ll feel inspired to experiment and find out what works for you.
Even if you don’t end up taking “pretty” pictures, you should always document what you make. What weave(s), what ring size(s), etc. You’ll be happy you did this in several years’ time when you know you want to work off of an old design, but you can’t remember off the top of your head what the ring sizes were.
This is the single most important thing to get right. If your lighting is bad, none of the rest of it will matter.
You want bright, diffused light. What this usually means is sunlight on a lightly cloudy day. I live in California, so “sunlight” isn’t a problem, but “cloudy” is sometimes hard to come by. Happily, there are simple ways to diffuse light without waiting for perfect cloud cover. Any camera store can set you up with a fabric light diffuser. They let most of the light through, but break it up to eliminate harsh highlights and hard shadows.
Another great option for diffusing light is the Cloud Dome. I love that it is a light diffuser and a tripod all in one. (I’ll talk more about tripods in the third section of this post.) With the basic Cloud Dome, you’re limited to pictures from above, but they also sell angled extension collars that give more options. They even make a dome specifically for smart phones!
If you’re on a budget, you can get great results with lightweight white tent material (ripstop nylon) from the fabric store. You’ll need to stretch it over some kind of frame. Your frame can be as fancy as a PVC rectangle that fits your custom-sewn fabric, or it can be as simple as an old coat hanger with the fabric just stapled in place. (It would be fun to use a hula-hoop!) Plastic milk jugs work well as an impromptu Cloud Dome, though you don’t get the benefit of the built-in camera mount.
There are many, many ways to diffuse light. The important thing is to use good (bright, diffused) light for your photography.
In theory, you can use anything as a background. In practice, mid-range grey-things are much easier than extremely dark or extremely light things. Using a medium-ish background makes it much easier for your camera to correctly guess exposure time. If you’re using full manual mode on your camera you can override its best guess, but if you’re already using full manual mode you probably don’t need this tutorial. *grin*
In the three pictures below, I used the exact same (bright, diffused) light, and in each case I let my camera decide how long to leave the shutter open.
When my camera saw the black velvet background it mistakenly assumed that it was looking at a dark room. When faced with a dark room, my camera knows to leave the shutter open for longer in an attempt to capture more detail. And it did manage to capture detail of lint on the velvet (yay?) but the shutter stayed open so long that our handsome model is washed out and over-exposed.
The grey construction paper was much less misleading. It’s a middle-ish sort of shade – not too dark, not too light. My camera’s best guess is actually pretty good.
A white background (this is actually pure white plastic) makes my camera “squint” against what it thinks must be a bright day. In an attempt to avoid getting a washed out image, it limited itself to a very short shutter speed. The white background is murky, and our poor model is obscured in shadow.
The third and final “biggie” to understand is the importance of a tripod. There are some times when you won’t have enough light to get a good picture without a long exposure. Those are the times when a tripod is essential. Get your shot lined up the way you want it and then set the timer on your camera and step back.
It might be tempting to push the shutter release button with your finger (Hey, it’s on a tripod. That means it won’t move, right?) but you’ll jostle the camera just a bit, which means your picture will be a tad motion blurred. Better to play it safe – use the timer!
And when I say “tripod” it doesn’t have to be a three-legged device with a screw to hold your camera in place. It just has to be something stable that will keep your camera perfectly still while it takes the picture. Perched on a stack of books? Leaning up against a water bottle? Those count as tripods in my book. Use whatever you have on hand to solve the problem of camera shake during long exposures.
And there you have it! Spider’s top three essentials for getting good jewelry pictures. That’s not the whole story, of course, but it should be enough to get you started. And, as always, I’d love to see what you make with the tips and tricks that you find on my site. Share some of your pictures!