Aug 162010

Shooting jewelry is sort of like shooting the moon. Sometimes the shot captures something spectacular. Other times, not so much. It’s crazy. I mean, what could be easier: You don’t exactly have to chase it around to snap a shot. While I do not consider myself a “PHOTOGRAPHER,” sometimes I get lucky. I used to shoot some basic product photos for the magazine I worked on in my pre-recession life. Nothing too technical, mind you. But, heck, I have been able to pull off some spread-worthy photos of boats planing across the water at 50 mph as I bounced around the deck of a photo boat. But put a piece of sparkly stuff on black velvet — or pretty much any other kind of surface you can think of — and you’ve got a real head scratcher in the making. Light, background and focus are often the three big players in the conundrum. THE LOW LIGHT As is often suggested (and, I think, rightly so), the sun is the go-to source when it comes to good lighting. I have tried indoor illumination from lamps, but much prefer the effects of natural light. This, with my Canon EOS in hand, I have pursued all over the house (and even onboard my boat, back in the day). About the only place I haven’t yet tried is the roof (although as the sun was sinking behind the tree branches the other day, the ladder was starting to look real good).

Hanging crystals away from a backdrop can produce magical results. One caveat, though: When an image is this tack-sharp, if you make your images clickable for enlargement, any imperfections that you may have overlooked in your piece will be brought into sharp focus (tool marks, off-kilter wraps, etc.). It's like putting your piece under a microscope and is actually not a bad way of double-checking your work — before shooting the photo you want to post to your site.

Hanging crystals away from a backdrop can produce magical results. One caveat, though: When an image is this tack-sharp, if you make your images clickable for enlargement, any imperfections that you may have overlooked in your piece will be brought into sharp focus (tool marks, off-kilter wraps, etc.). It's like putting your piece under a microscope and is actually not a bad way of double-checking your work — before shooting the photo you want to post to your site.

Of course, where light is concerned, time of day plays a leading role. Most photogs I’ve known in the boating industry (any industry, really) live for “Golden Hour” otherwise known as “Magic Hour.” This occurs at either the beginning or end of the day, when the light is low, bathing everything in a soft syrupy glow (although one pro I used to work with loved to wait a little longer to shoot cars at twilight).  Necklaces and the like are, of course, not motorized vehicles, but they still benefit greatly from this gentle light. I’m finding the low light can create striking images of jewelry on the right background. Even when it comes to black. I’ve found that strong, direct light — like what you find in midday sun— hitting crystals or faceted stones can really flare in such a high-contrast situation. Put these same pieces on white in the same light and it’s a different story, although be sure your white balance is adjusted. Live and learn. Strong light also seems accentuate the nap and weave in fabrics to the point at which a soft velvet ends up looking like your Aunt Millie’s old wool blanket. Again, soft light appears to be the ticket. BACKGROUND CHECKS Most seasoned jewelry shooters seem to agree that uncluttered and simple backgrounds are best. This makes total sense to me. As intricate as jewelry is, you certainly don’t want the distraction of a busy background. Color also enters into the equation. Thanks to a trip downtown to Michael Levine’s, where you can buy scraps of fabric by the pound, I have tried multiple colors of velvet. Certain pieces just pop against green velvet while others spark to rose backgrounds. Everything seems to ignite against black or white. But again, with black velvet, I’m finding that lighting is key. In every single one of my shots on black velvet under direct or even somewhat diffused light, the jewelry flared. In truth, it looked radioactive. But in afternoon shade or muted, indirect low light, the images were golden.

Black can really add drama to a piece.

Black can really add drama to a piece. This one came out pretty good, though a bit softer than I'd like on the upper part.

I’m also learning the wisdom of keeping a lint roller handy wherever I’m shooting. Cat people, especially, will understand why. I find that I roll the fabric between every couple of shots. I also keep a couple of tweezers in a pocket to finesse my arrangements (keeps nap ruffling to a minimum and is just plain easier when a crystal dangle needs straightening out). Of course, velvet isn’t the only background choice. Several jewelry designers report that they prefer some type of matte paper stock. In certain situations I, too, reach for this option. You can get artists’ sketch pads in multiple shades that make perfect backgrounds if you don’t want to mess with fabric. An added bonus I discovered is that you can create impromtu light boxes with them. You can also use them to make seamless backdrops by placing your piece on top of one sheet and curving it up in back to meet another like-colored sheet, which is standing upright, supported by a wall.

It’s fun to experiment. Pieces often go well with similarly colored backdrops, but contrasting colors can be super dramatic. Reflective surfaces can add great depth. I have yet to try this, but like the look of it. I have heard that black acrylic tiles can be used to this effect. I also love the look of hanging necklaces in mid-air, so crystals light up against the blurred color of background. Props are another possibility. Rena Klingenberg and others have suggested using rocks, flowers, etc. as accents in photos. I’ve been playing with incorporating some bouganvilla blossoms into my shots. I’ve also tried some faux greenery (at least it doesn’t wilt). My favorite adventure lately has been to take my pieces into the garden, where I’ve been using my plants in a “supporting” role. The basil, chives, lavender, petunias and Russian sage, in particular, are among the cast of characters.

A white background in low light can be quite nice.

A white background in low light can be quite nice.

FOCUS POCUS While a ton of fun, my garden experiences have led me to deal with the third challenge in shooting jewelry: Focus. Many of my photos end up too soft, and there’s only so much sharpening you can do in Photoshop. But enough of them have come out OK, to allow procrastination in solving this nagging problem. Yes, I am guilty of too much hand-holding. Chalk it up to laziness or a free spirit, but there’s something about being tethered to a tripod that bugs me. But, you know what? The damn thing works. Due to the fact that my pieces, while not actually making a break for it, did “dance” when I draped them on my petunias, thanks to a soft breeze, I was forced to break out the tripod (holy smokes, even when draped on a stationary object, they would sometimes jump into action — or was that me?). Anyway, while I can’t claim that every shot was in the running for photo of the year, most were crisp. Good enough to eliminate a ton of Photoshop time.

Look out! It's trying to escape! Or explode! I can't decide.

Look out! It's trying to escape! Or explode! I can't decide.

Apparently, the other thing to decide when shooting jewelry is what you want to focus on. This, I thought, would be a no-brainer. I was wrong. There’s the long shot, where you capture the whole piece. This is good for seeing what the whole thing looks like, but not particularly dramatic. It can also be a challenge to get the whole thing in sharp focus. This leads me to arrange a necklace in curves and shallow drapes. There’s the detail shot, where you might focus in on the focal bead or pendant. In my case, I spin the dial to the setting with the picture of the flower on it (macro setting) so I can get in fairly tight to pick up as much detail as possible. This works well unless the light is so muted the flash automatically activates. Because I don’t want to use the flash, I’ve found that if I shoot at the auto-depth setting, I get pretty good results. This setting is also good for ensuring that everything is in focus. The AV setting is another favorite of mine. It lets me focus on a certain part of a piece and leave the rest of the image softly out of focus. Nice effect. On breezy days, I’ve tried using the freeze-action setting, which seems to help. Thank God for digital cameras and the dial. And, yes, I am dial-dependent these days. We can’t be good at everything!

Much better, despite a slight breeze.

Still a bit soft, but much better, thanks to the tripod — despite a slight breeze.

Photography for me has always been a challenge. It seems that if there’s enough light, the focus is off. If the focus is perfect, it’s underexposed. Once in a while, all the stars align, the clouds part, the angels sing and I get a really good shot. But, while perfection continues to elude me, I think I now have a fighting chance to up my odds of getting great shots. This weekend, I finally found not one, but two sweet spots with just the right kind of light. This should last me until Fall, when the arc of the sun will change and my quest will begin anew. But change is good, right? Happy shooting! Helpful sites I’ve run across: http://www.mkdigitaldirect.com/tips/jewelry_photography_tips.html# http://www.home-jewelry-business-success-tips.com/

5 Responses to “Jewelry Photography: Quest for Pixel Perfection”

  1. Hi! I know this is kinda off topic however , I’d figured I’d ask.
    Would you be interested in trading links or maybe guest
    authoring a blog article or vice-versa? My website covers a lot of the same
    subjects as yours and I believe we could greatly benefit from each other.
    If you happen to be interested feel free to send me an e-mail.
    I look forward to hearing from you! Terrific blog by
    the way!

  2. [...] Stone has been experimenting with different aspects of shooting and editing jewelry photos, with lovely results as you can see [...]

  3. Hi,
    I subscribe also to Rena’s homebasedjewellers blog and I read your comments on photography. Your tips were great and you take beautiful pictures also.
    I wanted to leave a comment because I enjoyed your article and your blog. Keep writing, don’t stop! My blog on wordpress is loves88.

    • Hi Liz: Thanks so much for visiting and for the kind words. I checked out your sites — wow, you are a busy lady. You have some beautiful pieces. I wish you much success.
      Becky

  4. Thanks for these wonderful insights on seeking the perfect jewelry shot, Becky! Photographing jewelry is an elusive, creative art in itself. Your product photography experience (even though it involved products on a totally different scale!) must be tremendously helpful.

    Great idea for getting fabric swatches by the pound! Having a variety of backgrounds at your fingertips while you’ve got the perfect lighting is so helpful. Lately I’ve also been using various scrapbooking papers and wallpaper samples as backgrounds.

    Thank you for the kind mention of my site! :)

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