Photographing Jewelry

We know you have seen it – the photo of a brooch taken from five feet away in a dark cave. According to the title, this might be just the piece you want, but the dark, unfocused image provides no clues as to the design of the piece, the material from which it was made, or its condition. (In fact, you aren’t even sure if the item in the photo is jewelry.) And like us, you probably just moved on to another item from another Internet shop with better pictures.

Although photographing shiny little bits of jewelry can be tricky, learning some basic principles and easy to apply techniques can help improve the quality of your jewelry photographs. And better jewelry photos can keep shoppers in your store, rather than turning them away.

When selling jewelry online, there may be no single more important aspect of merchandise presentation that your photographs. Bright, clear, appealing images not only allow shoppers to see the real beauty of your items, they demonstrate your professionalism. In the absence of clear, bright images, even the best description of an item can fail to capture the imagination of a buyer.

There are three vital aspects of taking great jewelry photographs: Sharpness, Lighting and Exposure. The steps below will help you master all three.

SHARPNESS

A sharp image starts with proper focus. The auto focus setting of most digital cameras uses an average focus mode as the default, meaning the camera looks at a wide area, rather than a specific point. When photographing jewelry, it is important to precisely control the focus area of the camera. For most digital cameras made in the last few years, this means using the “macro” mode, while for others it means using the “spot focus” mode. If you don’t already know how to use your camera for close-up photos, you may want to check the owner’s manual to see the specific directions for your make and model.

Use the aperture priority mode of your camera to get the largest area of your subject in focus. For best results, set the aperture to the highest number possible.

For close-up jewelry photography, it is important to use a camera that has a macro mode or that has manual focus capability. Simply put, a camera without zoom or close-up capabilities will not allow you to capture the detail necessary for photographing jewelry.

Use of a tripod is also crucial for sharp images as it prevents blurry images caused by the movement of your hands. Tripods are fairly inexpensive and can be obtained in the camera departments of most discount and department stores.

LIGHTING

You may have already discovered that using your camera’s flash does not create good jewelry photos. Diffuse, soft lighting is key to successful jewelry photography. Direct light such as that of a camera flash, or even bright sunlight, is too harsh and can create shadows and glare. The use of a light tent is a very effective way to dramatically improve the quality of your jewelry photographs and is also useful when photographing other small collectibles and antiques. There are now several online sources for reasonably priced photography tents (often called “cubes”). If you plan to specialize in the sale of jewelry, this is one tool that is definitely worth the investment.

A light tent or light cube uses fabric to soften the light while it prevents glare and shadows. To use a light tent for jewelry, position one lamp to each side of the tent at a distance of about 10-18 inches. The exact placement will vary depending upon the strength of your bulbs, the size of your tents and other variables. Adjust the position of the lamps until the tent is “flooded” with light, with the area in the very center slightly brighter than the surrounding area.

Although professional tripod-mounted photography lamps can also be obtained for a modest investment, you can also improvise with clip-on lamps or small desk lamps that allow you to direct the light toward the sides of the tent. These lamps are even more effective if you replace your standard light bulbs with those of the true-light or day light variety.

If you only sell jewelry occasionally and don’t want to investment in a light tent, you have other options. Such as, taking your photos outside on an overcast day or in early morning light. Another very inexpensive trick involves the use of a one-gallon milk or water jug. Cut the bottom off the jug and cut a circle in the front of the jug just large enough for your camera lens. Place your jewelry item on a work surface or on a riser of some sort (mineral or rock specimens work well for this purpose). Place the jug over the jewelry, then position a task lamp to the right and left of the jug, with the light directed to the jug. Place your camera lens in the opening, and you are ready to shoot. To take overhead shots of your item, use a second jug and cut around the neck until you have the correct size opening for your lens.

EXPOSURE

Proper exposure is also vital to high quality jewelry photographs. If you use a white or very light background for your jewelry, you may notice that your photographs are underexposed. You can prevent these dark, underexposed pictures by using exposure compensation.

Check your camera manual for instructions on setting the EV, or Exposure Value. If your images are too dark, increase the exposure value. If the images become washed out, adjust the EV down a bit until the exposure is correct. Typically, +1 is a good place to start the exposure compensation process.

PHOTO EDITING
The editing stage of photography is your opportunity to apply the Goldilocks principle: not too bright, not too blurry, not too small, but “just right”.

Even photos taken with the best tools and techniques can occasionally use improvement. The image, as you see it, in the viewfinder or LED screen is not always exactly what you see on your computer screen. Take the time to learn the basics of a photo editing software program such as Photo Studio, Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro. You can use the software to crop your image so that there is little extraneous background distraction, to adjust the exposure, sharpen the image, and size it properly for use online.

When cropping your photos, for instance, try to crop as close as possible to the actual jewelry item. Remember that it is the jewelry you want to sell, not the background. A tightly cropped image will also offer maximum impact in thumbnail size, enticing shoppers to click on your listing.

And if the exposure is not perfect, even after working with your camera’s EV settings, don’t be afraid to adjust the exposure in the photo editing program to insure that your image is not too dark or washed out. If shoppers have to strain to make out the item in your photo, they are likely to move on to another item or another shop.

Most computers or cameras will come with a free photo-editing program and some Internet shopping mall sites provide a basic photo-editing program accessible when you upload your images.

BEYOND THE BASICS
There are a few additional techniques that can be used when photographing jewelry to create really professional results.

1) How to make your jewelry item stand up (and stand out!):

Using a small bit of putty or wax to stand your item up can create a dramatic image. Most craft stores carry these products, which are designed for safely adhering items to shelves. Stay Putty and Wacky Tacky are two widely available examples. They can be used to position your jewelry item for a photograph, but are removable and leave no residue behind on the piece.

2) How to add sparkle to faceted gems:

To create sparkle in your photographs of jewelry that contain faceted stones, you will need to use a third light source that illuminates the stones directly. This light should be of a lower wattage than the two you are using for the diffuse, soft light, as it will shine directly into the opening of the light tent. Position this light in front of the tent and direct it until you can see the stone “light up” when viewed through the viewfinder or on the LED screen. Typically, this light will be positioned slightly below your camera for best results. (Please note that this technique is designed for use with a light tent and will not work for the milk jug or sunlight setups.)

PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE
Like most things in life, good photographs are the result of practice and repetition, as well as the use of the proper tools. Use the techniques already outlined, make adjustments and try variations until you learn to create crisp, clear bright photographs that really “sell” your jewelry. And remember, with digital cameras, there is no charge to process the pictures on your camera, so don’t hesitate to take several photographs of the same piece. This will allow you to choose your favorite when you reach the photo editing stage of the process.


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