Part 1 – Basics of Jewellery Photography
Before I begin, let me make it clear that I have received no formal training in jewellery photography. The advice given here worked for me. Most of the photographs I take for our jewellery website, for social media and for blogging. My learning comes from many hours of practice, reading articles, experimentation and practice. The cement holding it all together is the creative enjoyment it brings.
In the early days (that’s 10 years ago) I made a start with a light-box purchased from Ebay. It cost me 30 pounds and frustrated the hell out of me. I played with everything from compact cameras to camera phones. I felt like I was working in one of those laboratories. The type where you insert your hands into fixed gloves on the outside of a glass tank. I experimented with holding jewellery using blue tack. I progressed to white tack, but the jewellery kept falling over. Most of my photographs were a muddy grey colour. Rings displayed the obvious blob of blue-tack peeping out from under the ring. Anyone who has experimented with jewellery photography will understand.
The incredible thing was that I persevered. I kept trying. I kept taking photographs. This is what you have to do if you want to get better. It is surprising how many hours it takes to learn something. Not to just learn something, but to master a subject to the level of expert. I have not yet reached this stage, but I’m on the journey.
Why photograph jewellery?
There are different reasons why you might photograph jewellery. Perhaps it will be to sell jewellery online or to share on social media. Maybe you want to create photography for a blog. I practice jewellery photography for all these reasons and more. I love the creative aspect of jewellery photography within my working environment. But jewellery photography goes way beyond the photograph alone. In this post, I aim to cover some of the basic skills needed. I’ll also answer some common questions.
Example photograph featuring white background typically used for product pages.
First steps of jewellery photography
First of all, it’s fine to use basic equipment. The cost of photographic gear can be quite staggering. Start with a basic digital camera. Persist and you will soon master the basic skills. As you practice more, you’re photography skills will improve. If your photography shows your jewellery at its best, you will sell more. This will enable you to improve your equipment and so on. Photography becomes easier when you are familiar with your kit. Practice improves both skill and familiarity.
Essential equipment for photographing jewellery
Basics you’ll need to include a digital camera (obvious) with a high resolution. When you crop redundant space from a photograph, you don’t want the final image to be too small for use. After many years using a simple point and click camera for photography, I upgraded to the Canon 5D MKIII but remember to consider a good Macro lens (see below).
A macro lens is best suited to jewellery photography. It allows the camera to get close to the subject. This is ideal for detailed jewellery photography. Limitations of a macro lens include a narrow depth of field. While engagement ring prongs are clear and in focus, other parts of the ring can appear blurred. If this happens, try pulling the camera further away. Keep a general purpose lens for other photography (packaging shots etc.) Invest in a compatible Macro lens for your close up photography. Added to the Canon 5D MKIII the compatible Macro lens will create stunning high-resolution images.
Lighting for Jewellery Photography
Next, lighting is one of the most important factors. Natural lighting is great, but I prefer a reliable, constant lighting source. I use two large lamps with diffusers to soften the light. In my opinion the more light the better. You can always adjust camera settings to reduce the light within each shot. A bright diffused light will give a more even light across your subject. I prefer to position lights over a table, rather than to use a lightbox. Lightboxes provide good lighting but restrict your working area.
Always use a tripod to photograph jewellery to avoid blurred shots. Ensure there is no camera movement whilst taking the photograph. Choose a sturdy tripod, robust enough for the camera you are using. Manfrotto tripods are reasonably priced and well built. If you are using a digital SLR camera, check to see if there is a mirror up setting. This will reduce camera shake when you take a photograph. Use the camera timer or a remote switch to take the shot. This will reduce any movement during the shot as you take the photograph.
PC / Mac / Photoshop
Good photo editing software is crucial. I spend a lot of my time working in Photoshop. It takes time to edit a photograph. Don’t skimp on free versions. Most software includes a trial period. Find someone who can teach you the basic skills or jump online and learn via tutorials. You will need a computer to run the software and somewhere to store and share the photographs. We use Dropbox for cloud storage. For the computer I love working on the 27 inch iMac to give me a large screen for photo editing.
Backgrounds for jewellery photography
Decide what type of background you want for your photograph. Are you taking product photographs for a website? Or do you prefer a more natural setting? Sometimes both styles of photograph suit different areas of a website. Achieving a completely white background will take time to master. Seldom achieved by camera alone. Suitable lighting and post photograph editing are necessary. Avoid cutting out (photoshop) your subject to add to a white background. Losing natural shadow and reflection make the results appear unnatural. Try taking photographs on different surfaces and textures. Remember textures look different under high magnification.
I highly recommend experimenting with a high-gloss perspex background. These are easy to purchase from websites such as Amazon. Here are two perspex backgrounds I have been using recently.
Holding / Fixing wax for jewellery photography
Most jewellery photographers use special wax to hold small items of jewellery in place. Don’t use Blue-tack. The internet is full of photographs with bad poor lighting. Or rings held in place with a large blob of Blue-tack. A small piece of fixing wax will suffice. It is possible to ‘hide’ the fixing wax under an engagement ring band. Or if you can edit this from the photograph afterwards. Use a tiny amount. I have experimented with various types including Prop wax which holds small items in place for photography.
Gloves – avoid getting fingerprints on items of finished jewellery
When handling jewellery for photography, wear good fitting micro-fibre gloves. These will keep the shine on jewellery as you handle it ahead of the photograph. Macro jewellery photography will show fingerprints, grease, dust and scratches. Avoid handling the fixing wax and then your jewellery item. Place a small amount of fixing wax in place. Place gloves on. Wipe over the ring and position over the wax.
Taking or Sourcing Stock Jewellery Photography
If you’re looking for ready-made jewellery photographs, or if you are looking to sell jewellery photographs, I would recommend Shutterstock for jewellery photography, a great platform for both buyers and sellers of stock photographs. Sometimes it is easier to select ready-taken jewellery photographs when you’re short on time.