The Studio – Jewelry Blog by Rio Grande

The Hidden Art: Six Things to Remember when Photographing Jewelry

Nov 5, 2012
5 Comments

If you’re a jeweler, metalsmith, or any kind of visual artist trying to sell your work, the piece itself can only be as appealing as the photograph you use to advertise it. Just like the award-winning actor who still can’t make anything great out of terrible writing, great actors can’t turn terrible writing into anything that sounds even remotely reasonable—and yes, I am still bitter about The Phantom Menace—the most beautiful diamond in the world will look terrible if it’s badly photographed. Here’s an example:

Shot by me with a phone. Not very good, I know, but that’s sorta the point.

I took that shot of this beautiful ring with my crappy stock camera phone (for those of you wondering why I don’t have an iPhone, feel free to send me an iPhone), but it looks terrible, more like something you’d give to someone you wanted to never talk to again than something you’d actually want to wear. But look at the difference when it’s photographed properly:

Shot by our genius in-house photographer Tara Anderson, using actual, y’know…skill.

Not only can you see the actual detail of the ring itself, the craftsmanship of the design, and the intricacy of the work, you can see how the ring catches and reflects light, get a feel for the texture of the material, and generally just actually…well, see it.

In that spirit, I talked to Tara and Kayla, our two in-house photographers, who gave me some tips for jewelers who need to pick up the camera every now and again for their own work. They provided me with six key things to remember when you’re taking your own photographs.

  1. Use a tripod! It helps keep your camera steady, it allows your pictures to be clearer—there’s less movement of the camera itself—and they’re not expensive, either. Kayla got one at a yard sale a few years back for just $3, and you can even get a decent, brand-new one for about $10 on Amazon.
  2. Invest in some studio lighting or use natural lighting, like from a window or an open front/back door. Avoid fluorescents, lamps, or any other household lighting, as those can come off more harsh and glaring. Lots of kits are available for different types of setups, and you can find a tabletop photography kit for around $80 on eBay.
  3. Diffuse your light! Applying direct light causes hot spots, harsh glare, and similarly unattractive distortions to detract from your image. Diffuse with a piece of Plexiglas, a white umbrella, shower curtains—lots of things will work, some of which you might have sitting around the house. You can also get a light diffuser for around $15, and they add a lot of value while costing very little.

    A good display is crucial to making your pieces look their best.

  4. A light table helps with masking, which gives you a nice white background for your images. This helps by making editing/cleaning of the pictures simpler, since there’s less to do when they’re just up against a white background.

    A good, reliable light table is a huge asset for your jewelry photography.

  5. When you finally get down to shooting your pieces, try to be more artistic than just doing a straight overhead shot. Using alternative angles can not only give your piece more dimension, but can also help you show off the intricacy and craftsmanship of your piece.
  6. Look around to see what you have for displays. Putting a necklace on a picture frame, for example, can help your piece stand out, as well as give a sense of scale to anyone looking.

Another option is a digital lighthouse, cool equipment that can both help simplify the photography process and allow you to get great shots of your work. We sell two different models on our site, and these are great kits to help you take better pictures.

Thanks to Tara and Kayla for all of their hard work—all of the great-looking items you see on the site and in our catalog? They shot those. Thumbs up, ladies.

What tips or tricks do you have for other jewelry photographers? What helps your work jump off the screen/page? Please share your tips and tricks in the comments!

Andy Sherwin

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Comments (5)
  1. Thanks for the great article! I’ve been working to iron out the wrinkles in the way I’ve been taking my photos for Etsy. I was using an iPhone 4S, which actually didn’t do too bad of a job, if you were lucky and had a lot of patience — but now I have a Canon T2i that I’ve been learning how to use, and I love it.

    I’ve never tried using a light table before, I’ll have to see if I can pick one up for a decent price sometime. I’m lucky enough to have a location in my house that acts as a natural lightbox, and I was able to take the attached picture without the aid of any lighting or diffusing equipment, just my fantastic new camera (and some color correcting in Photoshop).

  2. This is a pretty neat article very useful !

  3. http://www.mkdigitaldirect.com/tips/jewelry_photography_tips.html
    I highly suggest buying one of these if you have the budget for it. This saved me more time and energy not having to edit all my photos.

  4. In tip number two you mention avoiding fluorescent lights, but the link to the setup on ebay uses fluorescent lights ? So that would be a kit to avoid then ?

    The digital lighthouse mentioned in tip 6 already has light diffusion I assume so no need for umbrellas etc.

    Also do you have a source for a light table like the one in the picture?

    Cheers,

    Andy.

  5. Hi, Andy! (Great name, by the way).

    Fluorescent lights aren’t ideal, but cooler (rather than warmer) ones can work pretty well.

    And as far as a good light table goes, try checking out the offerings of the good folks at Table Top Studio (http://tabletopstudio.com/).

    Let us know if you have any other questions!


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