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The Secret to Amazing Jewelry Photos

April 13, 2018

One of the questions we get asked all the time is…..”How do you get your jewelry photographs to look so good?”  Understand that jewelry is the hardest thing on the planet to shoot and there are 2 reasons why.  First, as we all know jewelry is small and small objects have their own unique challenges when photographing them.  Jewelry is photographed using a technique called macro photography which is extreme closeup photography.  Technically, it is any finished photograph of a subject at greater than life size.  You can learn more about macro photography at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macro_photography.  Of course, as we all know jewelry photographs are much larger than the actual life-size item.  Our enemy when photographing in macro mode is depth of field, or more specifically the lack of depth of field.   You may have already experienced problems with getting the back of your jewelry in focus.  One example is when photographing an engagement ring, often the tips of the center stone prongs are focused yet the bottom shank is fuzzy.  This is an example of a shallow depth of field and if you’ve experienced this you know how frustrating it can be.

Our second problem is that jewelry, diamonds, and gemstones are highly reflective.  Shooting a diamond is like trying to photograph a mirror, its nearly impossible to do because it picks up everything you don’t want seen in the image.  Often, we get the reflection of the camera or camera lens in the diamond and precious metal.  In this case, the camera’s reflection can show up as unwanted black spots in the jewelry and stones.  Again, very frustrating to say the least.  With that said, most jewelers don’t want to become professional product photographers and they can’t afford to hire in-house photographers to shoot their inventory.  So, what I want to do for you is to save all the technical jargon and simply skip past it.

I’ve been photographing jewelry for 15 years and I’ve spent 1000’s of hours performing trial and error.  Doing so has afforded me the luxury of knowing the secrets to quickly and easily take stunning jewelry photographs.  I am going to share them with you, I am going to cut to the chase and give you step by step instructions on how to get the job done.  So please read on.

Step 1 – Choose Your Staging & Lighting

When it comes to jewelry photography lighting is your bestie or as my daughter says BFF.  The game is won or lost before the camera shutter button is pressed and remember this….”There’s no such thing as too much light!”  However, not having enough is a big problem because no amount of photo editing can fix the problem of too little light.  There’s two ways to approach your lighting environment and that is build it yourself or buy a ready-made photography light box.  I use both solutions in my studio but for beginners I suggest that you start with a pre-made photography light box.  You’ll find that your time is better spent learning how to use your camera and tweaking it’s settings, not building light boxes.  There are a lot of expensive light boxes out there, some of them up to $3500 and I am here to tell you not to waste your money.  Why not?  Because I have owned them all, every jewelry light box that has ever been made I have owned.  Here’s one of the secrets that I promised you, the best solution I have ever owned cost $279.  Go out today and buy the MyStudio MS20J Table Top Studio.  You can buy it on Amazon using this link here

This kit has everything you’ll need to take nice photos with one exception, you’ll need to add some extra light and I do so with the Neewer Tabletop Ring Light.  Again, you can buy it on Amazon here I really like this light studio for several reasons but mainly because it’s open and allows me to easily handle my jewelry props.  I can also maneuver around extra light sources when I choose to.  MyStudio comes with a white infinity curve background which works perfectly when you want to take photographs that need very little re-touching.  If you’ve already tried to photograph your jewelry, then you’ve experienced the ugly gray background that appears in your photographs.  Remember when I said light is your friend?  Well lots of extra light can prevent this from happening and that’s why I recommend a ring light.  What you’ll do is aim the ring light directly at the jewelry to give the subject added light.  Your camera mounts right in the center of the ring light and the ring stays out of the way.  Additionally, you’ll want to add 2 table top light stands equipped with par20 led spot bulbs with a 5000k color temperature.  This is needed to knockout the grayness from the background and give you a crisp white look.  Place one table top light stand on the left side of the subject and the other on the right.  Next, aim the light source directly at the background while preventing the light from spilling on the jewelry.  This light source is too intense to be shined directly on the jewelry as it will create hot spots.  I’ve included a complete equipment list at the end of this post so don’t worry about taking notes at this point.

Diamond Necklace Photograph

Diamond Necklace we Photographed

 

Step 2- Choose Your Camera

Now that you have your lighting and staging setup you’ll want to make sure that you have the right camera.  Please whatever you do, don’t fool around with smart phone cameras.  You cannot take professional grade photographs with a camera phone.  Remember when I spoke about depth of field and macro photography?  Well camera phones have absolutely no depth of field, meaning you do not have the ability to adjust the depth of field using a camera phone.  This is crucial in the jewelry world because you need to be able to adjust the focus to get the back part of the jewelry in focus.  If you’ve dabbled in the slightest I’m sure you’ve pulled your hair out at the roots with this problem.  I’ve tried every attachment and gizmo available for smart phone cameras and it was a complete waste of time and money.

I have boxes full of gizmos and crap that I wasted my money on, so take my free advice and capitalize on my years of research, time, and wasted money…. don’t waste YOUR money.  What you need is a good DSLR camera, I use canon products because I am most familiar with them.  I also use them because I love the interfaces and the quality of the images.  If you haven’t purchased a camera for your jewelry photography buy the Canon 80d  I have test dozens of cameras and this camera is the best camera I’ve ever used.  The finest quality jewelry photos that I have taken come from the Canon 80D.

 

Jewelry Photography

Diamond Ring Photographed Using Our Techniques

 

Step 3 – Choose Your Camera Lens

You’ll notice that the link I provided for you earlier was for the camera body only, do not buy the camera kit.  The kit comes with a EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 Image Stabilization STM Lens, you’ll never use this, and it will be a waste of money.  You’ll have to purchase a true macro lens, this will allow you to get very close and take large scalable jewelry images.  Again, I’ve tried every lens available and through the years experimented with close-up lens, close-up filters, extension tubes, and everything else under the sun.  Stop and listen to me, DO NOT waste your money.  Take my free advice, save yourself much aggravation and purchase the following lens Canon 60mm Macro Lens  I love-love-love this lens, it’s super-well made and the quality of the images are amazing.  The lens is real glass not plastic like cheaper macro lenses and the motors are quiet and accurate.

 

Step 4 – Choose Your Camera Settings

Ok so now for the super important stuff, knowing how to work your gear.  You see the real magic isn’t in the camera and gear its in how you use it.  There are no real shortcuts, well that’s not entirely true because this article if available 15 years ago, would have been a shortcut.  Now if you haven’t taken notes by now I want you to write these settings down, save them and put them in a safe place.

Manual Mode

Aperture – F-16

White Balance – Auto

ISO – 100

Exposure – 1/100

Warning, the above settings are not magical pixie dust!  Can I get an lol?!  They’re not a substitute for common sense and hard work.  Understand this, every environment is slightly different and may affect your white balance, exposure, depth of field, etc.  These settings ARE in fact, a way to get you very close to where you need to be to take awesome jewelry photos.  Depending on your ambient light, type of jewelry that you’re shooting, ground planes, and light sources you’ll need to tweak the settings.  For example, if the items larger-sized the you may need to adjust the aperture to a higher number for instance F-18.  There’s a ton of moving parts and in all fairness this article should be part of series of articles.  To give you everything that you’ll need I could write for days, for now I am cramming only the most important stuff in here.  Look for additional articles on the subject very soon, and signup for my newsletter to be notified when they are available at.  Don’t hesitate to call me anytime at 716-630-7091 if you have questions, I’m always available to people in the industry.

 

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