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How to create professional images of your jewellery

Get to know your camera - You know it makes sense!


I tend to repeat this advice, but you really do need to know how your camera works.  I know you will never read the manual, and that’s fine, nobody ever does, but please humour me on this one, you really do need to know how to operate all the functions available on your camera to get the best out of it, and there is no substitute for practice.  As your Mum used to say - practice makes perfect!  and guess what! She was right!

OK - I want to improve - Where do I start?
• Clear a large Memory card  (2Gb plus), so you can take plenty of pictures, you should be looking at a number in excess of 400 on the pictures remaining!  If not - buy a bigger card!!

• Charge the battery overnight,

• Then just take pictures until you run out of space on the card,

• Not just jewellery - everything!  If it moves - shoot it!  Use all the functions you can find on your camera, you will learn something with every shot you take.

• If you get stuck - Google it to see if some other aspiring photographer on the World Wide Web is suffering with the same problem as you  (or if you’re absolutely desperate, read the manual!).


Until you get the result you expect from most of the pictures you take, you shouldn't really be surprised if that special shot you take of your latest jewellery creation looks nothing like it did in your head as you pressed the shutter release.  This is normal - it still happens to me!

Top Tip - don’t rely on the picture you see on the screen on the back of your camera.  Upload the pictures to your PC and view them full size.  If they still look fantastic you’ve cracked it! - If not, clear the memory card and try again! - I wish practising was this easy when I did my photographic training (a long time ago!)   Back then it involved loading film into spirals in the dark, developing the film, and then printing the results under red light in a dark room - quite time consuming, but rewarding.  Now it’s just - Grab the USB cable  - plug the camera in to the PC and view the pictures in glorious 16:9 widescreen.  You don’t know you’re born!

There's no substitute for quantity - take LOTS of pictures and choose the best!
Back in the bad old days of 35mm film, I used to take at least ten rolls of 36 exposure colour print film on holiday with me, and use the lot!

On return from my hols, I would send the ten films off to the film processing lab, and when I got the prints back, I would edit them down ruthlessly to about 36 really good shots.  Once the best pictures had been identified I would carry them around in one Photo envelope (as if they were all from one film!)   Everyone I showed ‘My Holiday Photos’ to thought I was a really good photographer.  But as all of you now know - it’s just a numbers game!  Remember - in order to keep your reputation intact it is vital that the other 324 reject photos never see the light of day!  This is just as important in jewellery photography as with holiday snaps.

Preparation
Make sure your jewellery item is finished before photographing it - there is nothing worse than a close up of work with the polishing marks still on it.  If your first photos reveal a problem, sort it out and re-work the item, then take the pictures again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is an example of how not to take a good photo of jewellery.
• Taken on the kitchen table - the background is distracting.
• Light coming from fluorescent light (green, harsh and from behind)
• Picture with unwanted reflections (including the camera and photographer)
• It is very hard to pick out the actual shape of the jewellery


Background
Keep it uncluttered and simple. If you look at any professionally published book containing pictures of jewellery, you will usually see that the photographs are against a completely featureless background, usually grey though occasionally on pure black or white backgrounds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

• This is a bit better - at least it is on a neutral dark background - but . .
• There is a reflection of a red  tomato ketchup bottle on the right!
• It is hard to see the form and surface finish of the earrings.
• The engraved pattern on the front of the earring is lost in the clutter


The grey image quite often fades to black at the top; this is known as an infinity background.  This can be achieved either by shading the light falling behind the jewellery on a background which curves up to vertical at the rear, or you can purchase specially printed backgrounds which fade from grey on one end to black at the other.

Whichever background you choose, your jewellery piece should be displayed prominently in the foreground, sharply defined, with no distracting shadows or reflections.

Depth of field
To reveal the detail on the jewellery it is important to keep as much of the piece in focus as possible.  Ideally it should be sharp from the front to the back of the item. This is known as ‘depth of field’, and may be optimised by changing the aperture, or f Stop of the camera lens.  This is sometimes known as ‘Stopping Down’.  I tend to use f11 to f16, because stopping down further than this (f22 or smaller) can result in worse results and a softer image due to a phenomenon known as diffusion.

Lighting
A right can of worms! The main problem with highly polished reflective work  is that it is all too easy to photograph yourself reflected in your work!

For this reason controlling the environment is preferable, so that all reflections are controlled as far as possible.  In essence, you need to build yourself a mini set.  This has additional benefits as it can reduce set up time to virtually nothing.  Just take the dust cover off your mini-studio - set up the lights and you’re ready to go!

This also assumes that there is no external light (such as daylight), to intrude on your carefully designed lighting plan.  This can be assured if you only take your pictures at night rather than in the daytime, as you can switch off the room lights in your ‘Studio’ giving you total control.

Colour balance
Get rid of colour casts caused by different colours of lighting by choosing the right camera setting to begin with.  Usually you should choose ‘Tungsten’ for normal light bulbs, or cloudy for outdoors.  As an insurance policy, if you shoot RAW mode* as well as jpg you can correct this afterwards by selecting a different white balance setting when editing your picture with the camera software.  If you economise on the space on your memory card by shooting just JPG’s there is no easy way back, and you may have to re-shoot the picture!

* Saving pictures in RAW mode stores all the unprocessed raw data from the camera’s digital sensor. It takes up considerably more space on the memory card, but allows more freedom to adjust the image settings afterwards.  Saving in JPG mode stores a processed, filtered and compressed image using standard settings which are correct for the average image, JPG images are typically slightly noisier and less sharp than the RAW image.

You can make a JPG image from the RAW image, but it is not possible the other way round because you can’t recover all the image data from a JPG file, as some of the sensor data is discarded during the JPG filtering and compression process.

I would recommend saving both RAW and JPG files if your camera supports this. The JPG version is a handy preview of the picture, and the RAW file contains all the image data you need to get the best out of the picture you have taken.

Intended Use 
You will need very different requirements for web images than for full colour adverts in glossy mags. For the web, as long as it is correctly exposed and against an uncluttered background 400 pixels wide should be enough.  For print though, you need to aim for at least 150 pixels per inch, so even an A4 sized image 210 x 297mm  (or 8.26 x 11.69 inches) would need an image 1240 x 1753 pixels, and to be honest 150 pixels per inch is a bit on the mean side - 300 pixels per inch is nearer the mark.

Camera Selection
The camera you use needs to have a close-up or macro facility, so that you can get close enough to show off the detail of your jewellery.   Other than this, your camera choice is down to personal preference.  As long as you set up your photograph carefully, good results can be obtained from almost any modern digital camera, as can be seen from these examples, all of which clearly show the quality and shape of the silver earrings against a neutral background.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canon 350D 8 megapixel entry level Digital SLR

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simple (Cheap) Fuji 2300 2 megapixel camera

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Panasonic Lumix LX3 High end 12 megapixel compact camera

 

 

Making your own studio in a bin


The ideal light source for reproducing detail is an overcast cloudy day, as this eliminates harsh shadows and burned out highlights (which can cause detail to be lost in the resulting image).

When photographing jewellery indoors, this diffused, even light can be simulated by the use of a diffuser, which is a translucent or opalescent white filter placed between the light source and the subject being photographed.

Commercial versions of this include the Cloud Dome

http://www.clouddome.co.uk/acatalog/index.html

and photographic specialist shops will be happy to sell you diffusers of many different kinds.

However, as long as you know what you are looking for, you can find your own version on the high street for very little money.

My personal choice at the moment is the Tesco Value Bin, which costs £2.99 and is an excellent low cost diffuser.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tesco Value Bin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Product Code for Value Bin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Value Bin In Use

 

This shows a Cornish charm casting being photographed on a slate grey background, placed inside the Tesco diffuser, with a copy of Tim McCreight’s superb bench reference for jewellers ‘Hot and Cold Connections’ (ISBN 978-0-7136-8758-3) being used to shade the light and prevent it falling on the background beyond the subject.

This produces an attractive infinity background graduating from mid grey at the bottom of the image, to black at the top.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resulting Picture - Taken with the Panasonic Lumix 3


Lighting
Studio lights can be significant heat sources, especially tungsten or halogen.   A couple of 200W tungsten light bulbs (a bigger version of the standard household light bulb), put out plenty of light, but also generate plenty of heat (try changing a light bulb when it hasn't had a chance to cool down!).   This heat is nice in the winter when a bit of extra warmth doesn't go amiss, but can be very unwelcome in mid-July when the ambient temperature is already 25 degrees C and you're sweating all over the background paper as you try and get the lighting just right on the new product you need a picture of for the new website!

The newer LED or modern fluorescent lights, run much cooler, with LED lights in particular generating little or no heat.  White LEDs tend to be rather bluer than daylight, and most cameras don't have a setting for LED lighting yet, though as they become more widespread this will change.

If you find you are getting a pronounced colour cast, try using the AutoWhiteBalance  or AWB setting on your camera, this can sometimes help - it allows the camera to sense the average colour balance and set its best guess automatically , though generally you are better using one of the presets such as Tungsten or Daylight for the appropriate lighting condition, as the automatic setting can be a bit hit and miss, producing some very unusual colours.

Standard Settings
While there is no such thing as a standard set up for all situations.  If you have created your mini studio with carefully controlled lighting, and a neutral background, here are some general tips for effective settings to put you on the right track for successful results.
• Use a Tripod - keeping the camera still has many advantages among which are
o It eliminates camera shake so you get a clearer picture
o Since the camera doesn’t move, you can try different settings.
• If your camera has different image sizes - use the biggest, it gives the best detail
• Turn the flash off - it will tend to cause burned out bright areas.
• Shoot RAW + JPG images - one for preview, and one to process
• Set the lowest ISO speed you have, to improve quality and reduce grain
o This will mean longer exposures so definitely use the tripod!!
• Set AF Lock on - once focused it will stay there. - after all nothing is moving!
• Use a cable release to avoid shaking the camera
o If you haven’t got a cable release, use the self timer
• If you haven’t got a tripod, use books to stand the camera on, or a beanbag
o A bag of rice makes a good beanbag,
o But don’t use frozen peas - they’re cold and wet

Do you get the distinct feeling that a Tripod might be quite a good idea?   I can’t think where you might have got that idea!  It allows you to fine tune your picture until it’s exactly right, and provides lockable adjustments for aiming the camera accurately.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last but not least
There are no rules - if it works for you, it’s a good technique!  Happy snapping, I look forward to seeing your results published on the Guild!

Dave Wallis