Jewellery is one of the more difficult subjects to photograph well. The combination of often very small objects and highly polished metals can cause problems for even experienced photographers. Fortunately the digital revolution has helped in many ways through better equipment and the passing on of knowledge and experience.

This is a brief article to outline some of the basic techniques of jewellery photography for those who need to keep a record of their designs or are on a very limited budget. As a professional jewellery photographer it may seem odd to hand out such knowledge freely, but it's an aspect of my business ethos that helping other related businesses often pays in kind comments and even business, so I'm happy to help out.

Camera / lens

The first thing to consider with jewellery photography is the set-up. Part of this is, of course, the camera. Although I can't recommend any particular make of camera, I can, instead, give you an idea of the things to look for when selecting one.

Megapixels are not everything! Many cameras nowadays boast ever-increasing amounts of pixels and it certainly looks impressive. Looking for a camera with a high pixel count is desirable, but other factors are equally important.

Cameras that allow the photographer to record their images as RAW files is something I'd recommend. RAW is just like a negative; it's the un-doctored information straight from the camera. Most consumer cameras only offer JPEG as their output and, although they are usable, they don't allow you to manipulate the images afterwards, without the image suffering.

The downside of the RAW format is that you will need an imaging programme like Lightroom, Aperture or Photoshop to read them. If you go down this route though, it does allow you to change things like the colour balance and exposure, without degrading the image (it is especially important in jewellery photography, to maintain the highest quality).

It is preferable to choose a camera with manual controls. Being able to set the aperture and shutter speed manually is very helpful in this area. Being able to set the white balance manually, to match your lights is another control that will make life easier (and produce more accurate colour in your jewellery images).
The lens is extremely important too of course. Many cameras with integral (non-interchangeable) lenses are often of the zoom type. Whilst zooms are great for other types of photography, they do suffer in jewellery photography in one main area: image quality. A zoom lens found on a consumer camera is often sold with the camera and is actually very cheap to buy separately. Unfortunately, you get what you pay for with lenses especially, and a cheap lens is cheap for a reason.

The better option is to choose a camera with an interchangeable lens. DSLRs are idea, or some of the newer bridge cameras or the mirrorless cameras would all make a good choice.

Having a camera which allows you to attach your own lens means that you can choose a macro lens, specifically designed for close-up photography. All the manufacturing and design of such a lens is geared towards this particular application and the quality is reflected in that.
If you can choose a camera / lens combination that allows manual focusing, then I'd definitely add that to the camera check list too.

Tripods

So you have a camera and lens. The next thing to consider is a support for it. Tripods allow us to keep the camera nice and steady whilst we move the jewellery around, into position. Trying to compose your pieces, whilst hand-holding the camera is near on impossible! The other main use of a good camera support is to prevent the camera moving during exposure (causing camera shake - i.e. blurry pictures). You may well be using long exposures with macro photography and keeping everything steady is crucial in helping with sharp pictures. The more expensive tripods offer better stability and are sold without a head. Although buying a separate tripod head makes for a more expensive purchase, it should be borne in mind that this piece of camera equipment will out last many cameras (I still have a fully functionable one that's 25 years old!).

Tripod heads are sold in several types. For jewellery photography, we want to achieve smooth, fine movements and a geared head is ideal for this. These are more expensive, but if your budget allows, they will make life so much easier, as even the tiniest of movements of the camera position are magnified many times with macro photography.

Remote release

Whilst on the subject of steadying the camera, it's worth bearing in mind that it's all too easy to jog the camera whist pressing the shutter release. Most cameras allow some sort of remote release (either one on a wire, or an infrared release). You can actually pic up basic remote releases for just a few pounds, but they are definitely worth getting.

Lighting

Now, lighting can be very simple and inexpensive. You can choose between continuous or flash. Flash is good at reducing blur, due to vibration, but we can eliminate that if we follow my advice regarding tripods and remote releases. Flash is more expensive and more tricky to set up too, so I'll concentrate on continuous lighting.

Continuous lighting can be as simple as daylight (free, but unpredictable), or as cheap as a desk lamp. You can also buy ready-made light tents (sometimes called lightboxes), which can come with a light and stand.

Essentially, we want to soften the light for most of our jewellery photography. We achieve this by using large pieces of tracing paper, placed between the light and the jewellery (make sure it doesn't get hot though!), or using a light tent, which is made from translucent material (the light is shone through the tent).

Some light tents are quite sophisticated and expensive. These have several light panels, which are individually controllable, and usually have one on the base to allow the jewellery to be shot on a pure white background.

The main comment I'd make about using a light tent (even a DIY version) is that getting a soft light is only the first part. You need to avoid your jewellery looking too flat and lifeless. To avoid this, I make use of pieces of card (black, white, grey, silver) and mirrors to bounce light back into the jewellery. This technique adds highlights and reflections and makes the jewellery come alive!

By using reflectors, you generally only need one light source; all your creative lighting comes from placing tiny reflectors and card near your jewellery. You can see the results in the camera's live view (if you have it), or just capture an image to see the results.

That was a very basic introduction to jewellery photography. Most of the advice was intended to be simple, common sense. Often it's the simple things that get forgotten, but make all the difference. If you need any help or advice with your jewellery photography I can be found via my website:
http://www.jewelleryphotographybyward.co.uk/

or on the Linkedin forums

http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Guild-Jewellery-Designers-3809445

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