The best way to do this is, of course, digitally. Taking good quality pictures of jewelry for most is an unsolved mystery. However, there are some simple techniques used by the professional, which even amateur photographers can use to obtain dramatic results with minimal effort. The following examples show the basic setup that should allow anyone to achieve results they can be proud of.
The camera that I use is a Canon A520 Digital. It’s not too expensive, and if you go to our website you’ll see, it takes great pictures. The basic setup I use includes an “Ezcube” light tent to soften the shadows and eliminate glare, while providing a clean and clutter free background. I also use true color daylight balanced compact fluorescent bulbs as the main light source and clear acrylic risers to provide reflections for an added “professional touch”.
The keys to good jewelry photography are sharpness, lighting, and exposure.
It is worth getting out your camera’s manual to find out how to put the camera in “spot focus” mode. The normal focus mode of digital cameras is some sort of average focus mode. That means that the camera will look at a wide area of a scene and base the focus on that area. Since you want to control where the camera is focusing, it’s better for jewelry photography to put the camera into spot focus mode, this will allow you to control more precisely what the camera will be focusing on. However, even in spot focus mode many digital cameras can’t really “lock-in” on a small shiny object like gemstone jewelry using auto focus. So unfortunately, for close-up jewelry photography, you need a camera with good manual focus capability.
Another key to a sharp image is a tripod. It is absolutely essential to use a tripod or similar camera support when shooting jewelry. A sturdy tripod is better than a flimsy one, but any tripod is many times better than no tripod. Use a tripod.
Another key to good jewelry photography is the lighting. Normally diffuse (soft) lighting works best for jewelry. You have probably already discovered that an on-camera flash does not lead to good jewelry photos. Not only is the camera’s flash too bright at such a close distance, but it is probably in the wrong position to actually light up the jewelry properly. An on camera flash will also create harsh and distracting shadows. Rather than flash, I like to use continuous lighting for product photography. Using continuous lights makes it easier to visualize what the final image will be like. I prefer daylight balanced compact fluorescent bulbs for lighting. These bulbs provide nice, natural-colored light and they produce very little heat so they can be left on for long photo sessions without over heating the photographer and everything else in the room. Even fluorescent light bulbs will need to be diffused and for that I, again, use a light tent as the diffuser. A small light tent makes it easy to reduce glare and control shadows for jewelry photography.
Proper exposure is also a key to good jewelry photography. If your background is actually white but appears grey in your image or if everything in your image appears darker than you would like, the image has been underexposed. It doesn’t mean you need more lights or bigger lights, it means you need to let more light get to your camera’s image sensor.
The most likely reason not enough light is getting to the camera’s image sensor is that the camera’s auto exposure mechanism has set the exposure too low. The camera’s auto exposure system doesn’t expect to see a very light background. Since it assumes the background is grey rather than white, it exposes the image to achieve a grey background rather than a white background. The result is that everything in the image appears darker than it should.
The solution is quite simple. Adjust your camera’s exposure compensation setting to slightly overexpose the image. [Nearly every digital camera has an exposure compensation setting, but you may need to read your camera’s user manual to find how to adjust yours]. Once you locate the controls for exposure compensation simply increase the exposure until the image looks correct. When photographing against a white background you will normally need to increase the exposure by about 1 to 1 1/3. (Camera makers make this confusing by labeling the exposure adjustment setting as EV, Exposure Value.)
If you are comfortable with photography and understand how the camera’s aperture and shutter speed affect the exposure, you will want to pay attention to how the camera adjusts the exposure. If the camera increases the aperture it will decrease the depth of field.
A quick review:
- In order to ensure your images are sharp, make sure you know how to focus your camera. Digital cameras with auto focus are often difficult to focus precisely, especially when shooting small objects. Read your owner’s manual and be sure you understand how your camera’s auto focus operates. Most digital cameras are designed to easily focus on large objects but have difficulty on small subjects.
- Use a tripod, even the slightest movement when you are taking a picture will cause motion blur. The closer you get to an object the more obvious the motion blur becomes. Even an inexpensive tripod will make a big difference in the sharpness of your images. If you are going to be shooting a lot of images, it makes sense to invest in a good, stable tripod.
- To get the largest area of your subject in focus put your camera in aperture priority mode and set the aperture to the highest number possible.
- Use soft lighting. Your camera’s built-in flash will rarely give good results for product photography. For soft lighting either shoot outside on an overcast day or use a light tent or soft box.
- Use imaging software. Even inexpensive software like Photoshop Elements™ can make product photography much easier. It may seem like it’s faster to use an image exactly as it was shot. But in reality, it is difficult to shoot an image exactly how you would like it to appear in it’s final form. Imaging software allows you to crop an image, resize it, adjust the exposure, and even sharpen the image less than 60 seconds.