The most important aspect of photographing jewelry is lighting.
Lighting for anything, whether it be for landscape photography, portraits or jewelry, can make and most definitely break an image.
Professional photographers have a wealth of equipment they can utilise to make their images spot-on perfect. The difference between them and us is that most people like you and I, mere hobbyists, wouldn’t even know what a light meter looked like let alone know what a ring-flash does. Our craft, making jewelry, is far more important than piddling little details such as finding out what lens would be best to take that wonderful picture. Add onto the fact that a professional studio set-up costs thousands of dollars and most of us wouldn’t have that sort of money laying about to even consider such an idea.
There are however, a few inexpensive ways of getting around needing a studio that we can utilise using many objects from around the home.
Balancing the “real” and “fake” light.
When most of us take pictures of our creations, it’s using a small digital or film camera with an inbuilt, automatic flash. We’ve set the piece up so that it looks pretty, maybe even added in a few background pieces such as flowers or fabrics to compliment the jewelry, but once we take that picture and view it on screen, or get the print back from the photo lab, we find that the image is blurred out by a bright hotspot (where the flash is reflected off the bead) and everything around the jewelry is dull or very dark. This is caused directly from the imbalance of light on the piece and the strength of the flash being too strong. Your camera cannot see the light around an object. It measures the light reflected off the object and compensates accordingly.
What flash should be used for is what’s known as “fill flash” – just a little bit of extra light to fill out the shadows and create what’s known as “catch lights”, which is a subtle reflection of light on a shiny surface. A good example of using fill flash for getting rid of shadows and creating catch lights is professional portraiture. Have a look at your kid’s school photos. Note the lack of shadowing and the shiny eyes? That’s what I’m talking about.
To shoot successful photos indoors, you need lots of light. The normal light you get from your average lamp or ceiling light is called Tungsten. Simply put, it’s very yellow/orange light and renders your pictures with a very orange cast. Similarly, fluorescent lights, while producing bright light, is actually green. The human eye simply processes these different sorts of light with a built-in white balance, so we don’t see it.
My suggestion is buying blue “daylight” bulbs and a couple of cheap lamp stands. The subtle blue-white light thrown out by the daylight bulbs simulates real UV daylight illuminates your work area without turning everything bright orange in the photograph.
If you’re shooting outdoors…
A sunny/cloudy but bright day.
A big white cotton bed sheet.
A friend or washing line.
If you have a friend, this is easy. Go outside and set your piece up in the direct sunlight. Have your friend stand over the piece whilst blocking the direct sun with the white sheet. Take as many pictures as you like. The sheet acts as a diffuser and will evenly distribute the light across your work and gently illuminates the piece without making it glary. If you can, make sure you turn your flash off, though the amount of light on a sunny day through a sheet should be enough to make the camera work without the automatic flash coming on.
If you don’t have a friend handy, your washing line can be a godsend. Just throw the sheet over the top of the line and secure it with pegs to make sure it doesn’t slide off, and then set up your work in the bright spot beneath. Of course, this only really works effectively if you’ve got a washing line in a sunny spot of your yard.
If it’s a bright but cloudy day, you have it really easy. This is the sort of day that professional photographers live for, trust me. Just set up outside and start shooting away. The clouds behave in the same way as the sheet does and shadows and glare aren’t a problem at all!
If you’re shooting indoors…
A large white, cloudy transparent (not opaque!) plastic storage container acts as a mini studio and much like the sheet outdoors, it will reflect and diffuse the light shining into it. Rather than repeating other tutorials, head over to this tutorial for a general set up which is pretty good.
You can also use a light box on which to set up your pieces however this is really only good for things like catseye beads, crystals, glass and any bead that is transparent or translucent. The light box will shine a gentle light up through the crystals or beads and illuminate them. If the glow is too strong, a white sheet or a couple of layers of tracing paper can dull the light to a more appropriate level.
As a third option you can also build a “light dome” which is extremely easy and inexpensive. Simply take a two or three litre plastic milk bottle and pull the labels off it. Then cut it in half. In one side, cut a hole big enough for the front of your camera to fit through. Then all you have to do is set your piece up, pop your camera into the hole, focus and then shoot! The light will be caught in the dome and evenly distributed over the piece, both getting avoiding shadows and illuminating the whole piece at once.
Point of note:
Natural light will always look better than artificial light. You will probably find your best results will come from those pictures where the light has been good and you haven’t had to use a flash.
If you can get your hands on a tripod, I strongly recommend using it. Using a tripod will mean that you can take longer exposures (ie, your camera’s shutter will remain open for much longer as it captures the image) and thus make a picture that’s rich with detail and colour without the annoying glaring effects of flash.
If you don’t own a camera that has a screw thread or a fixture that allows it to be hooked up to a tripod, then you can make a beanbag (or use one of those heat pads if you’ve got one) and set your camera up on a stool or chair. The bead-bag will absorb most vibrations from your work area. Instant $2 tripod.
Working with a tripod also means no flash, as you don’t need to hold the camera and thus elliminates the chance of camera shake (“fuzzy photos”).
I hope you find this info useful!
The work featured on this page was designed, made and photographed by Ren – Beading Forum.