Tips for photographing jewellery

I’ve noticed that a lot of people who make fantastic jewellery, don’t always have basic photography knowledge, and therefore don’t present their creations properly. Their beautiful work doesn’t get noticed because of blurry, under or overexposed, badly composed photos. I’ve decided to write a set of tips, that seem quite obvious to everybody who had anything to do with photography on a level higher than point-and-shoot holiday snapshots, but could be helpful to amateurs. Some of these tips are also relevant to photographing any other crafts, like knitted items, wood work etc.

Calibrate your monitor

I’m not going to explain how to calibrate your monitor, because there are literally thousands of detailed articles about it online. I will point you to the first article that the search engine I’m using produced:

Change your camera settings

Set your camera to shoot RAW instead of JPG. This will probably mean, that you have to switch off the “auto” settings and use the semi-manual or fully manual mode. Don’t panic, it’s not that difficult. Read your camera’s documentation, it will have all the relevant information.

Always shoot RAW. If you shoot RAW, you can tweak the image afterwards the way you like (unless it’s really badly over or underexposed). If you shoot JPG however, you have to rely on your photographic skills (which you most likely don’t possess if you’re actually reading this article) to take the photo accurately, with the right white balance, contrast and exposure, because you can’t do much with a JPG image, if it’s overexposed, for example.

Some cameras don’t have a RAW mode and only shoot JPG. In this case what you need to do is:

  1. Reduce your camera’s contrast. The default settings probably have high contrast, so you have to set it to as low as possible. Low contrast can be increased in any photo editing programme, but when it’s too high, there’s not much you can do about the photo.
  2. Create custom white balance for each photo session. Yes, for each one. Because the light and its temperature change all the time. To set a custom white balance you will need a white or grey paper and you will need to take a photo of it. It needs to fully cover the frame of your picture. So, just the sheet, not what’s around it. When you have a photo, you will have to figure out how to use it to set the custom white balance. Your camera’s manual will tell you how to do it, so read it and find the relevant piece of information.

Never use the built in flash

Your camera probably has a built in flash. Built in flash is evil. It will make your jewellery look like crap. Do not use it. If it’s too dark to take photos without flash, don’t take photos. Wait for a better light. Or use a tripod.

Always shoot in the daylight

It helps with the white balance issues. I go outside and take all photos on my balcony, because it’s too dark inside the house, but if you have enough light at home you can use it in a creative way. Outdoor photos look more natural and give a better understanding of how the piece will look on a person. Avoid, however, a very strong light, as it will give you too much contrast and weird shadows. Partial overcast days are perfect, but a shady spot on a sunny day is also good. Shooting with artificial light sources when you don’t have experience, however, may result in heavy noise, underexposure, yellow tint, blur and other unpleasant effects that you really want to avoid.

Remove the clutter

I know it may seem obvious to the most of you, but there really are people who will photograph their jewellery on a fluffy, bright pink paisley pyjamas top with random items lying around. Everything that isn’t your jewellery, distracts the viewer from it. The best ways to work is:

  • Get an appropriate display (I”ve got mine from Ebay) and put it against something neutral.
  • Ask someone to model for you.
  • Put jewellery on something that will make it look like a part of environment; I sometimes put my pendants on a brick wall on my balcony, between some ivy twigs. With some pendants it looks just lovely, but some are totally different style, so it’s better to go neutral in such cases.
  • Use props. A lot of people use books, glasses, various types of paper, natural items like pieces of wood or stone. Everything will be fine, as long as it doesn’t distract from the main subject but helps to expose it, and is not totally irrelevant.
  • If nothing helps, you can use your own hand to hold the piece (I had been doing this for months before I bought a display and it seemed to be working), but it’s more difficult to take a focused photo.
  • After you’ve taken a photo and downloaded it onto your hard drive, crop it properly to remove all unnecessary stuff. Remember that your photo will have to be around 800 pixels wide on average  for web display, so you can’t have your piece covering just 20% of it, or it will be too small and the details won’t be visible.

Never publish blurry photos

If your photos are too blurry it can mean a few things, but usually not enough light is the issue. Try to reduce the shutter speed (higher values, for example from 30 to 60, it actually means a fragment of second, 1/30 and 1/60 in this case, that the shutter is open) and open the aperture hole a bit (lesser values, for example reduce 8 to 5.6). Use a tripod. You can increase the ISO sensitivity, but this can result in a nasty noise on your photos, so do that only if nothing else helps.

Anyway, if you’ve taken several photos and they’re all blurry, repeat the photo session until you get it right. Seriously, there’s nothing worse for your product than a blurry photo.

That’s all for now. Remember, that the quality of your photos is as important as the quality of your jewellery creations. It tells the viewers whether you are professional at what you do or not, if you treat them, the viewers, AND your work seriously. People won’t spend their precious seconds reading your description, when they see a photo that’s too dark and blurry, they will just discard your page and move on to another artisan’s shop. So it’s in your best interest, that the photo they see attract their attention immediately and not scare them off instead.

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