Etsymetal Bog Carnival - Photography Tips

This month members of the Etsymetal team share their photography tips and tricks. 
What are your photography secrets?! Any tips, tricks, what works best for you, what doesn't? How often do you photograph your work? Do you have an expensive set-up or a homemade one. Your best piece of advice for photographing jewelry. Show us some of your best photos.

When it comes to selling jewelry online photos are the most important selling tools. For customers it's all they have to visualize a piece and make their buying decisions. How you photograph your art can also set a style of branding for your business or shop. When I look at Etsy shops I usually prefer the ones that have a cohesive photography style. It does not mean every single shot has to look the same. In contrary. That would be quite boring and probably make me move on very fast. But the photos should look good together on a page. They should pop and be inviting even in small thumbnail views. Different angles of the work is nice. Often art pieces have a more photogenic side. It takes trial and error to find the right angle that brings out the beauty of the piece best.

I photograph my work almost daily now. Whenever I finish a piece it gets shot to be listed online. I also photograph all custom orders before they ship to document the outcome. I usually take photographs in the evening after being finished in the studio and when my hands are all clean again from the daily dirty work.
I use a light tent, multiple daylight lamps, a Nikon D50 SLR camera with a macro lense set on a tripod. The light tent gives the right light diffusion and blocks out most reflections from surrounding objects. Taking pictures of jewelry is challenging especially when it is highly polished. It becomes a hassle to try to eliminate unwanted reflections.

photo setup
Photo set up with multiple lights, a diffusing tent, tripod and camera

I have to say the lights are the most important tool. I started first with a lower priced setup of 12" tent with some studio lights with daylight bulbs. It worked well for a couple years but I was still getting the feeling I needed more lights. The previous small setup I used on my dining room table when needed. This became quite a hassle putting it up and down every day, I needed a permanent setup for some quick shots.
So a couple years later I set up a permanent spot for my photography and got floor lamps with soft boxes and reflectors. They really blast the tent with light which helps especially with the dark backgrounds I use.
I also have a LED sparkler light which I use when I want to bring some sparkle into faceted stones. A LED flash light would be a low cost option.

Bringing out some sparkles in diamonds with LED lights

I prefer dark backgrounds for my photos. They create a nice high contrast to the light silver colors of my jewelry. I was never able to photograph well on white backgrounds. It usually just looked washed out. I usually don't use any props like rocks, twigs or any other item. It just does not work well for my designs and distracts too much from it.

photo setup for gray gradient reflective backgrounds

I mostly use a gradient background now. It allows me to vary the darkness of my background. If I need a slightly lighter background to bring out some stone colors I photograph the object closer to the front. If I need a darker background, I slide the paper a bit forward and photograph over a darker portion of the gradient paper. The paper is laid on the bottom of the tent and wraps up in the back to create a seamless background. To protect the paper from scratches, dirt and to get a reflection of the piece on the ground I use a glass plane elevated on some boxes. This softens the background and the paper last longer. I prefer glass over plexy as it does not scratch as easy and it's easy to clean with some Windex. It's just a non-glare glass I took out of a cheap picture frame. If one prefers a colored background, it's pretty easy to replace the gradient background with any colored paper of your choice. One disadvantage of dark background is that they show every little dust particle that makes it into the shot. And they always are in there no matter how well one cleans everything. It's pretty much always required to do some retouching in a photo editing program to get rid of those.

To stand objects like ring up I use an adhesive putty. A tiny rolled up bead placed under the shank of the ring works wonders. Try to make the bead small enough so it does not show in the photo, it's easier on wider ring shanks of course. Alternatively a soft wax like micro-crystalline wax can also be used but it often leaves a residue on the glass which then needs to get cleaned again. The putty is not as sticky as wax but also cleans easier from the class and barely leaves any residue.

Standing a ring up with the help of some adhesive putty

For small objects like rings I use a 40mm macro lens which creates a blur in the background with a sharp focus on the front. It makes the picture very 3 dimensional. Plus I can get pretty close to the object without looking focus. When I need a wider focus field for larger objects like bracelets I use a 18-55mm lens.  The camera is set on either the macro setting or I also use some manual settings to allow more control over the apertures.

I shoot everything in RAW format and always multiple views of the object from different angles. To get 5 nice shots I go though at least 20 to 50 pictures to select the best angles. Those selected pictures go through some Photoshop adjustments.

In the RAW format editor I adjust the white balance as needed, crop the image and adjust some light levels and contrast. It then gets imported into Photoshop. Nice thing about the RAW format is that It always keep all the original imformation available in case I have to go back to use the same picture for other adjustments again. Bad thing is that RAW images are large files and will clock up your computer memory quickly.

Once in Photoshop I sharpen the photo, take out any noise like dust particles via the heal function, adjust any colors as needed to reflect the true colors of the piece and do some fine tuning of the contrast via the curves function. The goal is to make the image be a true reflection of the piece, not to make it look better or worse than it really is. So go easy on adjustments. It's a fine line between having great real looking photos to looking fake.  In my first years those adjustments took forever but now I pretty much have my routine set and it only takes a minute or so to run through it. Time still adds up and is something to be considered in the pricing of your work.

Please read the tips and tricks other members employ to get their stunning photos:

Lou Hunter:
Laura Jane Bouton
Deborah Lee Taylor:
Abella Blue:
Evelyn Markasky

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