Cari Ordway produces some of the finest beaded jewelry around and when she needed some jewelry photography to showcase her work, she called me. I thought I would share a little insight on the art of jewelry photography and some of the issues that must be addressed.
Jewelry photography fits under the heading of product photography and offers some unique challenges. The first challenge is the size of the subject matter. Rings, bracelets, earrings, necklaces and broaches can have intricate detail on a very small scale. The next challenge is reflectivity. A large percentage of jewelry is created using valuable metals such as gold, silver and platinum and all can be quite shiny and reflective. The third challenge is a background upon which to set the jewelry to be photographed. You want the background to enhance the jewelry without overwhelming it. So how do we tackle these challenges? I’ll give you some insight.
The size of jewelry can be tough to capture for photographers. Most lenses will not focus at the close distances needed to capture all the fine detail that jewelry has to offer. So a specialty lens is required, a lens that allows the photographer to move in close to the subject at hand. You need a macro lens. Macro lenses are designed to focus at distances that other lenses can not, sometimes allowing the camera to get within inches of the subject. The next problem to overcome is the lack of depth of field at close distances. Depth of field is the area in focus. The closer you are to your subject the less depth of field you have. To overcome this you need to photograph close subjects using small aperture settings. The smaller the aperture the greater the depth of field. Without getting too technical, the aperture of a lens is adjustable and measured in f stops. Aperture refers to the opening that allows light to enter into the lens. If you set the aperture to its largest opening you have the shallowest depth of field and if you set the aperture to its smallest opening you have the greatest depth of field. If you want your jewelry to be in focus from front to back, use the smallest aperture setting your lens has.
Reflectivity is tough to overcome. What do I mean by this? Try photographing a mirror or a round chrome object without seeing your reflection or any other reflection in it. If I set a chrome ball on a black background the lower part of the ball will reflect black. Unfortunately most people perceive chrome as being shiny and white and would like to see it represented this way. There are many methods to achieve this, using white reflector cards around the subject, building a white room or retouching the subject using Photoshop. Sometimes it is a combination of these techniques that is required. Sorry but there is no hard and fast rule on how to accomplish this task. If you want to practice, try photographing a shiny silver punch bowl – I did. This will give you a better understanding of the challenges involved and how to overcome them.
Backgrounds are important. You want a background that enhances the overall image while at the same time allowing the jewelry to standout. Backgrounds that have lots of detail in them will compete for attention and be a distraction. Same goes for backgrounds with loud colors. Remember this line when shooting products: “The product is the hero.” Anything that interferes or competes for attention in a product photography image is an unwanted distraction.
Jewelry photography presents many challenges but when these issues are tackled properly the end result can be a piece of artwork unto itself.
Thanks for reading – Chuck