Perhaps you have an old ring that you’d like to sell on eBay, or maybe you’ve started an Etsy shop selling vintage jewelry that you have collected. If you want to sell jewelry online, know that it is a big and growing market, and the key to selling your pieces is having great photographs of them. But photographing jewelry is difficult — there are no two ways about it. Jewelry is usually highly polished, extremely shiny, and often as reflective as a mirror. And when the piece includes colored stones and diamonds, getting a great photo of your merchandise can be a truly daunting task.
Professional photographers can spend thousands of dollars on specialized equipment, lights, sets, and the like, but there are ways for amateurs to get good results without breaking the bank. In the following article, we’ll look at a few of the issues involved in photographing jewelry to sell, and what kinds of solutions are available to the amateur photographer with a modest budget.
Basic Necessities for Photographing Jewelry to Sell
First of all, you’ll have to have a decent camera–your cell phone might take good snapshots, but you’re going to need a little more flexibility than that. Any basic digital SLR should be fine, but you will need a macro lens for the close up necessities of photographing jewelry. You’ll also need to be able manage some manual settings, like shutter speed and aperture.
A tripod or similar camera support to stabilize your camera is a must. Even the steadiest hands will move slightly, blurring your photo, and the closer you get to your subject, the more noticeable this becomes. You don’t need to spend a fortune, but the sturdier the tripod you have, the sharper your images will be. If your camera has a remote shutter release, you should use it. If it doesn’t, use the camera’s built in timer to minimize camera shake.
Finally, you’ll need to find a way to appropriately light your subject. Your camera’s flash simply won’t perform adequately for photographing jewelry. Not only is it too bright, but the flash will create both bright spots and dark shadows, neither of which will help sell your jewelry. While there are many commercially available lighting systems, you should be able to get decent results on a modest budget.
Cameras simply record the light in a given scene. No matter how good your camera is, if your subject isn’t lit properly, the images you capture will fall short of your expectations. Diffuse, continuous, soft light is a necessity–anything else and you are likely to be disappointed with the results. Daylight balanced compact fluorescent bulbs provide natural-colored light in an economical fashion, but even these light sources will need to be diffused, or harsh shadows are likely.
One way to achieve this goal is to purchase or make a light box or light tent. Light tents are made of translucent material hung around a frame. The fabric surrounds your subject and diffuses light coming from the outside, so that you can place your lights in close proximity to the subject without creating distracting glare or shadows. Commercially available models feature a variety of backgrounds and ways to mount your jewelry, as well as zippered openings for your camera lens. You can also build your own light box out of cardboard and fabric, though achieving great results with this set up will likely take some experimentation.
The light fixtures themselves can be anything from expensive professional instruments to drop lights to simple desk lamps. You will need at least two and they should have the flexibility to be posed at different heights and angles. Many photographers find that a more powerful light placed on one side of the tent can create depth and dimension–similar effects are possible by situating the lights at different distances from the subject.
Be sure to use the same kind of light when you are lighting from multiple sources. Mixing tungsten lights with halogens or fluorescents can easily distort the colors.
Custom White Balance Adjustment
When taking pictures against a white background, you will need to be able to program the white balance setting on your camera. When properly programed, the camera will adjust itself to the ambient light in your light tent, and give you accurate and true colors of the jewelry you are photographing. Adjusting this setting varies with cameras, so you may have to dig out the owner’s manual.
Depth of Field and Focus
To get the entire piece of jewelry in focus, it is important to set the depth of field to a maximum. Put your camera in aperture priority mode and set the aperture to the highest number, for most consumer cameras, F8.0. The closer you get to your subject, the more important this becomes.
To ensure your image is as sharp as possible, make sure you understand your camera’s auto focus. Most digital cameras with auto-focus are difficult to use when shooting close-ups. Try using your camera’s spot focus mode to give you more control over exactly what part of the scene the camera is actually focusing on.
Finding the Correct Shutter Speed
Once your camera is set to the correct settings (macro-mode, custom white balance, highest F-stop), you can experiment with the shutter speed. The shutter speed (along with aperture) controls the amount of light captured by the camera–too much and the photo is too bright, not enough and it is too dark. To find the correct shutter speed, it is necessary to experiment a bit, especially when using a white background. Use your camera’s image screen to evaluate the exposure and choose what you think is the best balance between your photo being too dark and too light. Next, take two more photos, one shutter speed lower and one shutter speed higher. Transfer these three photos to your computer and decide which is the best exposure, and then go back to shooting your piece.
Once you have your basic set-up, don’t hesitate to get creative. Different backgrounds and various surfaces (like black glass or acrylic) can lead to fantastic results. Also, look to the biggest names in jewelry for ideas about how to pose your pieces. Tiffany photos in particular are always inspirational.