Photographing Jewellery is one of the most difficult tasks in photography. Tiny, highly reflective, nuanced objects are a nightmare! This post tackles the problems, suggests answers and prescribes one successful method that solves the conundrum of how to photograph jewellery.
These are the major problems that you'll have to deal with.
- Reflections of the camera and the studio
- Showing the light in gemstones
- Dirt on the pieces
- Depth of Field
There is no way of eliminating all reflections in camera. At the very least you will see the lens in any reflective surface. Especially where the reflective surface is curved. You can use a light tent, but that tends to create a flat, lifeless image. Jewellery is all about nuance.
The answer here is twofold. Use flags to block the reflections, I use white foam core positioned around the object and above and below the lens. You can cut out a circular hole in order to minimise reflections of the camera. This leaves only the lens, which you will have to deal with in Photoshop. This method has the advantage of reflecting light from behind the jewellery back onto the piece.
Showing the light in Gemstones
The problem here is that if you use a conventional studio light from the front of the piece, you'll see a large highlight in the reflective surface. You need a much smaller light, shone precisely on the gemstone at the optimal angle to produce the best light for the gemstone.
We use Elinchrom glass fibre tubes with lenses to produce pinpoint flares, but these are prohibitively expensive and I think it would be possible to improvise a solution using a lens and a small, powerful torch.
You'll be amazed how filthy jewellery gets if it is taken straight out of the display case. Your photograph will be up to five times the size of the actual piece and every single flake of dust, hair, fingerprint etc will show up.
Two solutions, Jewellers need to provide clean pieces - its too much responsibility for the studio to clean very valuable pieces. Secondly, wear lint free gloves when touching the jewellery. Yes, this will make you look like a music hall magician, but you'll soon see that it's worth it when you start cleaning the image up in Photoshop.
Depth of Field
Some jewellery photography works well, aesthetically at least, with a shallow depth of field. However somebody considering purchasing jewellery will want to see the whole thing in detail. For this you need a deep depth of field.
Some people recommend shooting at F22. This risks introduce distortion around the edges of the image and dramatically reduces the amount of light entering the lens with a knock on effect on the background colour. If you're aiming for a white background, this method simply won't work. If the item is larger than an earring it won't work in any case because you'll be shooting so close to the item that "deep" manifests as a few millimetres.
In editorial photography where the item is seen in the context of other items, then a tilt shift lens will allow you to achieve extra depth of field at the expense of losing focus in other areas of the picture. Sometimes his can be used creatively to improve the aesthetic appearance of the image.
The picture here was achieved by focus stacking. I used nine images, each with a different focal point achieved by using a Novoflex Castel-L rail, not by altering the focal point of the lens. The images are combined in software. In this way, I was able to control the depth of field and see the back of the rings as clearly as the front. In the image of the necklace at the top of this post, I was able to achieve focus across a much more dramatic depth using twenty different shots.
I use one of two lenses in my jewellery photography, depending on what I need to achieve. The EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS lens and the Canon TS-E 90mm f2.8.
How to Photograph Jewellery
So that's the method I use to get the results you see here. There is more, much more. I'll share it as I find it! I hope you find this useful and good luck with one of the most frustrating, but rewarding types of photography!