How to Photograph Jewellery
For many of us, Valentine’s Day brings shiny gifts in velvet boxes. From exquisitely cut diamond earrings, to luxury gold wristwatches, or perhaps a momentous engagement ring; for the keen shutterbug, such beautiful subjects are sure to inspire you to grab your camera. If you’re an aspiring product photographer, or you just want to add that perfect shot of your engagement ring to your wedding photo book, trying your hand at photographing jewellery is the perfect opportunity to really test your skills. With reflective surfaces and tiny details to navigate, jewellery photography is notoriously tricky. That’s why we’ve compiled our list of helpful tips, to get you started on your journey to learning how to photograph jewellery like a pro.
Your jewellery photography kit list:
As with all forms of photography, preparation is key to a successful shoot! Be sure to get the right kit together before you take out your camera.
- A macro lens is generally considered the best for taking photographs of jewellery. This is especially relevant if you want to take pictures of earrings and other smaller pieces. Generally, any DSLR camera will do a good job, if you have the right lens to put on it.
- A tripod is a must, as such small subjects require a completely steady camera.
- A remote control shutter release or use the timer option, if your camera has one. The small amount of shake from your finger pressing the shutter button can ruin a clear macro photograph.
- A soft jewellery cloth for cleaning your piece before you get started. Your camera will pick up any dust particles and smudges on the jewellery, even if you can’t see them with the naked eye.
- Gloves or finger cots are also useful here, giving you the freedom to handle and reposition your jewellery between shots without leaving oils from your skin on the piece.
- Holding wax can be useful, depending upon what type of jewellery you want to photograph and your desired posing or composition. For example, if you wish to photograph a ring standing on its side.
Your jewellery photography lighting setup:
All good photography starts with the right lighting. For jewellery photography, you need bright but evenly diffused light. This could be achieved in a number of ways, depending upon your budget:
Shooting indoors, by a sunny window covered with a net curtain. Obviously this is dependent on weather conditions and your light will be inconsistent from shot to shot, so not the best option if you would like to take a series of photographs to use together. A desk lamp positioned above your subject, diffused through paper or a sheet. This is more consistent than sunlight, but you may have to experiment with different types of bulb to achieve a level of brightness that flatters your piece.
A good jewellery photography lighting set up for diamonds and gems, is to light the back and side of your piece. Back light really brings out the clarity and shine of your jewels, while a side light will ensure your image doesn’t look flat. Ensure all lighting sources are of a similar colour temperature to avoid white balance issues.
A softbox or lightbox. The easiest setup for those learning how to photograph jewellery, as you’ll get nice, evenly distributed light.
A note about flash: The flash on your camera is too bright and unnatural to result in a flattering shot of jewellery. If you must use a flash, use an off-camera flash, and point it at the wall or ceiling instead of at your subject.
How To Photograph Jewellery
Jewellery photography is especially unforgiving when it comes to getting the correct white balance, so we recommend setting it manually according to your light sources. Failing to get the right white balance can make silver look gold, and make gold look brassy. So take your first few shots in Live View mode, and review each shot you take to make sure the tones reflect the real deal in front of you.
As already mentioned, for tiny pieces such as earrings and rings, you’re going to need a macro shot with a low aperture. However, this is not the case for all pieces of jewellery, such as a statement necklace. It’s also worth keeping your purpose in mind; if you are trying your hand at product photography, it’s important to keep the entire piece in focus, so use a high aperture (f/11 or greater) for larger pieces to show off as much of the product as possible.
Avoiding reflections is difficult when shooting products with highly reflective surfaces- the last thing you want is your beautiful macro shot of a silver bracelet marred by your own reflection staring back at you! One of the easiest ways to tackle this is by using a light box as your jewellery photography lighting setup, as the white walls will eliminate unwanted reflections and colours from the sides. If you struggle not to catch your own reflection, cut a hole in a large piece of white card and place it over the camera with just the lens poking through.
Choosing the right background for jewellery photography
The background you photograph against can make the world of difference to your shot. There’s no one-size-fits-all rule, as every piece of jewellery is unique. For example, light toned pieces, such as silver and white gold, can look lost on a white background. That’s why often when you shop online, you’ll notice that silver jewellery photography tends to be against a dark coloured or black background to provide contrast. On the other hand, white backgrounds are better for bouncing light back at your piece, which is great for making poorly cut gems appear more attractive.
Are you finding your jewellery photography appears two-dimensional and uninspiring? This is especially common when photographing on a white background. You can counteract this with simple pieces of grey, black or white card. Position your pieces of card around your subject but outside of your shot, causing the colours to be reflected (for black or grey card) and bouncing the light back at the product from different angles (for white card). Move the card around until you get a result that looks flattering.
Diamond Jewellery Photography Tips
Diamonds and gems present some extra challenges all of their own, so sometimes the rules are a little different. Follow these handy tips to help you capture your favourite gems at their very best.
Diamonds are all about clarity, so really flatter the stone with bright light and high contrast images. For transparent gems such as diamonds, try experimenting with direct lighting. Especially if your gem is well cut, and features desirable phenomena such as chatoyancy or asterism, direct lighting can provoke light dispersion in a way that really shows off the stone’s qualities. For coloured diamonds, or other stones that are prized for their colour such as sapphires and rubies, stick to dispersed lighting. The scattered light will bring out the colours, whereas direct lighting will darken the stone. Most gemstones are cut to show their best traits when viewed from above, so be sure to photograph your diamond from a straight-on angle. Alternatively for cabochons, take an angled view rather than straight on. This will stop your stone appearing flat, and also give you more of opportunity to capture a flattering sheen of light.
Creative Jewellery Photography Ideas
Now you’re on your way to learning how to photograph jewellery from a technical standpoint, it’s time to let your creativity shine! It’s composition and creative flair that really makes good photography great, and jewellery photography is no different. We’ve got a couple of ideas to help get you started.
Jewellery lends itself well to still life photography as it benefits greatly from situations with controlled lighting. Items with emotional value, such as wedding rings and family heirlooms, are perfect for creating emotive compositions that utilise elements of visual storytelling.
With regards to composition, we all know about the rule of thirds. But don’t underestimate how pleasing to the eye symmetry can be. Most jewellery pieces feature symmetrical designs, so play this up with your jewellery photography by throwing the rule of thirds out the window! Symmetrical composition can really highlight the evenly designed pieces. While we’re on the subject of symmetry, try experimenting with reflections and mirrors. Placing your jewellery piece on a mirror is a simple way to really show it off from every angle.
If you want to showcase your beautifully crafted jewellery, avoid the “flat lay” as favoured by social media sites like Instagram. Photographing from above like this will fail to show off the intricate craftsmanship of the carefully moulded details and settings.
Fill the frame with as much of the piece as possible. This is especially relevant if you’re using smaller items like rings alongside other props. It’s easy for small pieces to become overwhelmed, and lose their place as the focus of your image.
When it comes to selecting a background for jewellery photography, choose a something that reflects the character of your piece. For quirky statement pieces, look at reflecting the tone of this in your shot, paying attention to complimentary colours. While for more delicate pieces of jewellery, busy backgrounds can be far too overwhelming, so err on the side of minimalism. Shiny marble and wood textures are some good alternatives to plain white or black backgrounds, too.
Trying your hand at fashion jewellery photography is another great way to photograph jewellery creatively. Showing the piece on a model gives your viewer more context; showcasing the size of the piece, how it lies when worn, and conveying a real sense of personality.
These are just a few ideas to get you inspired. As with all art forms, it’s your own individual creative flair and unique photographer’s eye that makes for really special jewellery photography.