Jewelry photography can be tricky. For those of you who are learning to DIY product photos, I’ve outlined some equipment suggestions and a whole bunch of tips on how to photograph jewelry on a white background.
Do you need a DSLR? Which lenses to buy? What camera settings should you use? What type of a white backdrop to use? How do you edit jewelry in Photoshop? Should you buy a standard jewelry photography kit?
Metal catches reflections of anything around it and makes the metal look black. How do you control reflections?
And unlike many other types of products, when photographing jewelry, your image is frequently larger than the actual size of the piece. This makes the editing process tedious because it takes time to remove things like dust, scratches and spots that are visible in the image but aren’t visible when looking at the product.
Read on for my photography process. Or if you want to dive into something specific, please click through the links below.
Equipment Suggestions for Jewelry Photography
Camera & Lenses
For taking pictures of jewelry or most other product work, you are shooting from 1-2 feet away from the product. To get the entire product to be clear, you need to be able to control the aperture setting on your camera. Any DSLR lets you control aperture. So all you need is a starter DSLR like the D3400 or similar, which will cost less than $500 (or less if you buy it used). I use the D5500, which has similar specs as the D3400 but it’s lighter and has a movable LCD. Those are nice to have features but not necessary. The newer model is D5600 which gives you some wifi capabilities as well. If you’re starting out, stick to the D3400.
On lenses, for most jewelry, the 18-55mm lens that comes with most DSLR’s works well. For products that are two inches wide or lower e.g. small studs, rings, pins, coins, etc., I use the Nikon 105mm Macro. Focus stacking: a macro lens is typically used to focus stack – a process where you take multiple images of the same product and blend them into one. When I’m photographing small items like rings or studs, I usually blend images. See this post for an illustration of macro jewelry photography.
For more info, see this post on cameras and lenses.
It may be tempting to buy a cheap tripod. But in jewelry photography, you frequently need to change tripod height and shooting angles. So get a tripod that is easy to work with. I tried cheaper tripods and found it hard to use them.
Also, when photographing jewelry, shooting top-down is a frequent occurrence e.g. if you want to photograph a necklace in full, you’ have to lay it flat on a table and shoot from the top. So I’d recommend a tripod with a horizontal arm. Check this one out but there are many others in different price points to choose from.
Reflectors are the white boards shown in the above image – they are used to direct all available light on to the product. Notice the placement of the two boards – they are angled to be opposite each of the lights at the back i.e. each light hits one of the boards and reflects back to the product. Reflectors are very useful in product photography – moving them around allows you to move the light to focus on different parts of the product and can create nice effects on metal.
I use white board that you can get at any local craft store or a printing shop. I have them cut into short and tall sizes to allow for some flexibility.
Reflectors also help block outside reflections from hitting the jewelry – when working with shiny gold and silver jewelry, anything from outside the studio space appears as black reflections on the product. By placing the white boards around, these reflections are minimized and can be controlled – similar to what the white tent like set ups help you do – but these are more flexible because you can move them around.
Another accessory I use frequently is the lens mount reflector – this is a white fabric reflector shown below that goes over the lens to block the camera/tripod from reflecting back on to the product. Someone needs to make an all-white camera and tripod!! Notice that my light stands are white too so it limits dark reflections on the product.
Lighting & Background
There are many lighting set ups that are available – from tents to big box light with stands to strobes and flashes. Strobes and flashes are not required.
If you’re working from home or a small studio and need something compact, try these lights on a table top. For the background, use a white paper roll as a backdrop. See images above for an illustration.
The standard tent like kit set ups are fine too but the lights that come with those set ups are usually not too bright. This tent kit has bigger lights but due to the shorter light stands, it’s not very flexible. I don’t recommend the tent kit set ups – I tried them and they didn’t work for me. I use the tabletop lights with white paper as shown above.
Background set up to get a white background
To get the background white straight from the camera, you need to light the background. Just because your backdrop is white doesn’t mean the camera sees it as white. For example, a white wall in a dark room is not going to look white. So point a light directly at the background and one below the item so the bottom surface and background are both white. Here is the type of background that allows you to do this – note that the table is made of plastic so placing a light at the back and the bottom comes through the background. More information on this in the next section.
Props used to Photograph Jewelry
Here are some jewelry photography props that I use to place jewelry during photography.
Jewelry Editing Tips
A white background is standard for product photography. While you can light the background to get this effect straight from the camera, it’s rarely perfect and time consuming when working with a lot of products that vary in size and shape. Plus, most of the time, your props/accessories show in the frame which need to be edited out.
To get product photos on a white background – you have three options.
- To get the white background straight from the camera, see this post. It requires lights below and behind the product. Can get tricky if you’re working in a small space or don’t want to buy too much equipment.
- Outsource background removal to sites like pixelz.com – they have a network of editors who they’ve vetted. Saves you a lot of time and doesn’t cost much.
- To remove the background yourself in Photoshop, see this video on how to use the pen tool. This is a very time consuming process and I don’t recommend doing this unless you only have a few pieces.
This is a feature in photoshop (and photoshop elements) and that is used to sharpen your image. For web photos, if you are using a starter DSLR and shooting at F14 or similar aperture, start with an ‘amount’ setting of 70, radius of 2 and threshold of 0 – in my experience, this works well most of the time. If not, then move the sliders around till you like what you see. Here is a more detailed video by Adobe on unsharp mask that explains what these settings mean.
Spot Healing Brush
This is a very frequently used tool in product photography. It’s a photoshop feature that easily lets you remove dust, scratches and blemishes from your product. Here is a video to illustrate how to use the spot healing brush on products.
In jewelry photography, the clone tool is typically used to replace stones. For example, say we have a ring that has multiple equal sized stones and one of them doesn’t sparkle well enough. I clone the stone that looks right and paste it on top of the bad stone to fix it. Used for any product that has a repeating pattern or design. I couldn’t find a good video to post on this but look it up on YouTube and watch a few videos to get an idea of how to use this. Very useful when working with jewelry that has a lot of small stones.
These definitions do not go in depth. They are here to give you a quick overview of what they do.
The Aperture setting controls the blur in your photo. For example, if you’ve seen portrait pics, where the person in the image is clear but the background is blurry – that is controlled by the aperture setting. For ecommerce product photos, you don’t want blurry. I usually set the aperture at F14 – for tabletop photos that you are photographing from 1-2 feet away, this setting usually works well. Here is more technical detail from Nikon on aperture settings.
This setting controls how fast the camera’s shutter stays open. The longer it stays open, the more light enters the camera. It’s measured in seconds. A slow setting leaves the shutter open for longer to allow more light to come in while a fast setting (shutter closes fast) limits the light coming in. So based on how much light you have in your studio area, try different shutter speed settings to get the product looking it’s best. Here is more info on shutter speed for product photography.
A low ISO setting e.g. ISO 100 gives you the clearest images. High settings like ISO 20000 are used when you’re shooting at night with limited light.However, the tradeoff is that high ISO settings cause the image to be a bit grainy, which you don’t want for product work. For product photography, you have enough light so always set it low. If the image looks dark, add more light or slower your shutter speed (which will give you more light) instead of increasing ISO. Keep ISO as low as you can.
If you use white lights, keep white balance on auto. You can get more fancy with white balance but usually the auto setting works well for me. This setting tells the camera how to define “white” so it reads other colors accordingly. For example, when shooting with tungsten bulbs (that has a yellow tint) the white balance would be changed to so your product colors would not be impacted by that yellow-ish red tint.
What Camera Settings Should You Use to Photograph Jewelry?
If you’re shooting product from 1-2 feet away, my standard settings are F14, ISO 100, WB Auto – start with this and adjust as needed. Shutter speed is the only variable – I tweak it as needed depending on the color of the product. Or shooting in Aperture mode works well too.
For more on camera modes and how to find your ideal settings: Read this post on camera settings.
You’ve probably come across posts that say you should always shoot in RAW mode when using a DSLR. Most photographers will disagree with me here but when working with a lot of images, I find that RAW slows me down. A RAW file is used when you want to do extensive editing to an image – think of a picture perfect sunset image that you see on a postcard – that image is likely shot in RAW and extensively edited. Product work is taken in a controlled lighting environment so it doesn’t require the level of editing that a RAW file allows you to do. Here is more information on the different image file formats.
Spot Focus Mode
Set the camera in “spot focus” mode. The normal focus mode of is kind of an average focus mode. This means that the camera will try to focus the entire scene of image. To control where the camera is focuses, it’s better to use the spot focus mode, which allows you to control more what the camera focuses on.
As with most creative work, there are different ways to get to the same outcome – each photographer has their own process that works for them. My general approach is to balance for quality and efficiency. If I was trying to take a few pics for a back page ad in a glossy magazine, then I may have recommended different equipment and kits but to photograph jewelry for ecommerce and catalogs, this process has worked well for me.
Jewelry photography requires some trial and error. Even the best photographers have to experiment with different settings to see what works best in different situations. So be patient and take the same photo with different aperture and shutter speed settings to see how images change.
If you’re looking to outsource your photography project, please view our homepage for our pricing and process.