With all those lights and all those shiny surfaces it’s understandable that rings, trinkets and necklaces aren’t easy to take pictures of. Which is why we’ve put together this perfect guide on how to photograph jewelry with 10 practical steps to follow for success.
I’ll show you how to avoid those reflections and glares (when you don’t want them) as well as how to set up your jewelry shots to look like a professional’s – even if you’re just a beginner.
Because jewelry is mostly made of reflective materials it means colours are hard to capture. Our advice would be to use white backdrop which should keep the true colour of your jewelry looking accurate.
Make yourself a small home studio using a white bed sheet or a dedicated light tent (and we have our own one if you’re interested?). Alternatively, you could use an old cardboard box and drape the white sheet over it, smoothing out any creases and lines to make the backdrop look seamless.
It’s fine to leave your jewelry on the surface and shoot it from a higher point of view. But if you prefer to make it look a little more professional then we’d advise you to purchase a mannequin bust – like the ones they use in shops for displaying necklaces.
They’ll give you a little more choice in angles while still making the item look natural.
If you don’t want to purchase a mannequin bust (maybe you’re not always photographing necklaces) then find some small boxes to place underneath the white sheet.
This can give a podium look to your home studio and it’s ideal for photographing rings, necklaces and earrings on different levels, all in one shot.
Firstly, avoid using your camera’s built-in/pop up flash – it’s too direct and harsh for photographing jewelry. You’ll only end up with harsh reflections and glares that you’ll spend ages editing out.
The overall aim of lighting when photographing jewelry is to keep it soft and keep shadows to a minimum. You may think that using a flash is pointless, but it can be modified.
If you really want to use flash (or you’ve got no other alternative) then make sure you diffuse/reflect the light first. Get yourself a white reflector as it bounces all directed light without colour casting (unlike gold and silver reflectors).
The light from off-camera flashes and even pop up flashes can be softened by placing a diffuser cap or scrim over the front. The thicker the diffuser (while still giving you a usable exposure) the better – as it will cut down on reflections.
Ideally natural light will be your best friend when photographing jewelry. You still want sunlight to be indirect so shoot on a cloudy day and bring your setup close to the largest window you have.
Just before you start shooting remember to turn off all other unnecessary light sources in the room. It’s important not to mix different types of lighting that may result in an unbalanced colour temperature.
When photographing jewelry keep in mind that metals and gemstones are highly reflective. Therefore, unless you account for it, you’ll be faced with reflections on the surface which can be more distracting than pleasing.
There’s no exact science on how to avoid reflections when photographing jewelry. It’s all trial and error – like many things in photography. But in order to capture clean looking shots, position your light overhead and shine down towards the jewelry. If you’re using multiple lights, position them at 45 degrees on either side to reduce shadows.
In summary, whichever way you choose to light your jewelry (naturally or with flash) then do your best to eliminate shadows. Large light sources closer to the jewelry will create soft light whereas light sources further away make the light harder.
The beauty of photographing jewelry is that the object is small and pretty. You shouldn’t have to do too much to keep it looking that good in a photo. With that said it’s important not to overlook composition. Keep the shot simple and focus on the item itself.
When you’re photographing necklaces, earrings or pendants it’s better to show them in-situ rather than just lying flat. If you’re taking photos of jewelry for commercial purposes then compose the shot so a customer could imagine how they’d look on them.
Using the mannequin bust as we said earlier would be a way to achieve that. Alternatively, hire a model to wear the items instead.
If you don’t want the jewelry to lie flat on a surface then get yourself some fishing wire and attach your items to it. Dangle it from above with a plain background behind and then edit the wire out afterwards to make it look like it’s floating in air!
Don’t forget to give the jewelry a proper clean beforehand to remove any fingerprints. Get a pair of lint free cloths to handle the items as you position them in the shot.
A good photo of anything is all about the photographer and not so much the camera. With that in mind it doesn’t matter what brand or model you’re using.
Instead, you need to focus your attention on using the right lens to take the best looking photographs of jewelry. You’ll be needing an aperture in the region of F/1.4-F/4.
Most kit lenses only go as wide as F/3.5 (and that’s around 18mm) so the focal length will be too short and the aperture too narrow for using standard equipment.
You may notice that your camera may have a dedicated macro function – sounds great? Well not always. These scene modes are still limited by the lens attached. Ideally for photographing jewelry you’ll need to purchase a macro lens.
While macro lenses are typically heavier than most kit lenses (because of the amount of glass instead – and the quality of it) it doesn’t mean they’re all expensive.
You can purchase ‘entry-level’ macro lenses for most DSLR and mirrorless cameras. Macro lenses come in a small range of focal lengths between 60mm – 150mm. Anything within this range would be fine for photographing jewelry.
Macro lenses shorter than 50mm are going to show some slight level of distortion the wider it goes. The last thing you want is for your jewelry to look distorted.
If you’re going to purchase a macro lens then consider one that is advertised as 1:1 magnification. This means how it appears on your shot is the same size of how it is in real life. You may see cheaper macros at 2:1 magnification – try your best to avoid these for accuracy purposes.
Another specification to look at a macro lens’ minimum focus distance. This is how close you can get to the jewelry and still use the autofocus (AF). Some macro lenses allow you to get closer than others.
Because of the small scale of jewelry, holding the camera still in your hand while focussing with a very shallow depth of field means you run the risk of missing focus – disaster!
This is why it’s important to invest in a reliable tripod. Not only could you miss focus but, if shooting at a slower shutter speed (below 1/30th) you could also incur camera shake as you take the shot.
We’d recommend using a ball head tripod to give you flexibility on the angle of your shot.
Though simply putting your camera on a tripod won’t solve all technical issues relating to sharpness. When taking your shot, if you’re shooting at a shutter speed slower than 1/30th, use a 2 second timer or a shutter release cable so that you’re not directly touching the camera when the shot is taken.
Depending upon the item of jewelry you’re trying to photograph your focus point will differ. But typically, the largest gemstone on show would be the best place to start.
If it’s a plain ring though, then aim to focus on the closest rim to the camera, or any visible inscription or pattern on the surface.
Because of the size of jewelry, using a single AF point which you can move around your screen to set is fine for this type of photography. Position the AF point on an edge where the camera can detect contrast between colours/brightness.
If you’re feeling adventurous some professional product photographers use manual focus (MF) instead. They find it to be a little more reliable and sharper, but it can take time to get used to and not all cameras have this function.
While shooting at wide apertures gives the benefit of a brighter shot it does reduce the depth of field – but that’s fine if you’re photographing a ring for example – but not if you’re shooting a full jewelry set.
Clustering lots of items together may make your composition look cluttered but spreading them out (with a shallow depth of field) means parts will be out of focus – what should you do?
This is where you take a series of images (in the exact same spot) but move the focus point each time from the bottom of the image to the top). This results in a run of shots where different parts of the jewelry are in focus.
Then it’s a case of taking all those shots into editing and compositing them all together using layer masks to hide all the blurred areas. In the end you should end up with a shot that’s sharp from front to back.
We mentioned earlier the problems of mixing light sources. It can result in two (or more) different colour temperatures. Your camera will do it’s best to balance it out (if on auto), but it’s better not to do this in the first place.
Colour accuracy is important when photographing jewelry (especially if you’re doing it for a client). The last thing you want is for the items to not look life-like – this is only going to cause complaints and returns for your client.
If your colour temperature is looking a little off and the jewelry isn’t appearing the same in camera as how you see it then you’ll need to tweak your colour balance.
Firstly, I’d recommend shooting in RAW. This will give you the most latitude when rebalancing the shot in post-production later.
Secondly, you could use a grey card. While having the camera in auto white balance mode (AWB) you can use this card either in-shot, or taken beforehand, to refer to as a standardised tone.
When you’re in post-production select the grey eye-dropper and click on the grey card in-shot. This means all the colours will be balanced based on that tone of middle grey.
Though most jewelry is silver or gold it doesn’t mean you can’t add other colours into your shot.
In fact, if you’re photographing colourful gems in your jewelry then adding the right complementing colour can create an attractive contrast. Refer to a colour wheel to remind yourself which colours go together. But don’t go crazy!
Remember that the jewelry is the most important subject in the scene and any other colours should only be subtle in the background or dressing of the shot.
You could also use different shades and tints of the main items colour too. Think about a green gemstone with light and dark green tones around it. Maybe the background is dark green perhaps?
Ultimately, aim to keep it to a minimum and avoid using too many shades that can distract your viewers’ attention away from your jewelry.
Continuing the discussion about colour accuracy it doesn’t stop after you’ve taken the shot. Choosing the right colour space when editing is important too.
If you know where your shot is going to be displayed (online or in print) then edit your jewelry photos in the right colour space for accuracy. Many DSLR and Mirrorless cameras will let you establish which colour space you want to shoot in-camera (either RGB or sRGB).
sRGB is the smallest colour space but made for online use. Red tones suffer the most when converting from RGB to sRGB. CMYK is a colour space used by some professional printers, but many home printers rely on RGB.
Getting your jewelry photography looking spot on takes time and precision – like cutting a diamond, but the results can sparkle just the same.
We’ve got a whole course dedicated to small scale projects that are great to try out with your kids or grandkids without leaving the house. Check out the iPhotography Home Projects course here.