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Shooting fine jewelry can present a big challenge to those without photographic experience and, for that matter, to a seasoned pro as well. Anyone trying to sell jewelry on the Internet, either through on-line auctions sites or business websites, knows all-too-well the challenges of making it look competitive.

Because most pieces of fine jewelry are highly reflective, lighting these items can be a real headache. Making the metal look good and getting just the right sparkle in the stones often times seems impossible.

But, with a little know-how, and the help of some proper lighting tools, this task can be a snap. This lesson demonstrates how to light and photograph your jewelry for professional results simply and easily.

(Most images can be clicked for an enlarged view.)

Topics Covered:

  • Using your on-camera flash unit
  • The pitfalls of the reflector light
  • The good, the bad, and the ugly of using umbrellas
  • Using the LiteRoom Kit
  • Using simple inexpensive backgrounds

Equipment Used:

The first step is prepping our set. We set up two sawhorses, then placed a plywood sheet on top. Then we wrapped the plywood with some white seamless paper and secured it with masking tape (figure 1).

Figure 1

To secure our ring to the set we used a clay-like adhesive called ghee, which is a 50/50 mixture of modeling clay and kneedable eraser. This can be found in most any art store under a multitude of names such as "fun tack", "art tack" or "earthquake tack". A small amount of ghee was placed on the part of the ring that would sit on the shooting surface, and then pressed into place. Some of the ghee squished out, so we started over by repositioning it with a smaller amount of the ghee. As useful as this substance can be, we didn't want it to show up in our final shot.

Using Your On-Camera Flash Unit
With our shooting surface in place, we can start on our lighting solutions. We will first take a look at the on-camera flash. We installed the Olympus flash unit designed for the E-1, set the camera and the flash to the auto mode, and framed up our shot.

Because we are shooting a subject very close to the camera lens, the flash will not effectively put light on the subject. We held a reflector just behind the subject to help light the ring more effectively (figures 2 & 3).

In these set ups, you can see why the on-camera flash is not the way to light this ring. The flash in this position will not get light on the subject.

Figure 4

Here we see a back lit ring, with uncontrolled highlights on the stones and no light coming into the front of our ring, very ugly results for a very lovely ring (figure 4).

The Pitfalls of the Reflector Light

In the next set up, we will look at the reflector light, a very common and inexpensive light set up found in most studios.

We started with one light placed to the right of the camera and pointed at our ring. This was our main, or key light (figures 5 - 7).

Figure 5

With the reflector light in place we changed our camera setting as follows. The exposure was set to manual, the white balance to custom for the new lights, and the focus to manual.

Once the camera was set, we brought out our light meter and took a reading of our reflector light; 1/60 @ f 8.0. We then set the exposure values to our camera and made a test exposure (figure 8).

Figure 8

Here we see some of the pitfalls of the reflector light. We get very high contrast, hard shadows, and little or no detail in our subject. Again, not a very pleasing result.

To help this we added a second reflector light on the other side of our set. Our fill light will come in from the front to help fill in the shadows and open up the detail on the front of the ring (figures 9 - 11).

Figure 9

With the second light placed, we checked our meter readings. We wanted to have the second light just under the first in exposure, or a reading of 1/60 @ f 5.6 1/2. Once this reading was set, we made another test exposure (figure 12).

Figure 12

Here we see a better looking shot. Although there is still high contrast and hard shadows, we are beginning to see better detail in the subject. As big of an improvement as it is, this ring can still be photographed much better.

Umbrellas and Reflective Objects

The next lighting solution we will look at is umbrellas. We removed the reflector lights from our set. To the right of the camera we set our main (key) light by placing a Photoflex 45" ADH Adjustable Silver Umbrella on to a 1000 watt reflector light (figures 13 - 15).

The broader light output of the umbrella should soften the shadows.

Figure 13

With this lighting in place, we took a meter reading, 1/60 @ f 5.6 1/2. We set our camera setting for this reading and made another test exposure (figure 16).

Here we see less contrast and softer shadows, but still have issues with the highlight control. Some of the stones look good and some lose detail; this is due to the contrast of the light source. Although the light is softer than the raw reflector we still have more contrast than we desire.

Figure 16

Figure 17

Our next step is to bring in a second light for fill, to help control the contrast and highlights. We placed a second umbrella, this time a 30" ADH Adjustable Silver Umbrella, on to a 1000 watt reflector light and positioned to the left side of the camera (figures 17 - 19).

With the fill light in place we took a meter reading to check our exposure and found we needed no adjustments, so we made a few test exposures (figure 20).

Figure 20

In this result shot, we are getting some of the elements we are looking for but still have a contrast issue. The highlights produced by the umbrellas light some of the stones but miss others. The inside of the ring has areas that are too hot or too dark. We are close, but not there yet.

Also notice that you can see the reflection of the strobe heads in the middle of the highlights on the band, something that you never want to see in professional product shots.


Final Results

Figure 21


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Equipment Used:

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