How to make your jewellery photography sparkle

By Geoff Harris

Jewellery photography, along with other kinds of close-up photography around the home, has become understandably popular.

Photographing jewellery professionally will make it much easier to sell, or just to show off your rocks on social media, and the good news is that you don’t need lots of expensive equipment or fiddly, specialist lighting.

Neil Bremner, a Somerset-based portrait and product photographer, reveals how to make your jewellery shots shine.

What are the most important considerations when trying to photograph jewellery in a more professional way?

The main thing is avoiding reflections appearing on the item you are photographing – reflections of the camera, objects in the room, or a distant wall.

Using large pieces of card, tracing paper, domes going over the product… these can all help reduce unwanted reflections, along with angling the jewellery so it’s not straight on to camera.

Why are uncontrolled reflections a problem?

With silver or gold, as soon as you get a black reflection of a wall or something on them, it makes the item look dirty and untidy.

What lenses do you recommend?

For jewellery, use a macro lens, so you can zoom close and focus in. It’s the same kind of lens you would use for an insect or flower close-up, basically.

When I was a Canon shooter, I had a 100mm macro, but I am now using a Lumix S1R camera, along with a 24-105mm lens with a macro setting.

You can use a zoom with a macro setting, in other words – it doesn’t need to be a prime lens.

Do you use autofocus or manual focus?

I always manually focus – you want to make sure the focus is bang on the ‘hero’ section of the jewellery.

Unless you are doing focus stacking, which involves taking shots with several focal distances and putting them together in Photoshop, the best practice is to focus on the section of the jewellery that’s the most important – the diamond in a diamond ring, for example.

To help with manual focus, you can zoom in to the subject on the rear LCD (Live View), or use ‘focus peaking’ if your camera supports it. This is where the edges of the subject appear in different colours when it’s in focus, for example.

What about backgrounds?

It depends on what you are shooting. With a client, they don’t want the image to be busy, so the background needs to be non-distracting.

For selling on eBay or for eCommerce, I tend to shoot on white, but I have also shot black earrings against black backgrounds and am really into colour at the moment.

Ensure you never detract from the ‘hero’ part of the shot, however black backgrounds can look great too.

Do you use natural light or studio lights?

You can set up off-camera flash for a high degree of control but to be honest you can often get equally good results using natural light from a window.

Take an old, wide picture frame (or buy one) and stick tracing paper to it. You can then use that as an aid to diffuse the natural light, as you place it between the window and the jewellery.

The frame and tracing paper softens the light coming in and spreads it a bit, too. Hence, you will get more balanced light going on to the jewellery.

Always carefully control what is reflected back on the jewellery.

On-camera flash is not a great idea for this kind of work, as the main light source is coming directly on to the jewellery and will make it look flat. With a metallic surface, it is best to have the naturing light coming in slightly from one side.

What about exposure tips and composition?

Always shoot in raw for the maximum image resolution. It is also easier to adjust the white balance/colour temperature, though I set this manually using a grey card. You can then use the eye dropper tool in Lightroom to ensure your whites are properly white.

You can set a wide aperture so much of the background to the subject is blurred, or a narrower aperture to ensure a deeper depth of field. See what works best.

When it comes to composition, just experiment – I am a great believer in playing around. Experiment with composition and cropping, try lighting the jewellery from the left, right, straight on – you will make mistakes but it’s best way to learn.

You can also shoot in black and white but I don’t tend to bother with jewellery as it’s often quite neutral-looking anyway.

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Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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