It’s the small things in life, and in photography this statement is also true! Photographing jewellery and/or other small objects is a fun and creative way to push your photography. Not only will you gain technical skills in the process you’ll also capture some imaginative images for your portfolio. What I love about this type of photography is you are entirely in control of the final outcome from the background choices to the object position to the lighting. Nothing is left to chance as it can be in other genres of photography. You are working in a controlled environment so you can really put your creative ideas forward and push the boundaries.
But before we begin, is it spelt jewellery or jewelry? Well, it depends where you are in the world. The British spelling has two lls and another e and the American one l and one e so now you know. As I’m writing this from the UK, I’ll use the British spelling for this feature!
Welcome to the AP Improve Your Photography Series – in partnership with MPB – This series is designed to take you from the beginnings of photography, introduce different shooting skills and styles, and teach you how to grow as a photographer, so you can enjoy producing amazing photography (and video), to take you to the next level, whether that’s making money or simply mastering your art form.
Each week you’ll find a new article so make sure to come back to continue your journey, and have fun along the way, creating great images. If you’ve found these articles helpful, don’t forget to share them with people you know who may be interested in learning new photography skills. You’ll find a whole range of further articles in this series.
What kit do I need for Jewellery photography?
You may think to get impressive results you need to have lots of expensive and fancy studio kit but this simply isn’t the case. For my DIY home setup to capture all the images featured in this article I had to hand the following:
- Camera – You’ll need a camera with an interchangeable lens system, such as a mirrorless camera.
- Lights – I had to hand two external flashguns however for the majority of my setups I used just one light.
- Tripod – A tripod helps you slow down and create the perfect composition as you can keep tweaking the result until you are happy with how everything sits in the frame.
- Lens – I used my Tokina 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens. Ideally you want to use a macro lens that can capture subjects at a 1:1 ratio. There are alternative cheaper options (see tip below).
- Backgrounds – A variety of coloured paper.
- Jewellery – Much of the Jewellery featured in this feature was supplied by Little Blue Budgie.
- Additional props – Use additional props such as sweets, flowers and Lego to bring extra colour and areas of interest in the frame.
- Blu Tack – Great for keeping small objects like jewellery propped up!
On a budget?
If you are working to a tight budget, then there are many different ways you can keep the cost down. For example, if you don’t have an external flashgun you could use natural light. Set up your objects up in front of a large window and use a piece of tinfoil or reflector to bounce the light back into the shadows. This is a simple and effective setup that beginners will find easy to use.
If you want to take it to the next level you will need an external flashgun. I used two flashguns on my photo shoot however you can make do with just one. If you’re worried about cost, some flashguns can be expensive but not all of them are! My Nissin Di700A was purchased second hand for under £80, (brand new they cost around £200 including the trigger). Alternatively look at any flashgun/s that are budget. You don’t need anything that performs fancy tricks – just a flashlight that you can fire in the manual mode is enough.
The right lens
When it comes to photographing small objects it’s best to use a macro lens with a reproduction ratio of 1:1. That way you can capture the fine detail and get in close. We took all of our images using an affordable Tokina Macro 100mm f/2.8, however if this type of lens is out of your budget (look around the second hand market too) then an extension tube with a standard lens is another viable option. Extension tubes work by being mounted between the camera body and lens to create more distance between the lens and image sensor. By increasing the distance your lens is forced to focus closer than it normally would be able to. Extension tubes can be bought for as little as £20 and go up to a couple of hundred quid depending on the quality. If you’re on a real budget you can make your own at home. See our DIY hack for more information.
Shooting jewellery tips
What camera settings do I need? Camera setup:
If you are shooting using flash, put your camera into the Manual mode. I always start by setting my ISO at 100 and the Shutter Speed to 1/200 sec to sync with the flashlight. I then adjust the Aperture and control the flash strength to balance the exposure. Usually I aim to have the Aperture around f/8 to f/11.
If you are shooting using natural light then I find it easiest to shoot in either the Manual or Aperture priority mode. Set the ISO low to 100 and aperture around f/11. I’d recommend mounting your camera to a tripod to help you create the perfect composition (see tripod tip below) so it doesn’t matter what the Shutter Speed setting is reading.
Setting up your flash
Set your flash to fire in the manual mode as this is the easiest way to control the output. Your flash at full power will fire at the 1/1 setting. If you want less light simply turn down the output to the next stop which is 1/2 power. Each time you turn the power down you are halving the amount of light being fired. Your flashgun will go as low as 1/128 power.
You may find even at the lowest setting the light is still too bright due to everything being in such close proximity. If this is the case either need to move your light source further away from your setup, shut the aperture setting down, turn your ISO down or diffuse the light somehow.
Bounce the light
A really easy trick when you need a clean nice soft light is to bounce the flash. This can be done by simply pointing the flash at the ceiling and then letting the light fall back over the subject. When bouncing the flash remember the light needs to travel further compared with being directly pointed so you will need to increase the power – how much depends on your ceiling height so you’ll need to experiment here.
Using a tripod
Using a tripod will greatly help you achieve the perfect composition. There are many different angles you can shoot jewellery from but an effective way that always works for me is the bird’s eye view. I find it easiest to first set up my camera on a tripod and point the lens down. Then I bring in the background and objects building the scene as I go. Liveview is really useful for this. I keep checking and tweaking the composition until I am happy with how it is working.
There’s too much blur
When photographing an object close up even when you stop down the aperture the depth of field you are able to work with is much smaller. This means that even when you are shooting at f/8 or f/11 which in a landscape setting would sharpen the whole scene, close up there is still a considerable amount of blur. The way to get around this is to either shoot the object flat on so the whole object is on the same aperture plane, use the blurred effect to your advantage and purposely play around with it, or alternatively do a technique called focus stacking. Focus stacking is where you take many different shots of the same scene but you shift the focus across as you shoot then combine multiple frames together. If you want to learn more about this technique, follow Geraint Radford’s guide to focus stacking.
Creative jewellery ideas…
Sweets and bright colours
When it comes to finding inspiration let the object you are photographing find it for you! For example I bought a packet of smarties as I thought it could be interesting to play around with the dots of colour. As the jewellery I was photographing was orange and blue I decided to pick out these colour sweets and match the background setting to them. Finally teamed with a soft bounced flashlight the end result is bold and fun.
If you’re not keen to photograph jewellery the techniques in this feature work the same with any other type of small object. Here I have raided my kids Lego set and I’ve created this fun result. I did so by using a single flashgun and bounced the light.
Out of this world
These Lulu McQueen space earrings were so much fun to shoot, and when I saw the planet style designs I knew I wanted to create a solar system effect. I used smaller earring studs (also designed by the jeweller) in the foreground and background of the frame and intentionally blurred them out by shooting with a shallow depth of field to create the pings of round blurred light. To light the earring, I used a single flashgun and pointed it from the side and behind the main subject. I then had a bit of Photoshop fun adding the lens flare and also a few more stars to the solar system using the paint brush tool.
Here’s another setup of the space earrings using a piece of Perspex with an image of a dark blue starry sky slotted underneath. The earrings were lit from the side to create a more dramatic and moody effect.
Jewellery out on location
Jewellery doesn’t only have to be shot in a controlled indoor environment – there are many different and creative ways you can capture it on location. For example, the crab pots in my local town made the perfect backdrop for this necklace. This image was shot using natural light and a shallow depth of field at f/2.8. The wide aperture setting softens the crab pot in the background to make the necklace stand out.
Editing jewellery – the final touches
When it comes to editing your images, you will need to make some basic adjustments to make your final results ping. I always shoot in Raw as this means I have more flexibility and options at the editing stage. I would recommend you do the same unless you have no intention of editing your images post-production then I would suggest shooting Jpeg and ensure you get the exposure and camera settings spot on!
There are many image editing programs out there that all perform similar tasks. I use the Adobe photography package that consists of Lightroom Classic, Lightroom and Photoshop. To make tonal and exposure adjustments I use Lightroom Classic or to do further creative effects I use Photoshop. Alternative software such as Affinity Photo and even the free software such as Nikon’s NX Studio and Canon’s Digital Photo Professional (DPP) are more than capable of doing the job as well.
As a basic starting point, tweak or correct these settings to make your image pop.
- Exposure – is your image exposed correctly? If it’s too dark push the slider up or if it’s too light bring it down.
- White Balance – make sure the white balance in your image is correct. Select a neutral tone in your image or use a grey card to get it right.
- Highlights, Shadows, Blacks and Whites – Use these to boost the tone and contrast of your image.
- Curve Tone – again useful for boosting the overall tone and contrast of your image.
- Sharpening – tweak the sharpening so your object appears crisp in the frame.
- Clone and Heal tools – Finally when shooting close up you often capture unwanted specks of dirt and dust. Remove these using the Clone tool or Spot Healing brush.
Article Claire Gillo, all images in feature Copyright to Claire Gillo
Tune in next week, for the next article in the series of the AP Improve Your Photography Series – in partnership with MPB.
- Part 1: Beginners guide to different camera types.
- Part 2: Beginners guide to different lens types.
- Part 3: Beginners guide to using a camera taking photos.
- Part 4: Beginners guide to Exposure, aperture, shutter, ISO, and metering.
- Part 5: Understanding white balance settings and colour
- Part 6: 10 essential cameras accessories for beginners
- Part 7: Beginners guide to the Art of photography and composition
- Part 8: Beginners guide to Photoshop Elements and editing photos
- Part 9: Beginners guide to Portrait Photography
- Part 10: Beginners guide to Macro Photography
- Part 11: Beginners guide to Street Photography
- Part 12: Beginners guide to Landscape Photography
- Part 13: How to shoot Action and Sports Photography
- Part 14: How to shoot wildlife photography
- Part 15: Raw vs JPEG – Pros and cons
- Part 16: How to create stunning black and white images
- Part 17: How to photograph events and music
- Part 18: Pet photography – how to photograph pets
- Part 19: The ultimate guide to flash photography
- Part 20: The ultimate guide to tripods
- Part 21: Create awesome photos with light painting
- Part 22: Beginners guide to file and photo management
- Part 23: How to shoot food photography
- Part 24: Complete guide to outdoor light
- Part 25: Top tips for stunning car photography
- Part 26: How to master waterfall photography
- Part 27: How to use social media as a photographer
- Part 28: How to get started in film photography
- Part 29: How to connect your camera to your phone
- Part 30: How to make a great video recording with your camera
- Part 31: Why you should join an online community
- Part 32: Find the best online website to share and sell your photos
- Part 33: How to photograph weddings – our guide to wedding photography
- Part 34: How to find joy and inspiration in photography
- Part 35: How to shoot like a fashion photographer
- Part 36: How to shoot in low-light
Find the latest Improve Your Photography articles here.