Saturday, November 6, 2010

One of the things that I’ve had to learn a lot about in my quest to elevate myself from hobbyist to professional jewelry artisan is photography. Now, I’m still no great photographer, but I’ve gotten to the point where I can get clean, vibrant pictures of my creations so that they’re shown to advantage. A significant amount of gratitude is owed to my cousin Deirdre Stearns Wingell, whose artistic skills are many and varied, and whose photography is instinctive and elegant. More of Deirdre’s work can be seen at

Three years ago, I was still using my scanner to take pictures of my jewelry. I hadn’t invested in a camera, and I was more of a hobbyist at this point, but using the scanner to take pictures presented several problems: I couldn’t pose jewelry the way I wanted; it had to lay flat. I had a lot of trouble capturing things like rings and bracelets, there was a bright glare that did nothing to help, I got strange funky shadows, the focus was all over the place… it was just bad all around. So I eventually invested in a camera, which I had only the vaguest idea of how to use.

Soon I was a little bit more confident in my work, if not my photography, so I started asking Deirdre to photograph pieces that were meant to be seen on the internet, entered in contests, and donated to charity.

Here’s an example, a picture of a bracelet and ring set which was originally designed for the Harvey Ball, a charity event named in honor of the artist who drew the smiley face, and a member of my extended family. 
Here’s my photograph of this set:

Now there are a lot of things wrong with this photograph. The glaring “hotspots” from the flash bulb almost dominate the picture, and the shadows are very harsh.

Here’s the picture Deirdre took of the same set:

The light is much more diffuse here, and the pieces arranged on the softly reflective surface seem to rise up. The shadows are much softer, and the colors are much crisper.

I started to really try to take better pictures.

Instead of using fabric backgrounds, I started using large plain white plate. This added that nice, soft reflection just underneath the piece I was shooting. I still wasn’t using a light box at this point, but my pictures were beginning to improve.

But while they were improving, they weren’t perfect. I was just learning how to pose my photos and set up my shots. I was waxing experimental during this time, and some photographs came out disastrously. Here’s a picture I tried to take of a necklace I made for Deirdre:

And here’s Deirdre’s version:

What a difference this coiled pose made! Proper lighting didn’t hurt either, but here you’re able to see the entire piece and get a real feel for the weight and heft of it. The coiled shape is also far more compact, so far easier to get a picture of.
So I invested in a light box. This was something of a treat for myself, and it’s the best investment I’ve yet made in my photography. It came with a tripod, 2 small lights, and a reversible drop cloth in grey or blue. This is one of the very first shots I took with my new light box:

I was amazed!! The light looked glorious on my pearls!! My purple bicones stood out sharply against the tiny seed beads! My golds looked rich and luscious and not brassy.
It didn’t take me long to hate that grey background.
Grey is good for many things, and it highlights colors beautifully … but the grey of that cloth was too dark to really highlight my jewelry, and white made it easier for me to adjust the contrast in the photo editing stage if I had to. So the search begins again!
I went to a local home improvement supply store and purchased some 12x12 floor tiles to take some pictures against.

The floor tiles were fun for a while, but the dark brown background wasn’t easy to color balance in photo editing, so I eventually went looking for something else.

And sometimes fate, or karma, or kismet, or whatever shines upon you and something perfect turns up! I inherited a large sand dollar … about 4” across. It was perfect! It wasn’t a reflective finish, it was matte and lightly patterned, but the pattern was subtle enough not to detract from the jewelry, and the gently domed shape gave me something to pose oddly shaped items on. I placed it on a simple piece of white printer paper, and this is the way I photograph most of my jewelry now:

It’s not a Deirdre picture, certainly. But it’s crisp enough that the chain maille shows up nicely, and the brightly colored crystal appears to leap forward and dazzle your eyes. You can see almost the entire piece, there’s depth and detail. The sand dollar enhances the picture, but doesn’t overwhelm the jewelry, and doesn’t take the focus away from it.

I’m sure my photography will continue to improve … and who knows? In a few months I could say “tsk tsk … I need something besides that sand dollar” and the whole look will change again. I’m a work in progress, what can I say! 


  1. Interesting post! Photographing my jewelry isn't my fav thing about selling it. Ugh! But it's getting better. I mostly use a white floor tile now.
    I just put your blog in my blog roll, so now I can see your new posts at once. :-)

  2. Thanks so much!!!! You rock!!!!
    It took almost as much to learn the photography as it did to learn the jewelry making skills, that's one of the reasons I wanted to write about it.