I pieced together my photography setup from a lot of internet searches and seeing how other people photograph. I figured I would share my experience and maybe this might help someone else out there struggling with photography. My final setup wasn’t particularly special but it works quite well. I’ve found that for any problem I come across (not just in the jewelry world), there is someone else who has had that problem before – it’s just a matter of finding the right website or posts to solve it.
My setup consists of the 12″ EZ Cube, tripod, Canon t2i, 2 – 55watt 5000k daylight balanced CFLs, a black piece of plexi and a sheet of black paper fit to curl up the back of the cube and across the roof. I decided to shoot on black because I think it fits my work better. It doesn’t hurt that photographing on black is much easier than white backgrounds.
After quite a bit of trial and error, I had to get larger bulbs because I needed to shoot at a higher aperture for a greater depth of field. Although a short depth of field can look artistic, I was looking for crisp photos of the entire piece. There are cheaper ways than buying the EZ Cube but the product works great and folds down nice and compact. The plexi was really cheap – $4 online somewhere. Minus the camera and tripod, one could get this setup for under $100 easy. I need a 3rd light above box because the side lighting can create shadow areas on the center of a piece.
I have also gone through a few different cameras, eventually deciding that a DSLR was worth the investment. An expensive camera is not necessary, but the full manual functions are amazing and give you a lot of control.
Finding the right settings is just a matter of experimentation. Another simple trick that some people don’t know is that you can right click almost any image and go to the details to find what camera it was taken with, resolution, aperture, shutter speed, RAW settings etc. I found photos I liked and did this as a starting point. The thing to remember is that professional photographers have MUCH bigger lights and probably use a much higher aperture. For what I have now, I shoot around F8-F13 depending on the size of the piece. Probably more important than all of this is the white balance. You have to set your camera to evaluative. Each lighting situation is unique, especially in the box. Evaluative uses a stored photo on the camera as the starting point for the white balance. Just take one photo of the inside of the light box with the lights on and no jewelry and use this as the sample for the evaluative white balance. Otherwise, your jewelry will be yellow, green, purple, who knows.
The main things to consider when shooting are shutter speed, aperture, white balance, ISO and focusing. I set my ISO at 100. Funny story, when I first got my camera, all of my jewelry images were just slightly blurry or out of focus and I absolutely could not figure out why. I searched forums, jewelry blogs, posted on forums, etc. Eventually, one night while photographing, I realized it was on Auto ISO. I was shooting at 3200 which was ridiculous. I switched it to 100 and problem solved, beautiful, crisp photos. Manual focus is also a must. Auto focus often focuses on the wrong area. Also, I use a 2 second timer to avoid my hands moving the camera and blurring the photo. Some lenses have built in Image Stabilization. I shoot with this off because I use a tripod. I read that leaving it on while using a tripod can actually cause blur. I’m not sure if this is true, but I have had success with it off.
Now I am not a professional photographer by any stretch of the imagination. I just know what I do, how I do it and that it works for me. Hopefully I didn’t misuse any technical terms. Jewelry photography is definitely an art and for any juried shows it’s definitely safer to go with a pro. My photos are fine for Facebook, Etsy, this blog, my website, etc. I suppose the 2nd half of this entry should be Photoshop skills but that is a whole other story…