Photographing small reflective subjects like jewelry can be a tricky or frustrating task if you are starting out as a photographer.
Unfortunately not all of your photos will present as ‘magazine quality’ to begin with but it will come over time.
Master these steps and your photos will vastly improve.
1. To take the right type of photo, use a macro lens
If you have purchased a DSLR or Mirrorless camera you would no doubt have a kit lens included.
A kit lens generally has a wide angle element and a short zoom; numerically the focal length will typically read from 18 to 55mm. While these lenses are great for photographing life’s moments, they aren’t suitable for smaller objects like rings or earrings.
Purchasing an entry-level dedicated macro lens will undoubtedly overcome your primary challenge.
Look for a lens that contains the word ‘macro’ and has a focal length of around 60mm.
At this fixed zoom, you can set your camera up a small distance from the subject, and the magnification will appear half life size (or 0.5x), which is ideal for photographing jewelry.
Better still, if you have the budget, consider a macro lens that will provide a 1:1 (lifesize) representation of the subject.
2. Use a sturdy tripod to avoid camera shake
Camera shake is a photographer’s worst enemy.
When dealing with small subjects, such as jewelry, any minor moment caused by hand-holding the camera will appear as a blur in the final photograph.
To avoid this determining effect, opt for a sturdy tripod. What you should look for in a tripod is a removable tripod ball head, an Arca Swiss compatible ball head and a spirit level either on the legs or tripod head.
The advantage of a tripod ball head is in the fluid movement to obtain a desirable angle. While the head is unlocked, you can adjust your camera freely before turning the locking mechanism on the head to secure the chosen angle. The Arca Swiss tripod plate compatibility ensures you can slide your camera directly onto the top of the tripod ball head with ease and the spirit level will help determine when the tripod is level.
3. Light your jewelry evenly and thoroughly
A standard macro photography lighting setup should consist of at least two flash heads or continuous lights, one for the left of the subject and the other for the right.
Many flash lighting setups found on online stores arrive in kits and contain all the necessary accessories like a flash trigger (that attaches to your camera), umbrellas, diffuses and stands.
When reflective umbrellas with fabric diffusers attach to flash heads any camera reflections disappear.
4. Select the correct aperture and ensure everything is in focus
If you use a macro lens to photograph jewelry, don’t fool yourself into thinking a wider aperture (f2.8 or f4) is going to make your photos look brighter.
This will be the case, but there is a significant disadvantage. This disadvantage has a lot to do with depth of field.
If you select a large aperture of f2.8, more light enters the lens, but only a small amount of subject ends up in focus. The rest of the focus ‘falls off’ and is referred to as bokeh.
While bokeh is desirable for portrait photography, it isn’t for jewelry. A large aperture of f2.8 or f4 is therefore not ideal as you won’t be able to see the full detail of the entire piece of jewelry.
To achieve the best results, when photographing in Aperture Priority (‘Av’ or ‘A’ on most camera mode dials) select an aperture of f11 or f16. These smaller apertures produce less bokeh which is better for depicting the full detail found on a piece of jewelry.
Once you have mastered aperture priority and have obtained a macro lens, sturdy tripod and professional lighting setup you will be well on your way to turning your average looking jewelry photos into photos that sell.