How to Photograph Jewellery
These useful tips will help you capture pro-level jewellery shots.
Whether you're shooting diamond rings or gemstone necklaces, jewellery photography is notoriously tricky.
But there are a few tricks and techniques you can try that will simplify the process and make your images sparkle.
The props, studio lighting, equipment and post-production techniques you need to know
Watches, rings and necklaces all present photographers with challenges. For starters, their smooth, shiny surfaces cause chaotic reflections.
On top of that, their diminutive size – and the high magnification it demands – makes it difficult to achieve sufficient depth of field.
In our series of jewellery photography classes, I demonstrate step-by-step shoots for three different pieces of jewellery.
But before you dive into those, here's a summary of my most important tips for jewellery photography.
Backgrounds for jewellery photography
The background is an integral part of your shot, so it’s important to select the right one. You want something that will enhance your product, not overpower it. So think about colour, textures and shape and how this will work with the styling of your image.
For the first class in our jewellery series, I photographed a blue gemstone necklace surrounded by diamonds.
I knew I wanted to incorporate juxtaposing textures. So I chose smooth acrylic tiles as well as a more textured piece of slate. I arranged the acrylic tiles in a ‘floating’ staircase formation above the slate, with the necklace resting on the top tile.
The second necklace I shot was far less textured – rather, it was smooth, polished metal with two diamonds. So I opted for much less textured background surface.
I made a series of matte black tubes, which I arranged in a close formation for the necklace to rest on. Why? Because I felt these were more in keeping with the broader metal tones of the necklace.
For the rings shoot, I went for a cleaner, simpler look, shooting the two rings together on a plain white background.
Once I’d decided on the layout of each shot, the next step was to make sure the products were clean. This essential part of the preparation process is easy to overlook, but it will save you a lot of time when it comes to post-production.
Only once I was happy with the background choice and positioning of each shot did I start experimenting with my lighting. Any styling adjustment, no matter how small, will have significant repercussions for your lighting. So there's no point working on your lighting until you are sure of your composition.
The photographic process
For all three jewellery images, I used my Hasselblad H6 with a 100mm lens (equivalent to about 67mm in 35mm full frame). Instead of using a macro lens, I used extension tubes. These are a more affordable alternative and help you achieve the magnification you need.
My camera was fixed to my Manfrotto Super Salon 280 Camera Stand, but any tripod will work. The main thing is to keep your camera in a fixed position.
This will prevent camera shake and ensure that your lighting remains correct. It will also keep everything in alignment should you need to focus-stack your images later.
Jewellery photography lighting setups for necklaces
The two necklace shots required similar lighting setups that utilised a combination of lights. For both shots, I directed a bare bulb through a sheet of white acrylic placed behind the product. The acrylic diffused the light, resulting in a soft, gradient lighting that acted as my main fill light.
For each shoot, I experimented with the light placement, testing the effect of moving the light closer and further away, left and right, and up and down.
For both shots, the first light alone yielded a great result! But I wanted to go further – to really add some sparkle to the gemstones. That meant I needed more lights.
For the gemstone necklace, I ended up using three lights. My second light was a small ball of light that I used to create some specularity and sparkle.
To bring out some more colour in the blue gemstone, I then added a picolite with a projection attachment shining directly on to the gemstone. I could have achieved a similar result with a very precise snoot.
The diamond necklace featured much broader metallic tones and more smooth shiny surfaces, which can be difficult to light. I decided to create a sort of ‘light tent’, which I did by adding reflector cards.
As with the previous shot, I created a smooth gradient light by shining a light through the acrylic sheet before placing white panels in front and above. This created a complete wraparound of light and added some sparkle to the diamonds at the front.
With this lighting setup, I was again able to get a great result using just one light through the acrylic sheet.
But to add that special touch, I added a second light – a picolite with a projection attachment shining from the front, to bring out some sparkle.
You can see the result of the additional light in the video stills below.
The image above is the final photograph of the diamond necklace. This, along with the below image of the gemstone necklace, shows just what you can achieve using the simple techniques I've outlined here.
They prove that, if you plan and prep correctly, jewellery photography doesn't need to be daunting. And you certainly don't have to be a jewellery photographer to get professional results!
You can really help yourself by choosing the right props, surface and background. And when it comes to lighting, you don’t necessarily need expensive modifiers.
In fact, in the first shoot, I could almost certainly have achieved the same results with speedlights!
Jewellery photography lighting setups for rings
With their curved, shiny surfaces, rings reflect everything – your base surface, background, even you! So the key to successfully photographing rings is ensuring you minimise any reflections.
If my lighting setup for ring photography looks more complicated than for the necklaces, that's why.
To solve the problem of excessive reflection, I employed a similar technique to the one I used with the diamond necklace: I created a conical shaped light tent that covered the rings but still allowed me to shine light through.
As with the necklaces, I used a bare bulb point light source as my key light. I then added another one to add sparkle on the face of the diamond, one to light the metal work of the bands, and one to add light on the diamonds on the band.
You can see the result of each of these individual lights in the image below.
Diamond Rings Jewellery Photography
Once I was satisfied with my lighting, the next problem I had to solve was depth of field. Although my aperture was set to f11, the size of the rings and the proximity at which I was working meant I couldn't quite get everything sharp.
To overcome this issue, I used a technique called focus stacking.
Focus stacking involves taking series of images, each with a different point of focus, then blending these images together in post-production. The result is a single image in which the entire subject is in focus.
When shooting for focus stacking, it’s important to have your camera locked down. You then capture a series of images, gradually shifting your focus from the front of the object to the back.
I took a number of shots, which I then aligned in Photoshop to create a scene that was sharp all the way through.
How to retouch jewellery photographs
The focus stacking meant the image of the rings required the most work in Photoshop. That said, to focus stack a series of images in Photoshop is fairly straightforward, because the software does most of the hard work for you.
To start, open the files in Photoshop. From the ‘File’ tab, select ‘Scripts’ and ‘Load Files into Stack’. This will open a dialogue box, where you should choose ‘Add Open Files’ and ‘Attempt to Automatically Align Source Images’.
Note that this doesn’t create the focus stack, it only aligns the opened images and makes sure they are all the same magnification.
Next, select all your layers and from the ‘Edit’ tab, select ‘Auto Blend Layers’ and check ‘Stack Images’ and ‘Seamless Tones and Colors’. This will create masks for each layer, detecting which area of each image is in focus, ensuring your whole image is sharp.
Once this is complete, you can simply continue with any other post production work you had planned.
By ensuring my lighting and composition was as close to perfect as I could get it, I was able to minimise the post-production each image required.
The gemstone necklace required only basic Photoshop work — just some cleaning, removal of dust and scratches, and colour enhancement.
The diamond necklace required some composite work (in the video, you’ll see I took a second shot to introduce some sparkle in the diamonds) while the rings required focus stacking, general cleaning, plus finishing touches.
Top jewellery photography tips
Photographing jewellery can seem like a daunting task – the products are generally small and reflections can make it very difficult to get a good shot – but by remembering the techniques covered here, you should be able to get some great results.
- Think about your background and props
- Clean your jewellery before shooting
- Use a tripod
- Experiment with lighting
- Minimise reflections
Remember, you don’t need dozens of lights or expensive modifiers – both jewellery shots could easily have been achieved with a single point light source.
As with all photography, a good understanding of lighting and technique (along with careful planning and preparation, of course) will get you a good shot. Next time you’re photographing jewellery, keep these tips in mind – and remember to have fun!
Looking for more? Check out our full section of Jewellery Photography classes.
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