by Nathan Buchman, Potomac Bead Company Co-Founder
At Potomac Bead Company, we have thousands of talented customers who are jewelry designers. Many designers sell their jewelry and/or patterns all over the world. Having now photographed well over 40,000 products and 5,000 pieces of jewelry at Potomac Bead Company, I want to share some tips and tricks for helping you to take fantastic photographs too! These tips are very cost effective. Everyone is unique in the way in which they take their photographs. These tools are not meant to be mandates or requirements... rather, hopefully they are a jumping off point for you to improve your craft.
I personally finish nearly every photo on a perfectly white background. This is primarily because we want to display the jewelry/products on our website (www.potomacbeads.com) with no distractions. It also can allow for the background to be made transparent... letting you overlay a GIF, PSD, or PNG photo over a different background of your choice. You don't have to have white backgrounds, but much of these tips will help you to do that.
2 sterlight storage boxes (optional)
4 clip on lights
4 daylight bulbs
1 SLR camera (or other adjustible aperture camera)
photo editing software
LET THERE BE LIGHT!
With all photography, light is the most important ingredient. The right light can make or break a photo, and generally, you are going to need a lot of it. I like to have a mobile studio, so that I can photograph anywhere (store, home, hotel, when travelling, etc.). This allows me to easily pack my supplies into a box. Above, you can see that I have attached 4 clip-on light fixtures to two plastic storage boxes. These boxes, in which the lights are stored, also serve as part of the setup. The clip-on light fixtures can be purchased at nearly any hardware store for $5-10 each ($20-40 total). The fixtures with lights are placed at the four corners to surround the subject. This helps the light to hit each part of the subject, and also helps to reduce shadows.
Each of the fixtures use "daylight" color bulbs. This means that you get a very white light, rather than "warm" or yellow light. White light will help to keep the colors more consistent, where a warm light will tinge the entire photograph yellow. A white light will also help you to remove shadows more easily. You can use anything from 40-75 watt equivalent daylight bulbs. Just make sure that the "kelvin" range of color is between 5000 and 6500. You should be able to find these bulbs for $2-3/each. I bought some recently at Lowes, 4 for $9.99.
Lighting below your subject is incredibly valuable for helping to eliminate/reduce shadows. Underlights also help to illuminate transparent beads/products, and make the edges of the subject more clear. Clear edges will be useful during the photo editing process. Although I have purchased higher end photography underlights in the past, I have found more recently that basic picture "tracing" boards work just as well, and cost much less. Here is a link to the last one I purchased on Amazon for $36.99.
Many jewelry photographers like to use a photography tent to give general non-direct light. Because so many of the products we photograph are faceted, I prefer the direct light, but you can always use a white fabric to build a tent if you wish to do so. There are also some YouTube/Pinterest projects that will teach you how to make one, should you choose to.
TAKING THE PHOTOS
I use an SLR (single lens reflex) digital camera. There are many great models out there from which to choose, and over the past 10 years they have become more and more affordable. I use a Canon 40D, and also use a macro lens that allows me to get very close to the jewelry/beads that I am photographing. You may already have a good camera. If you do not, try to find a camera that will at least let you adjust the aperture or shutter speed. The aperture is the size of the hole that allows light into the camera, and the shutter speed dictates how long the shutter remains open. I usually will take 4-6 different photos of each subject, at different shutter speeds. For example, the photos below were taken at 1/100, 1/125, 1/160, and 1/200 of a second.
Once the photos are imported to my computer, I will select the image which I feel gives the most honest color and detail while still having a background that is as light as possible. There are a variety of different types of photo editing software out there. I use a full version of Photoshop. Photoshop is a very high quality program, and I use it all the time. If you are not going to take a lot of photos, you might want to opt for one of the free or low-cost editing programs out there. The instructions I give will be based on Photoshop, but likely those other programs will be able to do something similar.
From Image > Adjustments > Levels, you can control the brightness of the photo my changing the controls. You can move the far right stop to the left to increase brightness, and the middle left stop to the right to increase contrast (darkening the subject, but not the background).
By manipulating both, you should be able to make turn the entire background white, leaving just minor shadows. You can see that the right stop was moved from 255 to 233. In doing so, the background was turned almost completely white.
If you want to remove anything else, you can use a mix of the "magic wand" and "eraser" tools to completely remove the background, or anything else. Save the image and you are done.
Hopefully you find this a useful and affordable way to improve your jewelry photos! You can see examples of this method being used to photograph and edit the 45,000+ different beads on our website (www.potomacbeads.com), and each of the pieces of jewelry at the Potomac Bead Company YouTube channel as well!