How to photograph jewellery
Useful tips to help you capture pro-level jewellery photos
Whether it’s diamond rings or gemstone necklaces, jewellery photography is notoriously difficult, but there are a few useful techniques you can try that will make the process so much easier.
The props, studio lighting, equipment & post production techniques you need to know
Watches, rings and necklaces all present a unique set of challenges when it comes to photographing them. Their smooth, shiny surfaces cause chaotic reflections, their size and the high magnification required means it’s incredibly difficult to achieve sufficient depth of field. In our series of jewellery photography classes I show you step by step shoots for three different pieces of jewellery, but I’ve summarised some important tips for jewellery photography here so that you can try them yourself.
Backgrounds for jewellery photography
Before you start thinking about your lens choice or even lighting, first decide on what background you’re going to shoot on. Your background is an essential part of the shot and it’s important to get the right one. You want something that will enhance your product, but 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, it was smooth polished metal with two diamonds. For this shot I opted for much less texture. I made a series of matte black tubes, which I arranged in a close formation for the necklace to rest on, as 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 is an essential part of the preparation process and an easy step to forget, but it will save you a lot of time when it comes to the post production.
Only once I was happy with the background choice and positioning of each shot did I start experimenting with my lighting. There is no point working on your lighting until you are sure of your composition because any adjustment, even the smallest one, will result in a dramatic change in your lighting.
The photographic process
For all three jewellery images I used my Hasselblad H6 with a 100mm lens (that’s equivalent to about 67mm in 35mm full frame). Instead of using a macro lens, I used extension tubes. These are a cheaper alternative and help get sufficient magnification.
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 as this will prevent camera shake, ensure that your lighting remains in the correct position and, should you need to focus stack your images, keep everything in alignment.
Jewellery photography lighting setups for necklaces
The two necklace shots had similar lighting setups that utilised a combination of light. For both shots I shone a bare bulb light forward 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.
I experimented with the light placement for each shoot, testing to see the effect when I moved the light further or closer away, left and right or up and down. For both shots the first light alone yielded a great result! But I wanted to take it further, I wanted to really add some sparkle to the gemstones in each and 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 therefore 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, but a very precise snoot could have achieved a similar result.
The diamond necklace featured much broader tones of metal and smooth shiny surfaces, which can be difficult to light. One of the best ways is 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 I placed white panels in front and above to create a complete wraparound of light and add 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 above image is the final photograph of the diamond necklace. This, along with the below image of the gemstone necklace, shows exactly what you can achieve using the knowledge outlined above. The techniques outlined here shows that it’s not too difficult to photograph jewellery if the process and planning is done correctly - you don't have to be a jewellery photographer to get professional results. A lot of it is about your props, surface and background. You don’t need expensive modifiers; in fact, the first shoot could even have been done with speedlites!
Jewellery photography lighting setups for rings
Although the ring photography lighting setup looked more complicated, the key to successfully photographing rings is to ensure you minimise any reflections. With their curved, shiny surfaces, rings reflect everything — your base surface, background, even you!
To solve this problem I employed a similar technique to that 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.
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 was unable to get everything sharp. To overcome this, I used a technique called focus stacking.
Focus stacking is when you take a series of images, each with a different point of focus, before you then blend these images together into a single image, where the whole subject is in focus. To do this it’s important to have your camera locked down. You then take a series of images, gradually shifting your focus from the font 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 image of the rings required the most amount of work in Photoshop, purely because of the focus stack. To focus stack a series of images in Photoshop is fairly straightforward, 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.
Once that has completed, 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.
Each of the three shots required some degree of cleaning as part of the post production process. 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 the focus stack and general cleaning and finishing touches too.
By ensuring my lighting and composition was as close to perfect as I could get it, I was able to minimise the post production work each image required.
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 endless lights or expensive modifiers, both jewellery shots could easily have been achieved with a single point light source. It’s an understanding of lighting and technique that will result in a good shot (along with careful planning and preparation). So next time you’re photographing jewellery, keep these points in mind and you should find the process easier than you thought.
If you're looking for more jewellery photography ideas, take a look at our series of classes. You may also enjoy looking at work by product photographers such as Jonathan Knowles, Barry Makariou or David Lund.
To learn more about jewellery photography, make sure to take a look at some of our additional product photography classes. These classes cover everything from background and prop selection to lighting camera settings, as well as some useful post production techniques to help polish off your shot.
If you’re looking to grow your lighting skills, you will also find the following classes useful. Here I cover some of the fundamental knowledge of studio lighting and show you how you can take complete control. Whether you’re unsure about different modifiers, flash duration or how to measure and correctly expose your shot, you’ll find all you need to know in these informative modules.
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