Saturday, 27 March 2010

Photography tips from a non-professional

Can't believe that I'm going to give advice on photographing jewellery - I am anything but an expert!  However, a couple of people recently got in touch to ask me how I got my photos so clear - this was really flattering, and honestly not something I was expecting.  If you had seen the photos I started out with and the ones now, you'd appreciate what a steep learning curve I've been on.

After 8 months selling online, I've probably redone my photos about six or seven times.  It's an incredible waste of time and effort, so if I can pass on anything I've learned and save someone a bit of time, that'll be good.  Most of the advice I've picked up has come from lovely people in the Folksy and Etsy community (including members of the Lonely Jewelers on Etsy), they are the best source of tips and great at critiques.  Frequently I was in despair with the photos, and ready to close the shops because of them.  Although I don't hate taking photos now, I'd still rather be making jewellery or writing about it.

Professional photographers should look away now (or in fact anyone who knows a lot about it) because I'm sure I break most of the rules.  After all this time and a lot of reading, I still don't really understand what an F-stop is or why depth of field is critical.  I'm sure these things are important, but I've got to that age where you realise you can't learn everything about everything so you have to be selective! 

This is also about photography with limited space and little equipment.  I use a digital camera that is old and bulky by today's standards, and I live in the smallest house you can imagine.  My most expensive piece of new equipment is my floor standing tripod (it cost about £15) and it's now probably something I'd reach to save if the house were on fire.  You can see it in my set up here:

There it is all ready for the camera to sit on top.  It lets me get every possible angle on the jewellery and takes up very little floor space.

You might have noticed by now that the tripod is pointing at a windowsill and a piece of mulberry wrapping paper is blu-tacked to the window.  I told you this was non-technical stuff, didn't I?!  I did buy a light box originally but it never worked for me as well as natural light.  The wrapping paper diffuses the light nicely, I think.

Here I've placed the earrings to be photographed.  They are on a piece of silver craft card.  I've probably tried every background you can think of, and reflective ones definately work best for me.  For some, I use a piece of white glossy photo paper, but for the mookaite colours here, I like the silver card.  It actually comes out more white than a white background.  The physics people could probably tell you why, but I can't!  I love the reflection, and so long as your customer doesn't think they are buying two pairs of earrings, I don't see there's much harm in it.

You can just see our neighbour's house across the road in this shot!

My other tips for getting a good shot are:

  • set the white balance manually on your camera every time you start to shoot a new object
  • experiment with different exposures (+1.3 and above work best for me)
  • if it's too sunny or too gloomy outside, forget pictures for the day!  There are probably other things you can do for your shop that day
  • use macro and a bit of zoom together (I'm sure that's breaking the rules completely...)
  • get up close and personal - you can have one shot with everything in, but the others can celebrate the detail of your work
  • use some free software like Gimp to touch up, but don't overdo it.  If you're photo needs too much adjusting, it's probably better to start again with a different shot.

Here they are.  What do you think?  Comments and tips most welcome.


  1. Sounds a bit like how I photograph, my technique is just trial and error to - only a little less technical. I am often found lying on my tummy on the lounge floor by the patio doors, but it works for me! I use about 1.1 exposure and also zoom in on macro. I find the zoom helps the can also help your background become more diffused (According to my FIL who can take photos!)
    Thank you for sharing your tips.

  2. Thanks for this - I found it really helpful. Reminded me that I have a tripod I have not been using and the sunny window ledge is ideal!

  3. I like the idea of diffusing the light from the window with paper. I'll try that.

  4. Oh -that's really useful, thank you. I use a lightbox/tent, but it can get quite dark in there, even with daylight and an extra lamp.

  5. Photography counts in my book. Thank you.

  6. Thanks for this, I bought a tripod from ebay for £7 its the best thing i've bought, now my hands dont shake when I take photos as i've also been told about my pictures.


  7. Very helpful thank you!!
    Jeanie x


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