Jewellery Photography From The Bench

Bench Blog Episode 2

Taking good pictures of jewellery is a challenge but in this tutorial, I’m not going taking pictures for product listings, instead I am going to be looking taking pictures at the bench, these are often progress pictures or images of pieces you have just finished and from my experience, these are great for social media such as Instagram.

But as with all jewellery, it isn’t completely straightforward on how to achieve some good looking bench images and I’m going to show you how I have learnt, after much trial and error to take some good (in my opinion!) pictures that are great for sharing.

Which Camera to Use?

There is a saying something along the lines of “the best camera is the one you have available to you” and this is very true!

While DSLR’s and Mirrorless cameras with macro lenses will produce the best shots, these can be expensive and it takes time to learn how to use these effectively, they also don’t really lend themselves to quick snaps either as they often require a bit of setting up.

That is why I prefer using a phone camera as your phone is usually to hand and they are very easy to use but as standard, the cameras usually struggle with smaller objects such as jewellery and even though new, top of the line smartphones have cameras with macro functionality, they can still use a helping hand.

That is where clip on macro lenses come in very handy! But which one should you choose?

I would avoid the very cheap (sub £10) ones off Amazon or Ebay as from my experience, these are pretty useless and cause more frustration than anything. Ones in the £20-£30 range are usually pretty good but always look at the reviews first and see if anyone has posted pictures using the lens. Unfortunately, the one I use is discontinued as I have had it a while (around 4 years I think), so I can’t offer specific recommendations.

My iPhone 5s and Clip On Macro Lens

All the pictures in this post are taken using my phone, which is an iPhone 5s (yes, I need an upgrade!) and a clip on macro lens that cost me around £20. Using newer phones with better cameras should enable you to produce better images than I have. They are also straight out of camera.

Lighting

One of the most important aspects of photography is lighting and it is no different when it comes to taking pictures at the bench.

The ideal lighting is natural daylight but in many cases this isn’t possible to use possibly due to where your bench is or if you are here in the UK or somewhere similar, daylight is unreliable at best!

But you can use your bench lighting as a substitute and if you are using daylight bulbs, this is even better but while your bench lighting is great for showing you what you need to do when you are working on a piece, it is often too strong for photography and using it as it is, will often produce some pretty poor results.

This is where you need to diffuse the light so that it is not as harsh and normal white paper is great for this as it translucent, thin frosted plastic. Just place it underneath the light and it should diffuse the light, to the naked eye, it will look like you have made the piece much darker but it will look better in your camera. Just be careful when placing paper close to some light bulbs due to the heat they produce and you don’t want a fire!

Raw Lighting
Raw Lighting
Diffused Lighting
Diffused Lighting

At first glance, the two images above look pretty similar at first glance but when you take a closer look, the picture taken under diffused lighting looks brighter and the outer stones are not only more noticeable but the colour is easier to make out.

Angles

As jewellers and stone setters, we know how important angles are in our work but the same also applies to photography.

Often people will try and take pictures straight on, similar to the way I have in the images above and are disappointed with the results, diamonds often look dull and lifeless and coloured stones don’t look anything like they do in real life.

This is even more prevalent if you are using a black phone or a phone with a black case as the colour of the phone/case is being reflected in the stones and often the metal as well, white phones/cases are much more forgiving.

To counter this, you want to angle the piece slightly, so that the light is being reflected off the stones, this will help add some sparkle to the diamonds and give a more accurate colour to gemstones.

Diffused Lighting
Straight on Image with Diffused Lighting
Same Lighting, different Angle

The two images above are the same ring, using the same lighting but taken at different angles. With the straight on image, some of the stones are quite hard to see and the colour doesn’t look quite right (they are CZ’s but very close in colour to a fine quality Emerald). The second image is taken at an angle and the stones are much clearer to see as is the style of setting.

Bench Peg Pictures

All the images featured in this post so far have been taken using a ball vice and inside ring holder but what if you just have a bench peg that you use?

The two images above have been edited as they are ones I posted on my Instagram but I used the exact same principles as I mentioned above.

Both were taken using diffused lighting from a daylight lamp at my bench and were taken at a slight angle, this gives an accurate representation of the colour of the stone, which is a Rhodolite Garnet and the Sterling Silver looks like Sterling Silver.

Often these can be some of the easiest pictures to take as the texture of the wood from the peg and the metal from the holder add really nice textures to the picture.

Using Props

Using props to hold your work can be a great way to get a quick picture, with beading tool handles being a favourite of many!

You can also use props in your background as well to add some depth to the picture and if you are using a macro lens, you will also get something called bokeh.

Ring on a Beading Tool Handle in Natural Daylight
Bench Picture with Bokeh

This is where the out of focus parts of your image are blurry and tools in the background can look great, just like in the picture of the stones and tools above, as you can see the burrs at the back are out of focus but the stones aren’t, this gives quite an artistic look to your images and something I personally really like.

Editing Your Pictures

As much as you may try, nailing a perfect picture straight out of camera is difficult and even the pros need to use the magic of editing to get a really good quality picture!

Fortunately, you don’t need to use photoshop to do this as most phones have some form of built in editor or you will be able to download a free app that has one.

Unedited
Edited

The two images above once again look pretty similar at first glance but the one on the right has had a couple of minor edits, which has made the colours look a bit more lively and removed some of the noise from the background.

Obviously, every picture is different but things you can play around with include:

  • Brightness
  • Contrast
  • Highlights
  • Shadows
  • Exposure

I personally try and keep editing to a minimum as you can easily go way too far and then the picture can look worse than the original.

Conclusion

So there it is, my short guide to taking photographs of your jewellery while you are working at the bench.

I hope that you have found this helpful and it has given you a couple of ideas of things you can try, so that you can capture some awesome progress shots of your pieces.

Now obviously, photography is a specialism within itself and you can spend many hours trying to capture the perfect shot, I know as I’ve been there but as with anything, the more you do it and practice, the better quality pictures you will produce and you will learn what works and doesn’t for your particular set up.

So have fun taking pictures and showing the world how amazing your work is!

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