Macro Photography for Jewelry and 3D Art: Part 2- Understanding the Basics – Light

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Lighting can make or break a photograph. Jewelry, or sculpture with a shiny finish, is particularly difficult to photograph because of its reflective surfaces and colors. Specular lighting (direct bright lights or flash) creates hard shadows. The stones in a jewelry setting will look OK, but the metal will wash out. The correct type of light source is a diffuse source. The interplay of shadow and shape creates texture, therefore the details must be preserved or the texture is lost.

The color of the light is also a consideration. For instance old fashioned fluorescent lights often give a yellow colored light. If you purchase lights be certain to understand what sort of light they will put out. I have had success with both daylight and pure white bulbs. Halogen lights are often color corrected. A lens filter can sometimes be used to correct for the type of light, but every piece of glass between the object and the digital recording sensors or film results in a degradation of image quality, so the use of filters should be kept to a minimum. Post-production color adjustment is another option, but I try to minimize my use of this technique. For professionals the best source of light has traditionally been a set of focusable Tungsten based lights. Most good quality digital cameras will have the option to change between types of light sources with the push of a button. In cameras using film you must change the type of film or add a lens filter. My personal preference is natural indirect light.

There are some really amazing lighting products on the market. They are often made of fabrics that are extremely heat resistant and the correct color so that the color of the piece being photographed will not be altered. Remember reflected light will be the color of what it is bouncing off. An assortment of dome tents and domes can be used to diffuse the light. If you choose a dome or dome tent without a bottom the item can be staged and then the dome can be lowered over it. The lights are placed on the outside of the tent or dome. The camera lens can be put into the dome through an opening for taking the photographs and some systems even have an additional opening so that an additional light can be used for accents.

Anyone that looks at my jewelry photos will see that I often use different color backgrounds. This is a personal preference and one that some people will not agree with. I do not do high-end glamor jewelry photography. The majority of my work is art jewelry or pieces of historical reproduction jewelry and dress accessories. The current trend that Etsy and some other sites have for washed out gray backgrounds does NOT suit a lot of the work that I do. If you are supplying pictures to an art show or publication you need to be aware of what type of photography they prefer. Do they want to see your necklace or sculpture in a natural setting, on or with a model, or on a totally neutral background.

I have had a couple of questions in the past year about shooting jewelry against a black background. Metal will reflect the color of whatever it is sitting on, so shooting it on black allows it to really pop. In addition, Photoshop and other programs allow you to remove the black background if you need to for a show requirement. With the background gone it gives you the opportunity to place your photo on a variety of backgrounds to see what the artistic effect would be.

I should mention that the picture of the flower hat pin at the beginning of this blog was taken with a cheapy camera at an art show. The big trick? The photo was taken inside a white tent, so the light was very even and allowed all the details of the flower to show clearly.

Next – Part 3: Post Production Manipulation and Salvation