Wednesday 17 October 2012

How to Photograph Handmade Jewellery - part 2

In part 1 I wrote about some of the basics of photography and how important it was to take a variety of types of photos, with a variety of angles. This time, I'm going to deal with why focus and lighting are key to good photographs.

Sharp as a...


Macro and close-ups are all very well, but it is important that the end image is in sharp focus. Light has its part to play in this (see below) but also important is eliminating camera shake, and a small tripod can be useful to steady the camera. Another idea is to use the timer on the camera to take the photos - that way the camera itself won’t be jogged by your hand as you press the shutter down. Again, explore what your camera can do and experiment to see how it can help your final images.

Use the autofocus feature that comes as standard on many digital cameras - by holding down the shutter button very slightly, with the middle square of the viewing screen aligned with what you want to photograph, the camera should automatically provide the best focus for that image.  Be aware that backgrounds of a similar colour as the subject, such as in the photo below, can make it harder for the autofocus feature to find what you want it to focus on...

Three silver ladies

If your camera has manual focus then experiment with that, alongside the instruction manual, to work out the right settings for your photographs.

Shine your light


Good lighting is essential to good photos. The camera doesn't see what we do and small and subtle deficiencies in light and its quality can translate into dark and dingy photographs. Ensuring the camera not only has enough light but also the right type of light can help eliminate this issue.

And what is the right type of light? The right type of light is both bright and diffused.



Diffused light is vital, even if you are taking photos in the daylight. Harsh, unfiltered sunlight creates strong shadows, and the high contrast between light and shade can diminish how well detail is displayed in the photograph by creating both overly bright and deeply shadowed areas.

Taking this photo in bright sunlight has created heavy shadows on much of the silver ring. 

Ideal weather conditions are a bright, but cloudy day. In conditions of bright sunlight, try taking photos on a window sill which the sun doesn’t reach but where the light bounces off walls, so the ambient light levels are high. This will mean you won't get strong shadows but your work will be well lit.

If the shadows created are still too strong then consider using masking tape to fix tracing paper to a window to diffuse the light. The strong sunlight will scatter evenly and the shadows cast will be diminished. However, the power of the light will still be bright enough to enable a good photograph to be taken.

By diffusing some of that sunlight, the balance of shadow and light is far less stark

Another alternative is to create a light tent using net curtaining, or some other fine material, stretched over a simple frame. This tent or box effect ensures strong and harsh light is softened and diffused as it passes through the material before it hits the jewellery. The Digital Photography School, Strobist, and Instructables all provide helpful tutorials through these links on how to build light tents.




A downside of diffusing light is that it can have the adverse effect of making the light conditions too dull. If this is the case then find a piece of white cardboard and angle it to reflect light onto the jewellery. Another option is to wear a white top which will bounce light back as you snap!

Ideally, avoid using a flash when photographing jewellery. Nothing beats daylight and a flash can create areas of over-bright light in a jewellery photo that don’t represent your work at its best and can distort its true colour. However, if you only have evenings to shoot in then use a piece of white cardboard or tissue over the flash, to help diffuse the harsh light.

All this can seem hard work but getting the lighting bright but gentle enough can make all the difference between an image that looks dull and even blurry, and a photo that is sharp, clear, and well lit, with all the focus on what it should be - the jewellery.

Light is everything

The single most important element in photography is light. Without light we have no photographic images, and this is true for both film and digital photography. This is a simple rule and keeping it in mind whenever you're taking photos of jewellery and all crafts will improve the final result.

Exceptions to rules...

However, as an aside to all this, shadows can be used to add drama and texture to a photo. So do experiment with using shadow in some of your images if you think it will add interest to the jewellery. If you are using several photos to show an individual piece of work, then including an adventurous image amongst the more traditional views may be an interesting addition.

For example, this photograph below, taken in sunlight, has strong shadows and areas of brightness

but I do like the sparkle of sunlight on the silver, and it helps convey how light moves through the gemstones. I also feel it gives a sense of movement in the earrings, and I love the shadows of the earrings in the background.

But this more correctly lit shot also helps convey the shine of the gemstones, something that doesn't come through in the first photograph. 

So I would be happy using them both to showcase these particular earrings.

Next time, I'll focus on the importance of location choice, themes and backgrounds.

Thanks for reading and I hope the article has been helpful.


Do check out my other posts with ideas and hints on how to photograph jewellery -
Part One on cameras and close-ups
Part Three on location, themes and backgrounds
Part Four on styling and inspiration

Also, keep a look out for my forthcoming ebook covering in far more depth how to photograph handcrafted jewellery.


  1. Great post.

    Jumbleberries xx

  2. Really helpful post, well done.

  3. Thanks for the comments, glad you enjoyed the post :-)

  4. Very interesting post love your jewellery and the three silver ladies are lovely.

  5. Great post, really informative. Do you have any advice for photographing white things on white backgrounds I am always struggling with taking photos of porcelain on white backgrounds?
    Either the porcelain looks yellow or the background looks blue, any tips to correct this?


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