Photographing silver jewellery can be extremely difficult, but it can be done on a budget. Let me start out by saying that when I say “on a budget” I do mean about £700, you can spend far less but in my recent experience it will reduce the quality of your images. In the grand scheme of things £700 is still cheaper than outsourcing the work and if you are selling items it’s an investment you need to make. Let me start by explaining what I have tried to give you an idea of the experience I have had!
I started out with an 8MP digital compact camera, nothing fancy just an £80 family camera; I mounted it on a £5 tripod and purchased a very cheap light box tent from eBay, the kit was £30 and came with a couple of lamps buy gold in abu dhabi . The resulting images were ok but nothing spectacular, they were visibly amateur, I could have stopped at this point and used Photoshop to edit the images but the site I was working on demanded quality, I needed to get a much better result. After weeks of research and a lot of trial and error I managed to get some fantastic results, let me explain how!
Your camera is an important choice; I decided to buy a £500 Nikon D3100 DSLR camera, it was an indulgent purchase for an amateur but the results exceed expectations. I am not going to go into the huge range of camera choices but it came down to a Cannon or a Nikon, I decided to buy the Nikon because the price was right, no other reason, there’s not much between the entry level DSLR cameras at this level.
Photographing silver jewellery close up is called macro photography (the photography of items up close), the D3100 has a guide mode that allows me to select macro mode and avoid all the jargon around shutter speeds, aperture settings and all the other technical things. I did spend a lot of time learning about the various camera settings and then experimented with the various options but personally found using the cameras macro mode with the flash disabled was perfect. The only tweak I made was the image size, I selected to use the highest quality which results in the largest file size but it will pay dividends when you are editing the images later.
My next problem was that I needed a pure white background; I quickly established that the best way to achieve this was with a light tent. I purchased one for £150 with two studio lights and an acrylic riser to place the jewellery on. The lights were 500k fluorescent daylight bulbs, lighting is really key here and these bulbs really did the trick. The acrylic is a nice extra as it creates some reflection when you need it.
The tents are usually supplied with some backgrounds in solid colours, I had to iron the white background by placing a towel over it and ironing it on a low heat, and I also made sure it was dust free as even the smallest marks will show up. I set the tent up on a box to give it some height so that I could position my tripod correctly in front and then set the lights up either side of the tent. The key to the lighting is to ensure you don’t swamp the tent with too much light by having the lights directly on top of the tent, experiment with the distance a bit but you are looking for an equal distribution of white light without too much glare, silver is very reflective! I had some images where the silver appeared almost gold because the lights were to close.
The tents I purchased came with a cord attached inside to hang items but it was a thin white chord which was difficult to remove in Photoshop so I improvised with cotton but the amount of movement made it impossible to get a decent shot, in the end I used some thin guitar strings (the ‘e’ string for all you guitar players) and found it was perfect, the movement was minimal and it provided a great stable way to hang earrings. I actually used the acrylic riser to photograph the necklaces by standing it on its side the used some sticky tape behind to secure the chains, bracelets were photographed flat on top of the riser which provided some great reflections adding depth to the images.
When I was working on an individual piece of jewellery I would experiment with distance, angle and height to make sure I had a selection of images to work with later on my computer. I also had to change the position of the lights a lot, some of my pendant’s contained Swarovski crystals and I found by moving the lights to point at an angle so some light was leaking into the front of the tent I was able to create sparkle on the crystals. Bluetack also played its part during the day, I used tiny pieces to secure pendants in the positions I wanted, some people suggest beads of wax work just as well here but I used what I had on hand.