Shooting jewelry presents many challenges to those without photographic experience, as well as for seasoned pros. To truly reflect the beauty of the piece, much thought and consideration must precede the shoot. Technical issues that present themselves include: shallow depth-of-field due to high levels of magnification, light reflection on polished surfaces, color accuracy, and perspective curvature.
Because each stone is different, each has to be shot differently in the attempt to fully utilize its inherent luster. At the beginning of each shoot, I think about things like size, shape, and color, but more importantly, I think about what makes a particular piece unique. The uniqueness of each piece must be the focus of the photograph. I believe that a successful shot is one that not only expresses the design, but also the quality of each unique piece of jewelry.
How will I interpret my vision through lighting and composition? I think about these elements before I choose my lighting scheme; since each stone or piece of jewelry is different, each calls for a different plan of action. A very common approach is to shoot jewelry in a tent. Although this technique is certainly effective and efficient, it may often give stones and metal settings a dull, flat appearance. Metallic settings may appear matte, and brilliant stones may loose their luster. My preference has been working with many light sources, reflectors, and diffusers.
Before shooting a piece of jewelry, I first pick it up and look at it from several angles. Once I determine the angle I feel will best express the piece, I place it on a chosen surface that won't compromise the jewelry in any way. For example, you wouldn't choose a color or texture that may reflect into the piece in an undesirable way. An exception might be to choose a surface or background that may enhance the piece in a particular way. I commonly shoot on a black, gray, or white surface, as these backgrounds will usually provide very effective highlights and shadows. Once the position of the piece, the camera angle, and the surface is determined, the next task is the lighting.
The better the quality of the stone, the easier it is to photograph. I find that working with a continuous light source is more accurate than using strobes, but I often use both light sources together. With continuous, it's WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get). When strobes fire, you tend to get bounced light that you didn't see with the modeling lights.
I like to place my first light in a position that will begin to define the facets. In most cases, one light won't give me the information I need to create an accurate capture of the stone(s). So I'll continue to add lights and reflectors until I'm happy with what I see.
Once the lighting is set, reflectors are added for the metal settings. If the settings are metallic and reflective, I will capture this by reflecting both lights and darks into the setting. On occasion, I may shoot first for the stones, and then for the settings. Of course, this will create some post-production work. Also, it is very seldom that you'll use the same lighting situation for more than one jewelry shot.
The fact that every person or client sees jewelry differently is one of the primary challenges facing photographers. Elements such as color are different to each person; one client may like gold to look pinker, while another may appreciate a brassier look. This is why it's important to have a full understanding of the client's perspective.
I was recently asked to shoot a 200-carat, cushion-cut yellow diamond; because of insurance costs, the shoot had to be done in a Manhattan office. The location presented a challenge in that I was unable to bring all of my equipment. In addition to the equipment I did bring, I was forced to used both ambient and window light. This variety of color temperatures had to look like one in the end, which was achieved during post-production.
A different challenge presented itself at a shoot for a ruby bracelet, a piece of estate jewelry. Since rubies are usually obtained from all over the world, they're never the same size, shape, or color-however, my client wanted the rubies in this piece to all look the same. This feat was achieved mostly during post-production, but during the shoot I used continuous lighting and shot several exposures, all to create the end illusion of consistency among the stones.
Though shooting jewelry seems daunting to some, when the right level of experience and quality of equipment is used, it can be a pleasure. Overall, I find that shooting jewelry is very challenging and rewarding. How often do you get the chance to see, touch, and photograph an item that can fit in your hand, and that has the value of a new car or a down payment on a house (or both), and then some.
Tony Petitinato (www.pettinatophoto.com) is a New York City photographer with 25 years of experience. He specializes in product, still life, and fashion/beauty photography, creating signature images for advertising, corporate, editorial, and promotional clients. Passion for photography drives him, and creativity motivates him.