Bring Out the Best: Improve Your Jewelry Photography with Expertise from Jim Lawson

If you’ve ever tried to capture the essence of your handcrafted designs in a photo, you’re well aware that jewelry photography presents a unique set of challenges. The very features that make your jewelry so alluring – sparkle and facets, texture and detail – make it difficult to portray in a static image.

ABOVE: In this workshop with Jim Lawson, you’ll learn how to capture the beauty of your pieces with better jewelry photography.

Enter Jim Lawson professional photographer for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist. Drawing on years of experience in making pieces look their very best, Jim shares his tricks of the trade with us in his online workshop How to Photograph Your Jewelry based on his much-lauded video.

If you’re a maker who sells your work, you know exactly how important it is to be able to translate the special qualities of your jewelry pieces to their photos. While that’s no easy task, this workshop is a confident step in the right direction. What I love about Jim’s teaching is that it’s so practical and thorough. He has an entire collection of techniques that you can start applying immediately for better photos.

jewelry photography with Jim Lawson

What kind of camera is best? Jim suggests using what you have for jewelry photography and upgrading as you progress.

The Camera Conundrum

Instead of running out to buy an expensive camera, Jim recommends that you start with what you have. A simple point-and-shoot camera should not be discounted; it can take perfectly good photos if you know how to maximize your conditions. It’s affordable and portable, ready for use at any moment just by pulling it out of your purse or backpack.

On the other hand, a DSLR camera has worthwhile features if you’re ready to invest and make use of the additional oomph. Jim provides plenty of great advice about both types. If you have a strong opinion either way, you’ll love participating in the discussion board built into this workshop!

Having grown up in the transition from film to digital, I have fond memories of using a range of cameras. At home and in school, I experimented with basic film cameras, metal Band-Aid box pinhole cameras, clunky Polaroids, and equally-clunky early digital cameras. For the photography courses I took in college as part of my journalism degree, my dad bought me what he called “the last camera you’ll ever need.” It was a Canon SLR. You read that right — an SLR, without the “D” for digital.

For class, we recorded our f-stops and shutter speeds on a manual log as we snapped each photo. Then we developed our black-and-white negatives in chemicals that I can still smell in my memory. In a short-lived overlap between the old and the new, we proceeded to scan those negatives into Photoshop for editing.

By the time I graduated, that camera was just about obsolete. I took heart in knowing that the principles of good photography endure, no matter the camera. While I eventually made the jump to a DSLR, I haven’t been able to part with this relic from the past.

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Jewelry Shoot Secrets: Fill Cards, Diffusion Frames, & More

In this workshop, Jim doesn’t dumb anything down, and yet at the same time, he covers the material in a manner that’s easy to follow and build upon. He first covers the key components of setting up, including the camera, light source, tripod, and software. He explains how to correctly set your ISO, how to manipulate your lighting for best results, and how to make use of silver fill cards — a fabulous tip for jewelry shoots. (Read more about this in Jim’s tips below.)

Then he moves into more advanced methods for using a DSLR: key camera settings, ideal f-stops for keeping your entire piece in focus, and best practices for capturing detail in sparkly, faceted, translucent, and metallic pieces. In addition to the silver fill cards, he’ll teach you how to make and use your own diffusion frame — a secret weapon when it comes to highly reflective surfaces.

You can easily make your own diffusion frame to start improving your jewelry photography.

You can easily make your own diffusion frame to start improving your jewelry photography..

In true guru fashion, Jim has tons of useful tips on how to pose your jewelry, from presentation tips to hacks like using Fun-Tak. I was all ears, especially since I have often been frustrated by pieces that refuse to lie straight and impishly display their seams at every opportunity. Last but not least, he reveals how to achieve that coveted gradient background you see in professional magazine images. (Hint: it involves Plexiglas.)

Follow along with Jim as he adjusts image exposures and neutralizes background colors in Lightroom.

Follow along with Jim as he adjusts image exposures and neutralizes background colors in Lightroom.

Throughout, you’ll see how Jim uses Lightroom to make basic exposure adjustments and achieve a neutral background. You’ll also enjoy a Q&A session run by Lexi Erickson, in which Jim opines on even more topics such as macro settings and light domes. Plus, this online workshop offers additional features you’ll enjoy: an interactive introduction to histograms and a photo terminology match-up.

jewelry photography: Check your knowledge with interactive activities throughout the workshop.

Check your knowledge with interactive activities throughout the workshop.

Jim’s Top 5 Tips on Jewelry Photography

Jim brings up so many relevant pointers in this jewelry photography workshop. Here’s just a sampling of his photography expertise for you to enjoy.

1. It’s all in the presentation.
Presentation is very important with jewelry; take the time to make it look as good as you possibly can before you shoot it. Position the jewelry so that its most important features are in the foreground available to the camera. Aim for a sense of shape and movement.

2. Do your best with what you have.
You can succeed with a small, inexpensive camera for web work or small print photographs. While a professional DSLR camera will give you excellent control and larger file sizes, a fancy camera is not required for good results.

3. Cast some light on it.
Natural light, such as window light, is a great place to start. A small table beneath the window makes a good shoot location. To step it up, you will probably want to purchase a light source. A lightbox with a fluorescent bulb, stand, and optional biometric configuration for positioning are ideal.

4. Perfect the shot.
Have on hand some tweezers to tweak your jewelry and a fine brush to clean up background dust before you shoot. This will save you valuable time later in editing!

5. Preserve the metallic feel.
A silver fill card is a must-have when photographing jewelry. The fill card will be reflected in the jewelry, allowing the piece to retain its metallic look. Place one or more fill cards to preserve those metal tones as well as reduce shadows.

As a maker, your goal is to make your jewelry look as good in a photograph as it does in real life. This workshop will help you do just that.

Go be creative!
Tamara Kula
Producer, Bead & Jewelry Group


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