How to Photograph Jewelry Like a Pro: Learn from One!

I’ll let you in on a little secret: Jim Lawson’s ability to make jewelry look great in a photo is so good, sometimes I’ve changed my mind about what should be on the cover of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist based on how he’s shot a piece. Really. It’s not the only consideration by far, but without saying a word,  Jim can make a mighty compelling case with his camera.

ABOVE: Lexi Erickson’s drusy “blue cloud” pendant project appeared in the July 2017 issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist; photo: Jim Lawson

If you want to improve your jewelry photography, you’re in luck, because Jim has shared a lot of his own secrets about jewelry photography in his videos How to Photograph Your Jewelry and How to Photograph Your Jewelry: Beyond the Basics. And don’t kid yourself: the quality of your jewelry photography matters a lot!

How to Photograph Your Jewelry Like a Pro: Learn from One!

Michelle Brennan’s amethyst bar chain maille bracelet project appeared in the July 2017 issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist; photo: Jim Lawson

Your fabulous designs will not “just shine through” even if your photos don’t actually show the details very well. Visitors to your Etsy shop, your Facebook page, your Flickr gallery, Instagram account, Pinterest pages, or any of the other online sites where you might post your jewelry photos will not figure out how good your jewelry really looks in person from a picture that doesn’t look good.

How to Photograph Your Jewelry Like a Pro: Learn from One!

George Sawyer’s mokumé gane and mokumé gane derived rings appeared on the cover of the November 2011 issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist; photo: Jim Lawson

Buyers open their wallets, jurors pick winners of competitions and craft show slots, and magazine editors and art directors select work for publication in print based on what they do see. And what they’re looking at a lot of the time are photographs — often, that’s all they see.

How to Photograph Your Jewelry Like a Pro: Learn from One!

The shot of Lexi Erickson’s fordite pendant used on the cover of the April 2017 issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist; photo: Jim Lawson

Here are a few tips on shooting your jewelry that Jewelry Making Daily’s own Tammy Jones gleaned from watching other jewelry makers at a shoot and then from Jim’s intro video How to Photograph Your Jewelry. The advice is worth running again, so here it is.

Jewelry Photography: Tips on What To Do (and What Not To Do) for Great Photos

by Tammy Jones

I had the pleasure of hanging out with some of my metal clay L’Esprit du Metal guild members recently for a jewelry photography session. I learned some great info and got a little practice using light tents, and we talked about backgrounds a lot. The most important thing that came up, for me, was not using a black background for photographing metal. Yes, I said not to.

Great Jewelry Photography: Don’t Use Black

How to Photograph Your Jewelry Like a Pro: Learn from One!

A guild member had an umbrella handy, so Katherine Prejean and I used it and a piece of paper to block the reflection that the overhead light was causing on her jewelry. Whatever works! (The background we’re shooting on is green, by the way, not black!)

I simply cannot get a black background to work for jewelry photos, especially if I’m photographing bright silver jewelry or pearls. The contrast between the black fabric and the light jewelry is just too great, and I end up with very good shots of lint on black and the jewelry is too “hot” or too bright to show any detail. The solution is pretty simple–just don’t use a black background for light jewelry. If you absolutely want a dark background, dark gray works better than black, but lighter gray and old weathered wood backgrounds work best for me.

I know, you’re thinking, “But black is what all the professional jewelry photos are taken on, right?” Seems like it, but look at some of your jewelry-making magazine covers. Those backgrounds aren’t black, are they? Even photos that are taken on black seem to have a halo of light around the jewelry in them, which makes the background closer to gray instead of black. You rarely see a true black background–they’re usually gray or even a light color.

Great Jewelry Photography: Do Not Zoom

Another photography tip that has given me success is not to zoom. Yes, I said not again! In layman’s terms (because that’s what kind of photographer I am!), every little bit that you zoom in on your jewelry increases the “wiggle factor” and your chances of having a blurry photo, even if your camera has auto focus. Instead, take photos from a reasonable distance (at least a foot or two) on the highest resolution your camera has; then crop the photo on your computer for a close-up photo of your jewelry that still has great detail.

Great Jewelry Photography: Tips from a Pro

Jim Lawson is the photographer responsible for the amazing jewelry photographs you see in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine, among other places. I’ve heard artists say he makes their jewelry look even better in photographs than it does in person! Somehow we were lucky enough to get Jim to reveal his secrets in a how-to video, How to Photograph Your Jewelry.

Using even a simple “point and shoot” camera, Jim shares how to take good jewelry photographs. He suggests using a light tent or light box but says that even a small window can provide enough light to take good jewelry photographs. I try to plan ahead and always take photos outside or in front of a window if possible, but the light tents came in very handy during our recent rainy, nighttime photo shoot!

Jim recommends keeping your camera tethered to a computer via USB cable as you shoot, if possible, so you can see the photos largely and clearly as you go and you’ll know right away if the shot is clean, crisp, and gorgeous.

Jim also recommends always using a tripod to hold your camera. It allows you to set up the camera once and then be hands-free to rearrange your jewelry, swap out pieces to photograph as well as props and backgrounds, without having to stop and pick up your camera again, aim again, focus again, etc. Naturally, using a tripod helps cut down on blurry photos as well, and if you find that you still move the camera too much when you’re snapping a photo, try setting up the shot and using your camera’s timer. You can push the button and then move your hand away in the few seconds before the shutter clicks. This little trick was discovered in our metal guild photo shoot as well. Smart folks!

— Tammy Jones

Thanks, Tammy!

Learn from This Pro

Jim understands what you need, and he delivers it. He’s an accomplished professional photographer of more than 40 years, specializing in jewelry for over a decade, and he’s taught jewelry photography to full-time jewelry professionals and makers who have a small business on the side.

How to Photograph Your Jewelry Like a Pro: Learn from One!

Kit Carson’s turquoise and found steel cuff project appears on the cover of the September/October 2017 issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist; photo: Jim Lawson

I’m lucky: I get to use the services of a fabulous professional photographer for my work — that is, for the pages of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist. But everyone can learn from Jim.

Cast from a 3D printed model designed with CAD, this silver ring from Nervous System at appeared on the cover of the May/June 2013 issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist; photo: Jim Lawson

Merle White is Editor-in-Chief of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist and Editorial Director for the Interweave Jewelry Group.

Watch and Shoot

As Tammy also says, “You can learn so many more tips and tricks like these from Jim, including which light bulbs don’t get dangerously hot, which ISO and megapixel size settings to use on your camera for the highest-quality images, how to set up your light sources, and more. If you sell your jewelry online or are interested in submitting it for juried jewelry design shows, the photographs you use can make or break you, no matter how talented you are or how spectacular your jewelry designs are. So don’t lead the race and trip over the finish line — instantly download your copy of Jim’s How to Photograph Your Jewelry today and finish strong!”

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