This is one subject that doesn’t receive as much attention as it should. Jewelry, being sparkly, shiny, and reflective, has subtle challenges to get it right in photography. To understand how to get it right, it is important not only to understand the “how”, but the “why” as well.
First, learn a new term: “candela”. Candela is the part of the electromagnetic radiation spectrum that the human eye can see. Of course, it plays a role in any photography, since light is the whole art medium of photography to begin with. But candela plays an especially heavy role in jewelry photography.
Now, the amount of light which you can see is a broader range than the amount of light which a digital camera can capture. This same principle is at work in looking at a computer monitor: there’s only so many colors and intensities of light the monitor is capable of displaying. While the human eye can see a wide range of light all at the same time, digital chips cannot. The difference is, a digital chip can capture light all across the light spectrum, but, unlike your eye, not all at the same time. So what your eye sees and what the camera will record are two different things. The difference is especially noticeable with jewelry, since there is so much reflected light going on.
Here are lighting techniques to consider:
This is the simple, basic approach. The photographer places the light source around the camera lens which is pointing towards the jewelry to be photographed. This method may use a top-mounted flash unit, ring lights, or soft boxes next to the lens. Only to be used for illustrative purposes, since front light is unexciting and sometimes causes glare from certain areas on the reflective surface that reflects the light from opposing angles.
Side lighting will enhance the impression of three dimensions. As opposed to the flat, two-dimensional effect of front lighting, illuminating the jewelry from the side gives the image the impression of depth. Side lighting is best used for accentuating the surface textures of jewelry subjects that have a lot of detailed work. However, you must be careful in placing the light to avoid unwanted reflections.
Available Natural Light
Of course, natural lighting is very even and already exists without adding any artificial illumination by the jewelry photographer. When this is combined with other reflective surfaces – silver cards, for instance – it can be an effective technique in jewelry photography for achieving a soft and pronounced edge on metals and gemstones. If you’ve ever noticed, a jewelry store usually has soft, indirect lighting in its showroom. For exactly this reason, which is that jewelry looks better with a soft, natural light environment. Here’s more on photography lighting.
This is the one which results in high contrast images, especially if the light is coming from a single source such as the sun or a fixture equipped with a Fresnel lens. It produces high-contrast captures with deep shadows and a dramatic effect. In jewelry photography, it isn’t of much use except when used in combination with other, softer light sources for the purpose of adding a certain creative effect. It adds impact and accentuates jewelry textures, but can also be used to light through diffusing surfaces, like acrylic or cloth, to create softer shadows.
At last, diffused lighting scatters light rays, to produce softer light, lessen contrast, and smooth out details in the jewelry. The resulting images tend to look more like the real thing, with an ideal lighting condition giving it a dreamy character. Because this technique is very good for showing overall and shadow details, it is the most widely-used method in jewelry photography.
You still see spotlight effects sometimes. It is a useful tool to focus attention on the piece, or on a certain area of the jewelry. Of course it is very dramatic, but in jewelry photography most surfaces are too reflective so that special techniques must be applied when spotlighting to soften and control the reflections and glare. The effect, done the right way, can produce a compelling image.
Ray’s real expertise is based on starting a photography business. Ray places emphasis on profitability elements. If you are seeking more photography help, try a digital photography tip or two. For brief reviews on services and equipment (many free) see photography equipment.