Daily Wire Tip: Photographing Your Wire Jewelry

By on January 9, 2011
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Daily Wire Jewelry Making Tip

Question:

I am having difficulty getting a clear picture of my wire wrapping designs. What type of camera do you suggest, and do you use a light box always? I am almost ready to pay a professional to take the pictures! Thank you!

-Robin in Redding, California

Answer:

Yes Robin, taking good photos of your work is very important and does not have to be difficult. Before you invest in equipment, ask yourself, Where are these photos to be used? Are you putting them on the Internet to sell your jewelry? Are they going to be used to jury into a show? Are you writing an article that will be printed? Will the images need to be really huge or printed out?

Personally, I use a digital light box mainly for taking stepped-out pictures for patterns, so there is no background to confuse the viewer. I also use my light box when I want a photo that I can cut out the entire background from (I use Adobe Photoshop). For most jewelry shots I use a neutral, no-shine background that will not take away from the main item, but rather enhance the design. For example, a piece of driftwood or a cool rock (however, I think using crystals takes away from the feature item).

As for a camera choice, I have used an expensive camera with all types of lenses in the past, but it has since died. I presently use a simple digital camera with both an auto-focus as well as manual options. My first camera was over $400, and my new one was just $130! I also have to tell you that I am not a professional photographer. My experience has come from trial and error – which is not expensive, it just takes time.

The two most important features of a camera used to take pictures of jewelry are a Macro setting, and being able to turn off the flash. Investing in an inexpensive tripod is a must! One tip I have learned is not to use the zoom option when using a Macro setting, as the Macro will enhance your item automatically, and the zoom can actually ruin the auto feature of the Marco.

This article, Photographing Your Jewelry Using a Lightbox not only shows you how to make your own Lightbox, but also how to use it!

The best way to select a camera is to go to a camera shop/store (no, not the one at a department store), and ask the experts there. Tell them what you wish to do with your camera and what results you expect, as well as your budget. They will be able to make suggestions, and often you have a week or two to experiment before you can no longer take the camera back. (This is how I made my recent purchase.)

As for hiring a professional photographer, yes, I also do this. When you are ready to apply to some of the major art shows out there, to me it is worth the cost to have my work shot by a professional. Be careful when choosing a photographer though, because glass and jewelry are the most difficult items to shoot well. I am sure that folks will jump in and share their experiences, this is a great subject. Thanks for asking!

Answer contributed by Dale “Cougar” Armstrong

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32 Comments

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  2. avatar

    Robin Lutsky

    January 9, 2011 at 9:16 am

    I use a lightbox I also use a Nikon D3000SLR camera and Nikon 85 mm f/3.5G ED DX VR Micro Lens. This gets you professional
    looking pictures and if you want to do juried shows or sell your things on your own website or Etsy or Ebay I recommend going this route. I also use a tripod. This is not a cheap setup so unless you are prepared to use it on a regular basis try Dales route.

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      January 9, 2011 at 12:37 pm

      Robin, thanks for sharing a more professional approach.

  3. avatar

    Katherine

    January 9, 2011 at 11:46 am

    A professional photographer, who is also a beader, told me that indirect natural light is best. My favorite place to take pictures is on the back porch in the morning light. I can really tell the difference between natural light and indoor light! As for backgrounds, I have several terry cloth towels – white and navy blue, depending upon the color of the stones or beads. They are cheap, available at any discount or department store and can be tossed into the washer and dryer as needed. I also like to use a piece of plain denim, and sometimes I use a piece of lace for interest. With an auto focus, the most important thing is to be patient and wait for the camera to get itself ready for the shot. I know this is hard, but patience with the camera’s auto focus is really a virtue worth learning.

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      January 9, 2011 at 12:34 pm

      Hi Katherine, I also like to take photos on a cloudy day, on my porch, under a table umbrella – nice info to share – thanks so much!

  4. avatar

    Dorothy K. Duflo

    January 9, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    I use a Nikon Coolpix L1 which has the macro setting as suggested, and found it to be an excellent camera for just that same thing. Also have a light box but find that limits your work area. I use natural indirect light (11-3) with items on a plain white background on a windowsill in my office. I also do a white balance check on the camera every few photos in case the lighting has varied since the first check. This ensures no false variations in jewelry colors. Keep turning the jewelry piece to take advantage of highlighting different features. Eventually you’ll become familiar with what you’re looking for and won’t have to take as many photos.

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      January 9, 2011 at 12:30 pm

      Great info Dorothy, thanks for sharing your photography techniques with us!

  5. avatar

    Kitty

    January 9, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    Set your camera on ‘macro’ for really close ups.

  6. avatar

    annette arnold

    January 9, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    I actually took about 10-15 pcs of my jewelry with me to several stores and tested out cameras before I bought mine, and I agree, Dale a $130 with a macroo setting was the best!

  7. avatar

    Lesia

    January 9, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    Not having had luck with photos/cameras I usually get fairly good results with a flatbed scanner.

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      January 10, 2011 at 1:16 am

      Thanks Lesia, you are so right! Often I make quick photos by using my scanner – thanks for reminding me : )

  8. avatar

    Caroline Horne

    January 9, 2011 at 6:45 pm

    A timer is also an invaluable tool. Shots can end up blurred even with a tripod when you push the button to take your shot.

  9. avatar

    Thomas H

    January 9, 2011 at 9:30 pm

    Another helpful feature on your camera is the timer (used with a tripod, of course). That way the camera takes the shot, and prevents inadvertent shaking and a fuzzy picture.

  10. avatar

    Charlotte

    January 10, 2011 at 1:56 am

    Another useful tool is an inexpensive “remote switch” that you plug into your camera while it is on a tripod. Similar results as the timer, but you don’t have the wait. And, I agree that natural light on a porch or under a tree is the best. I like matt backgrouds too. To hold your jewelry in place try museum gel to hold it to get just the right angle. And editing in Photoshop Elements is really helpful.

  11. avatar

    liz

    January 10, 2011 at 4:29 am

    Liz,
    I use a sony cyber-shot for my photo’s of my bead work and they come out pretty good, have post a few on my face book, got lots of comments how good the photos of my work look and how much they like my work which real encourage you to keep up the good work.

  12. avatar

    ShirleyM

    January 10, 2011 at 1:12 pm

    I’m pleased to see that I am not the only one using a flatbed scanner to record my jewelry pieces. I use plain copy paper and select color copy, then punch the pages to store in a looseleaf binder. The scanner certainly does not produce an adequate image for internet sales, but I use it just to keep a record of my work, adding the names of materials used and costs, date completed, and who I made it for if I made it specially for a friend or family-member. Since the image is “life-size” I can tell how long a necklace or bracelet was, what size beads were used, etc. It really comes in handy if someone wants to add a matching bracelet or earrings later.

    • avatar

      Brynda

      September 18, 2012 at 11:11 am

      That is such a great idea, I didn’t realize I could do that! And, as you said, it is wonderful to have something like that when your customer calls you and says I lost it, can you make me another. I am going to do that with all of my wire pieces, I have so many beaded pieces I couldn’t take the time to go back over them, but I will absolutely use the scanner as I make new pieces! Thank you!

    • avatar

      paula ungar-jewelry historian

      September 19, 2012 at 3:56 am

      I use the scanner for record keeping also. itworks well. also use the nikon andtripod for photos with natural light and thatworks well also. Ienjoy sharing all these tips that people use and hve experimented with for photos. can someone help me with putting photos on a disc???as I lecture and have been putting photos in a loose leaf for all the listeners who come to my lectures. thanks pauline

  13. avatar

    Mary Phillips

    January 10, 2011 at 9:56 pm

    It cracks me up that so many of us use natural light on the back porch. I have a portable light box (affordable from an ebay shop) that I use for more formal shots. But I like using props, especially in my Etsy shop pictures. When my inexpensive digital broke (okay, I dropped it), my father gave me an expensive one – it’s just not the same so I may just buy another cheap one for my jewelry. Thanks for all the good input from all the other photo-snapping jewelry junkies out there.

  14. avatar

    Jane Elizabeth

    January 11, 2011 at 9:12 am

    I have a Sony Cyber shot as well and though I have taken many pictures in the past with numerous cameras I have not had good results until now. I am in the process of building my light box and am excited for the results this new camera holds! Next I have to figure out how to transfer my pictures from the camera to the web site… it’s a process, right?

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      January 11, 2011 at 4:42 pm

      Oh yeah Jane – we learn to wear many hats!

  15. avatar

    Ken Casey

    January 19, 2011 at 7:21 pm

    I have been photographing minerals and crystals for years as an amateur.

    I use a simple 3.1 megapixel Pentax Optio S I bought in 2003. I’ve taken over 500,000 photos, and it still works.

    I also use Macro and Super Macro settings without a flash in a simple lightbox from Walmart. For lighting, I combine natural northern light and 500K color spotlights (one on either side, outside of white panels for diffused light).

    Also, a bright color setting helps. It’s the one with the flower with petals icon on my camera.

    Crystal faces are tricky, as they can act like mirrors, so taking shots from many different angles helps to find a shot that works.

    To see some examples go to http://www.delminsociety.net/marchshow2010/marchshow2010_photos.htm#Display Cases .

    Hope this helps.

  16. avatar

    Nathalie

    September 18, 2012 at 8:37 am

    I use a Panasonic DMC-FZ18 with the food setting, no flash and use the timer. A tripod is absolutely necessary to ensure there is no blurriness. I have a light box but find the lighting very tricky to set-up to reduce shadows. I agree that some of the best picture I have taken were with outside indirect light early morning. I often have to retouch the pictures with Microsoft Office Picture Manager to ensure the colors are brightness are accurate. Not an easy task all that but a great picture will sell your piece while a poor one will not.

  17. avatar

    Dorothy Pollak

    September 18, 2012 at 10:16 am

    If you don’t have the money to buy a new camera, or you’re absent the mechanical aptitude for the hand made light box, There’s an intermediate step I’ve found that if you do a lot of asking and researching may be an option. I found a local ceramic shop that has a light box set up, and if yo bring your own equipment, they only charge $5/hr for customers to use it. It’s a bit more if you use their equipment, but still very reasonable. Since they’re doing it, I can’t imagine others aren’t. Because they photograph their own ceramic pieces (also susceptible to glare or light reflection) they are very helpful. Check out your area. You may find something similar while you save for your camera. Thanks to all of you. Lots of good information.

  18. avatar

    Robin Burns

    September 18, 2012 at 10:25 am

    I bought an inexpensive light box cube on Ebay, and it’s the best investment I ever made for the process! My camera is an older Canon PowerShot model, which badly needs replacement but still takes great photos. I usually turn the flash on and off for several photos in each mode and evaluate them before taking down the photo display. That way, if I need to reshoot I can recreate the camera settings that worked best and don’t have to redo the display. The use of a tripod is essential, as are the macro lens and good strong diffused or natural lighting. Thanks for running this subject!

  19. avatar

    Kay Red Eagle

    September 18, 2012 at 11:08 am

    I get very good pictures with a flatbed scanner by laying a neutral colored piece of paper over my jewelry pieces and leaving the lid open in a low light room.

  20. avatar

    charlotte

    September 18, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    well you have listened to all these wonderful suggestions,,here’s mine,,use cotton fabric,,all solid color,,grey black or white according to the colors you want to show,,silver,,black is best colored stones grey is cool and gold,,white works best (my opinion only),,,then this is where it gets funny,,i tape one square of toilet paper over the flash darken the room to dusk looking and shoot from about 20 inches away,,then i use a crop program to crop out everything but the piece i wanted to photograph and voilla,,i have found there is no glare and the pictures are still bright and easy to see details on,,good luck

  21. avatar

    SUE RYZDYNSKI

    September 18, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    ALL the above information is really accurate and fascinating! I need to use my scanner more in just making a record!

    But, I have to add something I found out purely by accident!

    Those of you out there that may own the 3rd generation Ipad may find it takes as good close up pictures as cameras on ‘macro’!

    I own both an inexpensive digital (Ipad does close up much better) and a more expensive digital. The macro on that can take pretty good shots, but, getting there with all it’s whistles and bells is a ‘macro’ headache!

    I was so pleased with the Ipad’s simple ability that I bought a converter, so my Ipad will fit on my tripod. Also, for delayed shooting, there’s an app for that! (I use the app ‘Camera Timer’)

    Course, not sure if you want to buy an Ipad just for jewelry shooting as, they are pricey, I’m just happily impressed they do a dang fine job and SIMPLE, no settings to worry about!!

    Sue R.

  22. avatar

    Doreen

    December 31, 2012 at 9:10 am

    I have found that when photographing items that need light but no shine, my guest bathroom counter is the best place. The small area of the room, the white walls and the bar light above the mirror is a great way to light up your jewelry. I do use props sometimes and have been known to use plain scrapbook paper at other times to back my product.
    I too have a cheap digital camera and do not wish to go into the expense of having my pieces photographed by a pro.

  23. avatar

    Sharon

    October 22, 2013 at 7:57 am

    Just want to add my thanks for all this great advice! One of the things that has delayed getting my work on-line has been getting good photos with low budget equipment.

    I’ve been researching and deciding whether I need an expensive camera with multiple lenses. I’ve been nervous about using my current camera which I see has been mentioned here, the Sony Cyber-shot. I have been reading the instruction manual and so glad Dale added the reminder not to try and zoom. It has macro and apparently to use it you just have to use the setting to let the camera do all the work.

    I ordered an inexpensive light cube set up from Amazon and should be arriving today, however I’m going to also find the best natural lighting around my house and compare what looks best. Maybe the tent was not necessary, but it comes with two lights and tripod which I didn’t have either. Can it really be that easy?!!

    Thanks again!

    Sharon

  24. avatar

    Graham Basden

    April 6, 2016 at 5:13 am

    One tip I’ve found useful. Whether I’m using a light box or natural lighting, I find it handy to have a piece of white paper intruding into one corner of the frame. I use that to colour balance the image in Photoshop Elements (It’s cheaper than the full version and has everything I need) then crop it out of the final image.

  25. avatar

    Vickie

    April 12, 2016 at 2:02 pm

    Hello everyone – just thought I’d put my 2 cents in here too as well as give you a couple of links. First if you need a photo editing program you can go to photoscape.org and download their free program. It has a lot of bells and whistles – should be everything you need for editing your photos and theire are tutorials on that site to help you learn how. I do web design and make jewelry and for my web design I use Corel Paint Shop Pro – it’s much less expensive then Photoshop and does a great job but I really think you should try the free photoscape program first. It really does do everything you need it to do and can even put special effects on your pictures or you can add text to them, crop, focus, adjust lighting and contrast, and more. Then for my jewelry I purchased a lightbox from Etsy at this link https://www.etsy.com/listing/234258604/16-photography-light-tent-backdrop-kit?ref=shop_home_feat_2 It was $37.95 and came with two light stands and a tripod that my smartphone fits in. I think it works for cameras too. He has various sizes on the light boxes but I think that’s an excellent price to get the light box, 2 lamps and a tripod. My Samsung phone takes really good pictures so I haven’t had to purchase a camera tho I’m sure a real camera might take better pictures. I used to sell a lot of other items on the net and I found that natural light is absolutely the best way to get a good picture. You never want to take a picture in direct sunlight but under a porch covering or even under a tree or when the sun goes behind a cloud gives you excellent crisp and clear shots. I had a table set up on my porch that had a tablecloth and a few props on it that I used to take my pictures with. The difference between taking your pictures indoors and outdoors is huge. The light box with the lamps to use inside is your next best option. I hope some of this info is helpful to someone – happy to answer any questions if you have any.

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