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.
These articles, Photographing Your Jewelry Using a Lightbox
not only show you how to make your own Lightbox but, Take Photos Of Your Wire Jewelry Using A Light - Part 2
shows you how to use it as well!
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