Just want to give a little insight for one of the projects we have running as some sort of background process during the week before a vacation. Talking about jewelry photography, small jewelry to be specific.
The main intention of this self-assignment that I want to develop a lighting technique which will let me to work with a very small jewelry objects: rings, gems, etc. Shooting such objects require a life-size (1:1) macro (in most cases), and the “conventional” product lighting setups may not work well for them. (Few more examples of the lighting technique for larger jewelry can be found here and here)
Why not? Let me show this ring I was using for this assignment:
What makes it difficult to shoot is attached diamond: such crystal requires completely different lighting approach then what I can use for the rest of the ring.
From one side, the ring surface looks good under gradient filled reflectors and diffusers, which makes it look shiny and soft.
On other side, the diamond looks dull and flat under such lighting. To “ignite” sparks on a diamond’s facets, more directional and intense light needed, reflector (if used) should have much more contrast areas. For example, I’ve used small foil-like piece of metal bended many times, meaning the reflection it produces had very uneven pattern: very bright areas alternates with dark ones.
When I get such thing highlighted by a spot light source and positioned the way that the diamond reflects it, every facet become highlighted differently, which makes stone to look sparkling…
The only issue that such reflections should not appear on a ring’s body. So… it is tricky to get both things simultaneously work for me in one shoot.
I did not want to use a photo stacking technique: it would be an easy solution to shoot separate images of the gem and the ring and then stuck them in one, taking the best parts from each. This is not the way I want it done, as I the whole idea is to get as close as possible to a “one perfect shot”: I know that it is possible to shoot jewelry this way, and I want to develop such technique for myself.
Let me go through each stage of the development process.
First, the lens selection:
For the first image on this post I’ve used Canon 180mm F3.5L macro lens closed down to F25, for the one below I’ve used my view-camera based tilt-shift monster adapter with Rodenstock APO 80mm F4 lens closed down to F16.
In both cases I’ve got acceptably deep DOF: while working with 180mm macro (I’ve also tried to use Canon 100mm F2.8L IS macro), I was getting a deeper DOF, but the image quality was suffering a lot from a diffraction, as I had to close aperture down to F22-F29. Rodenstock enlargement lens yields better resolution, as it gave me the similar DOF at F16 when tilted. It also provides a little better contrast:
Second, the lighting setup:
Now, I would like to show two from a few different approaches to the lighting setup I was playing with. Below is the fist one I’ve played with, a “micro” setup:
“Micro” lighting setup
Instead of using large diffuser panels, reflectors and softboxes, I’ve built micro lightbox-like paper box around the ring. It was easy to create custom configuration of each panel, cutting paper the way I want. Then, I got several spot light sources (10º degree honeycombs on a PCB monolights) and used them to highlight those paper panels, slightly touching them with the light beams (even 10º degree grid on PCB reflector did not provide me small enough spot).
This way I’ve got the ring surface reflecting gradient filled paper panels, and the diamonds was opened for a direct light trough those cuts in a paper.
This approach was working well, but the result was far from desired clarity and setup has a major drawback: being too small for PCB lights (I would definitely prefer to use LED spot lights) it makes very difficult to highlight those little panels the way I want.
However, biggest advantage was an easy to modify reflector panels, as in one hour I’ve tried about dozen of different configurations. It gave me a great amount of information on how the reflector should look like to work the way I like for a specific subject, and much more, in a a very limited period of time…. I never have enough of it:-)
So, my next step was to go back to more usual way to build a custom lighting setups: by using foam-boards and large diffuser panels.
“Classic” way to build the lighting:
When working with larger light modifiers it was much easier to achieve deep shadows and wide gradients on the reflector panels: I still was using narrow beam lights. It was more cleaner and safer to work with large secured panels, but now it was not so easy to modify the reflectors: Obviously, if I’d know exactly what shape will work the best, it wont be a problem to cut needed configuration. However, working trial-and-error way, cutting thin paper was way easier then to deal with 5mm thick foam core board.
[ois skin="Jewelry Photography"]
Third, the quality and clarity of the jewelry.
When working with life-size macro it is very important to have jewelry as clean as possible. I wouldn’t try to shoot well-wearied stuff: the micro scratches on a metal and dirty stone will make post-production a nightmare. But not only this: the diamond itself has to be a top quality piece.
Below are the 100% crop images from different angles of the diamond I was working with. I am not 100% sure if this is a pure diamond internal imperfections of simply a dirt beneath the stone, but it looks not good at all:
Again, working with such diamond I simply can’t produce clear image for the retoucher, and almost every facet has to be re-drawn in post-production. It’s a huge amount of work, and those imperfections is also a very limiting factor for me as photographer: I simply can’t get a clear enough look, regardless of how good I’ll be with the lighting.
Lighting, light modifiers and accessories:
- Paul C. Buff Lighting: 3×1600WS, 1xAB800
- AlienBees/White Lighting reflector
- Paul C. Buff Cyber Commander 16 channels remote control with CSR+ receivers
- Adobe Lightroom 3 as a remote capture solution for tethered shooting
- Westcott Illuminator Reflector Kit 6-in-1 – 52″ silver reflector
- Manfrotto 196AB-2 Articulated Arm
- Manfrotto Large Still Life Shooting Table with 79 x 49″ Plexiglass Panel
- Manfrotto 237HD Heavy-Duty Flex Arm
- MK Digital Direct Holding Wax
Exposure specification: shutter speed 1/250 sec, F22-25, ISO 100
Update: Jewelry e-book is out!
This e-book is about jewelry photography.
Hope this was interesting, I’ll be posting more updates describing the process… so, stay tuned:-)