Lighting for jewelry photography: the development process

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:

Jewelry photography by photigy: diamond ring

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:

Jewelry photography example tutorial: the diamond ring

Jewelry photography example tutorial: the diamond ring

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

Jewelry photography lighting diagram setup tutorial

Jewelry photography "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:

jewelry photography lighting setup with large boam board reflectors

jewelry photography lighting setup with large boam board reflectors

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:

100 % closeup bad diamond jewelry photography atlanta photographer

100% closeup diamond of non-perfect diamond

100% closeup bad diamond jewelry photography

100% closeup bad diamond jewelry photography

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.

Camera gear:


Lighting, light modifiers and accessories:

Exposure specification: shutter speed 1/250 sec, F22-25, ISO 100

Update: Jewelry e-book is out!

DIY soluttions for Jewelry photography e-book

DIY Solutions for Jewelry Photography

This e-book is about jewelry photography.
Gemstone necklace to be specific. It will be useful for hobbyists who need to create photos of their craft without spending much money for the lighting and camera as well as for jewelry photographers who are looking to learn new ways on how to get the job done.
Author: Alex Koloskov

Free Studio Product Photography Course

free tabletop photography course-glass
  • Find out what equipment you'll need to start in product photography
  • Understand how to use the most effective techniques is studio lighting
  • Learn how to photograph and retouch glass subject

Enter your email and I'll send you this course:

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Hope this was interesting, I’ll be posting more updates describing the process… so, stay tuned:-)


About The Author: Alex Koloskov

The lighting magician, owner of AKELstudio, Inc.

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35 comments to Lighting for jewelry photography: the development process

  • Alexander Fedin

    Is the ring by Vladimir Soulin’s design studio (Vizanti)?

  • Terry Go

    Hi Alex,

    First of all, I love your blog which teaches me a lot about product photography!

    I see that you’ve tried Canon 100mm Macro L lens too which I have.
    Will it not work for the diamond ring photography?
    Can you tell me the reason to go with 180mm instead of 100mm?


    • Terry,
      yes, it will work for jewelry, as any other macro lens. 1:1 magnification is what is needed. Focal length makes only difference on the distance between the lens and subject. So, In many cases I prefer to use 180mm because I can have camera far from a subject (convenience) , plus I think 180mm delivers better quality at small apertures (F22-28) comparing to 100mm.
      Like I siad, 100mm is a good lens and you should be happy with it:-)
      Thank you!

  • Alex,
    Really need work, and thanks for sharing your experience. I use a 35mm full frame camer. Also, i want my picture resolution as high as possible. So, when shooting a ring, it need 200 shots to stack at F13!!! I saw your tilt-shift adapter, It looks really nice (horseman LD are too expensive). I would lke to ask you about your tilt-shift adapter, Is it possible to help to reduce the number of shot needed when stacking the ring. I saw your recent video of your 5DM2 with tilt-shift adapter. How about the ring (macro)? If it is possible, i would like to build one also!! Pls help, it was a nightmare when stacking 200 shots. Also the final images are not clear enough!!!!

    • Alex,
      Really nice work, and thanks for sharing your experience. I use a 35mm full frame camera. Also, i want my picture resolution as high as possible. So, when shooting a ring, it need 200 shots to stack at F13!!! I saw your tilt-shift adapter, It looks really nice (horseman LD are too expensive). I would lke to ask you about your tilt-shift adapter, Is it possible to help to reduce the number of shot needed when stacking the ring. I saw your recent video of your 5DM2 with tilt-shift adapter. How about the ring (macro)? If it is possible, i would like to build one also!! Pls help, it was a nightmare when stacking 200 shots. Also the final images are not clear enough!!!!

    • Paul,
      200 shots? Are you serious?
      It’s like shooting a feet long stick with 1;1 magnification…:-)

      • @Alex Koloskov,
        Hi Alex,
        YES, 200 shot! nightmare, right? I want to use the hold frame to get the maximum resolution. 12M pixel are not enough to use.
        What i use: D700, tamron 90mm, extension tube, focusing racks.
        At F13, The DOF is about 1mm. magnification bigger than 1:1. The lens can be reduce to F45, but it was useless.
        I am looking for a better way to do the job.

  • godsotherson

    Alex, The stone you were shooting is full of internal black and white natural inclusions, [not a high quality clean stone] You were able to show the stones imperfections clearly, even more so than with the eye at arms length, as most would view it when worn. While you obviously try to show great detail in extreme close up shot but even a proffessional grader/appraiser of diamond will only use a 10X power loupe to examine a diamond. Keep up the fine tutorials as I have learned much about light and photography techniques from you.

  • Hi there, I’ve a question about positioning a bracelet. I have a bracelet which I want to make round as a wrist but I cannot put it on a ‘table’ because of the structure (laying down will, for example, looks like it is collapsed). I ofcourse can make a tube of transparant folie and put the bracelet on it. This will give me a proper form. But after making a path and deleting the background you still willl have a little piece of folie on the right and left inside the bracelet. To make this dissapear will take a lot of retouching. Difficult to explain but here you can see an example. (hope it will not seen as spam…)

    Is there an other way to solve this problem so you can do it without a lot of retouching. Maybe use something different then a transparant tube?


    • Michel,
      Yes, I see what you are saying. I do not see any other option to help you shoot bracelet at that particular angle… You may try to look for a different material for that support ring inside, but there is no way you can have completely transparent thing there.

      Get camera higher, if you can. Also, try to reduce the reflection from the transparent screen: I see that it reflects some lights (most likely this is a white table) from the sides/behind. May be a black screen will help you to make it more transparent.


      • @Alex Koloskov, Hi Alex, have been busy. Thanx for the reply. Yes I think I have to try to minimize the reflection on the sides. Then the retouching will be less to do. But then there is the problem of, how do I call that in english…, the problem of the lines of the bracelet ‘jumping’ out of line because of looking through the side of the tube. Don’t know the word for this but I hope that you know what I mean.

        Another question: When stacking (same position) a few pictures with different focuspoints I get a blurry part just above the front part of the bracelet. Both with the option “overflow” it is called I believe on and off This is ofcourse because in the picture with the front in focus the backside of the bracelet is very much out of focus. Customers do sometimes want there bracelets etc at 4000-5000 pixels wide, everything sharp… I tested it and I needed (80mm Macrolens with rings at F16 at a Leaf Back on a Hasselblad) 15 shots to stack. No problem to do and with perfect result exept the part I mentioned. And the Mac is working big time ofcourse!!

        After seeing your stack movie I bought the macroslider. But why is focussing with your lens not the right way. Because after testing (with 5 pictures for a smaller end-picture) it looks I get the same result. But maybe there is a situation that will give problems when using the focusring.

        Will check back sooner then last time…


  • Vu Duc Thao

    Alex: thank you very much for your blog here, I am learning a lot of useful things on your blog. Keep it up Alex :)

    Vu Duc Thao

  • Vu Duc Thao

    @Yoni: I just bought a set of about link that Alex suggest for you.

    Here is the link to some photo that I have done, I hope you like it:

    Vu Duc Thao

  • Yoni

    Thank you very much Alex
    And I actually speak Hebrew so that link was very helpful
    Thanks again I am a big fan keep up that great work that you are doing

  • Yoni

    Hi Alex
    I think your the one that could help me
    I’m working on putting a jewelry and diamond web site together I know nothing about studio photography and not much about the online industry so I am kinda going around and around for over a year trying to put this thing together I have everything in place and my last issue is the pictures of over 3000 pices of jewelry and that’s the most important thing in such a business
    My question is this we don’t want to spend the crazy amount of money that a professional photographer will charge and still get the same results of bluenile and tiffanys photos we do have a very good photographer with us but not on the photos project if we buy the right gear will we be able the get these results and if yes what kind of gear you recommend
    I’m sorry for the very long and demanding question

    Thank you so much yoni

    • Yoni,
      You probably already know what I’ll tell you, but still: a good photography are done by a photographer and technique, and equipment is not that important. Obviously, proper lighting is necessary to get great photo, but it’s a photographer choice. Jewelry photography cane be done with very different type of lighting: from LED and fluorescent continues light sources to a strobe. So, I can only suggest you to get a good in-house photographer, and he’ll get the proper lighting for you. You’ve seen what I have used for that jewelry shot, but it’s only because I have such equipment: it was not bough for jewelry photography specifically. The same thing can be done with any type of lights.

      Take a look at this thread (I guess it’s Hebrew, but you’ll see the images :-): relatively good photos can be done almost with any lighting, if you know how to use them: example of jewelry shoot.
      Also, there is a store sells low-end solutions for a jewelry photography, it may be useful for you as well: non-expensive jewelry photography

      Wish you good luck with the project.

  • Very cool site Alex!

    I mainly photograph people. But I was recently presented with an assignment to shoot watches. What macro lens would you suggest? Also, what type of stand should I use to prop the watch up?

  • Lex McColl

    Hi Alex
    I’m a big fan of your posts- Great work. Respect this challenge you set yourself. I shoot a fair bit of diamond jewellery and am amazed at the difference a good stone can make. Inclusions can be a bind to clean up but I’ve found the quality of cut has a huge impact on releasing ‘the fire’ from a diamond.
    As you say, lighting for the metalwork is one thing and lighting for the stone is another thing. I rely on focus stacking – firstly lit for metalwork – then I use an LED ring light around my macro to add sparkle to the stones (and focus stacking if stones are on different focal plains).
    I then stack the two together selectively adding the sparkle to the stones. I must invest in bellows and T/S set up sometime soon. Any suggestions where to start?
    Cheers Lex

  • Otto Haring

    How do you make the ring stand? Glue…? :)

  • Vu Duc Thao

    Wow, I am waiting for this topic for the long long time Alex. I hope you will find the right way to do the BEST result as you want with easy way. :)

    PS: @Vadim: thank you for your info. I will go to your blog soon :)

    Thank you Alex, and have a nice Vocation with your family!

  • Privet Alex ;)

    We use focus stacking on everything nowadays unless we don’t want full DOF. We don’t use the tilt-shift lens much these days, except shots which can be obtained with < 3 stacking images such as pendants and some earrings.

    Just a note on holding wax: keep it near a cool place if the studio gets warm – We do video as well these days, and under hot lights, the wax struggles to hold. So we have to use cold wax. :D

  • Alex, how are you standing/supporting the ring to shoot it?

  • Alessandro Addis

    Thank you very much for sharing your experience

  • Hi Alex!
    Amazing job you did with those rings!
    I have a question for you…what kind of flexible arms you were using to hold the foamboards in the last picture of your “lighting setup”? was it something DIY? if so, how did you made them?

  • Hi Alex,

    Yeah, that diamond has many inclusions in it, it’s a very low quality stone :( Retouching that is nearly pointless. In my world, as you’ve already seen, we do jewelry photography exclusively: retouching is a good part of our business because most items sold today are for the masses, so quality stones are $$$ for most people to afford.

    BTW, why don’t you use stacking software? I thought you used that in a previous blog. I shoot at f11-f13 most of the time.

    Anyways, come visit my blog from time to time, I’ll be explaining various jewelry photography techniques we use (I will post how to shoot loose diamonds in early January). Wish I had more time to write more like you do. Keep up the great work!


    • Vadim,
      Yes, I’ve seen your work, those stones are exceptionally good.. in pair with your work. And our retoucher told me the same about my stone :-)
      Yes, I use focus stacking when needed, but this time I was trying to get it done without it. Just to see if it will be possible. I was thinking how would I do a focus stacking if I’ll need to shoot hundreds of items (think about catalog) However, at such angles and magnification ratio, no lens or tilt shift would work really well. So, it looks like only focus stacking will give me a desired sharpness.

      I’ll definitely will check out your blog, thank you for sharing your secrets there.

      All the best,

  • Thank you, Jayesh. I’ll keep your information in mind.

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