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Photographing jewelry: the lighting setup, tips and tricks plus bonus video

Photographing jewelry: the lighting setup, tips and tricks plus bonus video

When one of our client’s asked me to shoot  several bracelets, at first it looked like an easy task, but when we started to talk about the technical requirements, the photo session became more challenging than I was thinking…

First, he wanted a spot-like gradient background, from deep purple to complete black.
Second, the bracelets must be shoot from a frontal position with with sharp viewing angle, not a simple top-down shot. Obviously, the whole bracelet must be sharp (in focus) .

So, how do we get the first task done? Hang the bracelet on tiny fishing lines and project a spot on a dark background? Create the background digitally, after the shoot? I’m not a big fun of such massive digital post processing, I like to get done “in camera” as much as possible.

I’ve used 2 light sources ( Paul. C Buff  monolights). One mirror and one white paper background. One task was left for post production in Photoshop, you’ll see what I mean later.

The lighting setup, was simple: the jewelry was placed on a mirror positioned so that it reflected the white paper backdrop when viewed from the camera’s angle.  A narrow rectangular softbox was placed directly on top of the jewelry, so no light was escaping onto the backdrop behind.

Now we only need a spot (honeycomb attachment was used)  need pointed at the appropriate place on the backdrop to create the desired gradient.
The same but illustrated:

Lighting schema for jewelry photography
Lighting schema for jewelry photography

The result seems to be good. This shot was done using  Canon EF 180mm f3.5L Macro L
lens @ 1/250 sec f/25(!)

Jewelry photography with canon 180mm F3.5 macro L
Jewelry photography with tilt-shift Canon EOS adapter

Because of the angle the camera was placed in, the required DOF was huge . I’ve closed aperture down to f/25, the maximum I can have before too much diffraction, but still…  See a 100% crop from the area shown above:

bracelet jewerly photography eaxmple 100% crop without tilt shift
Jewelry photography example 100% crop without tilt shift

This is not what I and my client was looking for.  We we’re lucky enough to have a  tilt-shift adapter for Canon, so this is what I was using, along with the Rodenstock APO Rodagon-N 80mm F4 lens for the next shot:

Jewelry photography with tilt-shift Canon EOS adapter
Jewelry photography example with tilt-shif canon eos adapter

100% crop from area shown above:

jewelry crop with tilt-shift adapter for canon and Rodenstock lens attached
Jewelry shot with tilt-shift adapter for canon and Rodenstock lens attached

Yes! Quite a difference, isn’t it? This is what I was looking for.  Aperture was set to f/16, and our tilt-shift adapter did a great job! Even before post-processing in Photoshop, the result is already really nice. The focus is sharp across the entire bracelet, and we have our gradient on the background.
Done? Not quite yet… :-)

The only thing remaining is the reflection: Too much reflection from the mirror is not a good thing here. This can be fixed only in digital dark room, as there is no way I know to make blur it (or remove it) prior to the shoot. (No, dulling spray is not for this setup, the mirror’s surface must be clean and 100% transparent, as even tiny dust particles on glass will be highlighted by the top softbox and will glow as a bright star. :-) This is why the mirror is dark under direct light: it does not reflect any light from above toward the camera. At our given angle only the backdrop gets reflected.

Here we go, this is the final image:

Jewelry photography: bracelet on a dark background
Jewelry photography: bracelet on a dark background

This was exactly what we needed.

Here is one more image of this piece of jewelry from this photo session, using the same technique. You can see more in my portfolio:

Jewelry photography, image of the necklace on dark galss
Jewelry photography, image of the necklace on dark glass

P.S  I do have a video that shows the setup and some shots, but isn’t quite ready yet. I hope to add it here before Thanksgiving. Stay tuned! :-)

39 responses on "Photographing jewelry: the lighting setup, tips and tricks plus bonus video"

  1. Hi Alex,
    The video is unfortunately unavailable.
    I got error message: “This video is private”.
    Any chance to fix it?

    Thanks in advance :-)

  2. Hi,I am using a basic lens and want to shoot jewellery.i am using a nikon d3100.i know it’s basic but right now I am not buying Any lens.so my question is I was wanting to buy stobe lights canyon suggest me best lights or any jewellery photography kit please…would be of great help

  3. hi , found very use full, can you suggest video tutorial, more of lighting techniques for shooting diamond jewelry with models, ans as product shoot.
    looking forward to hearing from you,
    Thanks in advance,

  4. what do you think about using a Canon 5D Mark II with a Cambo X2?

  5. The most problem is that just long lenses can be used with this kind of bellows…from 135mm and up. Another reason – I’m really interested in tilting “sensor”, but not the lenses. For that, film/sensor plan should be placed on the tilt axis. Hama bellows do not allow to mount camera that way – L brackets are too short. I think, your system (and Horseman LD as well) is one of the most advanced. Just one weak side – it is too bulky and heavy.


  6. Thank you, Alex. Nice to hear it from you.

    If you allow this kind of links in your blog, one of my “tilting efforts” is here http://www.flickr.com/photos/uvidish/5409138879/#/photos/uvidish/5409138879/lightbox/
    Lens was tilted about 20-25 degrees. I am trying to figure out, why “big guys” make lenses, mostly limited by 8 degrees. I think everybody, who is photographing jewelry (or other small detailed objects), thinks about that.
    I’ve already tried Nikon PB-4 bellows, Sinar Alpina, Hama/Spiratone bellows http://www.flickr.com/photos/uvidish/5409283585/in/set-72157625833434105/#/photos/uvidish/5409283585/in/set-72157625833434105/lightbox/
    Nothing have worked good enough for me. All that stuff is fun to play, but not to work with.

    • Anatoli,
      I did not know about these tilt-shift system, they are much smaller then what I did. Which is a big plus. Why it did not work for you? I do not use them as much as I want to, but still, for some shoots they are saving me time (meaning I can get shot without focus stacking).
      Thank you!

  7. Alex, how many degrees did you apply for bracelet shot?
    Thank you for sharing info.

    • Anatoli,
      I did not notice degrees… I never look at the actual values of the angle, as for every shot it will be different. Every time I am trying to find the maximum possible tilt before image quality gets degraded.

      Thank you.
      P.S Nice portfolio!

  8. Great site Alex! A huge discovery for me. I’ve been fighting my photographic problems alone. Until now, that is. Thanks a lot.

  9. Did you have to post process the pearls to remove any reflections in them or is the shot as was taken. The images are fantastic very sharp and crisp. Do you have any suggested setups for photographing crystals.

    • Cali,
      Yes, we had to blur the reflection in post-production.
      I’ve tried to shot on the mate glass instead (to avoid PP), but it did not work: matte glass get highlighted too much, creating undesired diffused light spread all around.

      As for the crystals, they are completely different animals comparing to those bracelets I did. There is no “universal” setup for them, everything depends from size/shape. You may even need to use narrow beam LED lighting instead of strobes… I start working on jewelry more and more now, hopefully there will be more posts about this here.
      Stay tuned:-)

      Thank you!

  10. Reaaly ur Guidance help me alot. will try. I have Canon EOS Kiss X3 Do you think it will work? Can u send me email if u dont mind Alex. Please.

  11. hi alex, I really appreciate your works. But sorry I can’t understand this, ‘the glass is transparent, and mirror reflects only a backdrop which is far from a shooting table.’
    you said it’s a mirror, so how is it transparent?
    can you clarify that for me, alex? thanks in advance.

    • Terry,
      Wow, just read my writing and I understand you:-) No way a normal human being can understand what I meant. So, here it is:
      the regular mirror consist from 2 parts: the glass and a foil-like finish on one side, which is actually reflects the light, right? What I meant is that the surface of mirror’s glass should be clean from a dust… this is it. I am going to rewrite this sentence to make it a little bit more understandable..
      Thank you for finding the glitch:-)


  12. WOW
    Just visited your site for the first time, great tips and tutorials!!!

  13. Hi, I’m still a novice, where can you purchase the black and/or smoked mirrors?

  14. Jair,
    Yes, this will work well. However, if you shoot a hundreds of pieces, like for a catalog, it would involve enormous post production time, I guess. Guess because never did focus stitching in PS, may be it is really fast and easy? :-)

    • @admin,

      It doesn’t work that well with photoshop. The point is that if you change the focus to the back, the image will change a bit in size, making it very difficult to stitch properly. I’ve done that and decided to go for tilt shift which is much beter.

      I’ve done about the same as you, but for Nikon there is the old PB-4 bellows which can tilt and is affordable at e-bay. All together it cost me about 250 dollar.

      About the reflection: I use black Poly(methyl methacrylate) which works best, but I’m not sure if you’ll think the reflection is bright enough. I’m planing on making a video about this setup as well, so I’ll let you know.


  15. Well, there is another solution to that DOF problem (altough i love your tilt-shift adapter). Stacking the pictures in photoshop cs4, with focus on different points at the sweet aperture for the lens (around f8).

  16. Thank you David!
    I agree, 1st surface mirror will work the best here. Unfortunately, I did not get one prior the shoot.
    As for a back glossy glass, I tried it first, and did not like the result because I’ve lost that nice bottom highlight from a mirror.
    See yourself:

    Bracelet on a black glass.

  17. Great pics and very useful advice – many thanks – sal ramzan photography

  18. Very nice, but I would add one thing to your setup to make it even better. Instead of the mirror, which gave you double reflections (one from the top of the glass & one from the backside mirror) you could eliminate that double reflection in a couple of ways. 1- Use a 1st surface mirror, where the mirror is on the top surface. Alternatively & I think better, get a piece of smoked black glass instead of a mirror. The reflection won’t be as strong (actually a good thing) and there will be no second surface reflection because it’s brightness is drastically reduced via the internal tinting of the glass. I’ve used this to good effect. It’s inexpensive. Give it a try.

  19. Hello,
    Nice solution. Thanks for sharing that with us in such a clear manner. The shots look great.
    I wish Canon sold a small tilt/shift adaptor so you don’t need to buy all the focal length tilt shift lenses. Your adaptor works beautifully for studio work, it’s hard to believe you can get this sort of quality on an SLR camera. I guess thats why 5×4 is not used much now.

    Thanks, Bevin.

  20. My husband and style and photograph jewelry all day long.
    So we truly do appreciate the effort that goes into capturing beautiful jewelry images. Of all the things we photograph Jewelry is by far
    one of the most difficult.

  21. Cool pics and usefull information.

  22. Hi Alex ,

    I just wanted to now is any similar tilt- shift adapter for NIKON also.

    • Gaurav,
      As you’ve seen on my adapter, it can be made for any camera mount. Just use proper ring connector to get it work with Nikon. You can think about this adapter as a 4×5 field camera with a DSLR body attached to it.

  23. Thank you, guys.
    BTW, I have posted link to a tilt-shift adapter I’ve used (it is in the article). Surprised you did not find it:-) Here it is:

  24. Your lighting is fine, you just needed a tilt/shift lens or bolt your Canon to the back of a 4×5 view camaera with an enlarger lens on it. That way you can keep it to f/11 and not get diffraction fuzzies.

  25. Nicely done. Thank you for telling everyone about how you obtained this image file.

    How did you build a tilt/shift adapter for Canon?

  26. Hi there,

    Really great job! really nice result!

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