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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Elusive White Background In Jewelry Photography And How To Achieve It

A Tutorial: Achieving a Pure White Background In Your Jewelry Photography


In my quest to improve my jewelry photography, I've come to love the look of a pure white background. It’s such a professional, clean look and places all the focus squarely on the jewelry itself. However, my pursuit in achieving this look with my own jewelry photos has proven more difficult than I first thought.  Nevertheless, I was determined, and found that with some patience along with trial and error (okay, a lot of trial and error), it’s possible.

In this tutorial, I'll be sharing information I've gathered from reading, watching webinars and then putting those bits of information to work. First, let me say I’m not a professional photographer by any stretch of the imagination, but if you can read a manual, push some buttons and are skillful in the use of tape (yes, tape), you can do this. In addition, this tutorial is not limited to jewelry but also pertains to other items that require macro photography.


The Camera ~


Kodak Easy Share dx7590





The camera I use is a Kodak Easy Share dx7590; it's not a professional camera, but gets the job done. Depending on the brand of your camera, your particular settings may differ from mine. However, the references I provide will hopefully give you some idea of where to start when making adjustments on your own camera. Please refer to your particular cameras user manual and familiarize yourself with its adjustable settings. If you’ve lost your owner’s manual, many are available online and can be found with a simple search.


Camera settings you need to know:


 Macro setting: most digital cameras can be set in the macro mode for “up close” photography. This feature is usually indicated by a flower icon on all cameras (depicted on the left). 

Manual Mode: you'll want to put your camera in manual mode. This allows you to set and adjust certain settings rather than rely on factory settings.

ISO: This number indicates the cameras sensitivity to light; the higher the number, the more noise your camera will capture. In other words, the brighter the light you’re using, the lower the ISO should be and the darker the light you’re using, the higher the ISO should be. As an analogy, if it's bright and sunny, you want to "close the shade" and if it's getting dark you want to "open the shades up". I have read that several professional jewelry photographers stick with an ISO 80 when using a light tent/box. This makes sense, because the photography light tent is very bright. I also use a light box, so I’m going to use ISO 80 too (why mess with success).

Aperture or f-stop: This is the opening that allows the light into the camera. This setting is prized by jewelry photographers due to the control is allows for the exposure and depth of field in your photos. A small aperture setting will make your entire jewelry piece in focus, whereas a larger aperture will make the closest area of the jewelry in focus while the background is blurred and dreamy looking. If you like this look, the aperture setting can be used to give a more artistic touch to your photos. I know most of you have seen those photos that are in focus and sharp in the forefront, while being blurred and “dreamy” in the background and then wonder, "how did they do that?"; well, now you know. Set this on the highest setting available on your camera in order to have your entire piece in focus. If you like the “dreamy” look scale this number back until you achieve the look you want. The highest my f-stop will go is 8 but, a professional camera can be set at a much higher number (into the double or triple digits). Keep in mind that the f-stop and the shutter speed work hand in hand. This means that if you’re taking great pictures with your f-stop set on f8 and then decide to change it to f4, you will need to adjust your shutter speed in order to achieve the same picture quality you had at f8.

Shutter Speed: The shutter speed is a measurement of how long the camera is allowing light to enter. It's used in conjunction with the aperture to achieve good exposure.

Flash: You will not be using the flash feature. I've never read or seen a professional suggest it or advise it. However, you will be using other bright light sources that I’ll talk about later.

White Balance: This is simply an adjustment that will make your item appear in “true” or “real life” color. This is a setting that you may need to play around with, if possible, depending on your lighting conditions. However, be aware that even if something looks true to color on your computer monitor, not all monitors are the same. For example, colors do not appear the same on my PC monitor as they do on my laptop or my phone.


Exposure Compensation: If available on your camera, this is a setting where you can manually adjust the brightness of your photos as you take them. This would be adjusted depending on your background color and you would + the setting to lighten your image and – the setting to darken your image.

Spot Focus: If offered on your camera, it’s helpful to set the focus mode to “spot focus”. This allows you to control what the camera is focusing on.


The Photography Light Box ~


Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with the settings we’ll be using, let’s set up our photography area.

My basic photography setup

I made a “photography light box” from the box my computer came in (the inside was already white, yay!) The purpose behind the light box or light tent is to provide an evenly distributed diffused light that is bright, without causing a glare bouncing off your objects. You can purchase simple and very elaborate set ups on line, but I decided to make my own. Watch for an upcoming tutorial on how I made mine.

However, in order to achieve the pure white background we'll need a few more items. What I'm about to show you is similar to something you can purchase at an art supply store and is referred to as an "artist tracing light box" or similar wording. Therefore, I'll refer to this tracing lightbox as an "illuminating box" in order to alleviate any confusion with the "photography lightbox". 


A purchased version of an Artist Tracing Lightbox


Illuminating Box Setup ~


The key is to use clear or frosted Plexiglass or another brand of acrylic such as Optix or Lexon. These are all the essentially the same products, just different brand names.  This acrylic product is available in clear, clear frosted, black and a host of other colors. It also comes in different thicknesses, which is not all that important. I purchased the one I thought would be the most durable for my needs. For the pure white background you'll want the clear or clear frosted. But, I thought I'd show you a photo of how the black looks below.

Taken using black Plexiglass 


The black Plexiglass is available on line and will give very dramatic reflections in your jewelry photography, sometimes referred to as “black ice”. However, like I mentioned before, you'll want to get the frosted or clear for the pure white background.









Supplies Needed: (I found everything at Lowes, except the fabric interfacing)

Plexiglass, Optix, Lexon or other brand of like product in frosted or clear
If using clear Plexi, enough vellum, interfacing or tracing paper to cover one side
Tape; I used double sided sticky tape
Two risers to set the Plexiglass on; they need to be at least 4” in height
Flat, under the counter type light fixture 12-18” in length; depending on the size of your box
Two or more risers for the Plexiglass to sit on. I decided on two packages of wooden shims
An under the counter type light in a length of 12-18”. These ranged in price from $9.97 for a clearance item up to one for $49.00. Needless to say, I opted for one priced $12.00 on clearance. *Note* be aware that the Halogen ones will get extremely hot and could be dangerous. I had a Halogen version one time and it melted the plastic cover over the bulbs and caused the light to short out.


The Lowes I went to doesn't carry the brand Plexiglass, but does have Optix and Lexon. I bought a pre-cut 8x10 section and I had them cut an 18x18 inch section at no extra charge. The interior of my photography box is 18 ½" square so I wanted a section large enough to go from edge to edge. I bought the small piece too, because I wasn't sure what was going to work best and I didn't want to have to turn around and go back.

I was only able to get the clear Optix and Lexon, so I'll need vellum, interfacing or something similar to adhere to one side of the acrylic. I used a medium weight sew-in interfacing so I'd be able to have one solid piece to cover my 18x18" acrylic (interfacing comes in a 20" width and they will cut it any length you want). The reason for this backing is that you want to diffuse the light and don't want your underlight to show in your photos. If I’ve confused you, everything will become clear in a few minutes.

I’ll leave the packages of wood shims wrapped in their original plastic wrapping because they're the height I wanted, but I’ll wrap white computer paper around them so everything remains white inside the light box. (This is where your taping skills come into play).

Also, attach vellum, interfacing or tracing paper to one side of your clear acrylic using tape. Your jewelry will be sitting directly on the Plexi so the paper just needs to be on one side. Place your risers in the desired location and position your Plexi on top. Now you can slide your flat light under the acrylic. This under light will minimize shadows and eliminate reflections. The pictures below show my set up before and then after I put the new items in place.














The Photos~ 


Now it’s time to take some pictures! I’ve taken a series of photos while making adjustments to achieve the look I want. With the white background, you’ll want the white area a little overexposed but not your item….this is a fine line, especially with certain colors, metals (such as un-oxidized sterling silver) and gemstones. So, it pays off to play around with your settings in order to achieve your best picture. Also, once you decide on certain settings for your test item, use those same settings to photograph other items to insure you're getting consistent results.

With each photo, I’ve included my camera settings so you can see the difference and progression. This is what you'll want to do with your camera, so you can compare your results and make adjustments as needed. You can write down your settings as you go, or simply look at the photo properties in your editing software if you lose track. These photos have NOT been edited in any way. I've turned on all my normal light I use with my photography lightbox, along with my new underlight. The camera has remained in the same position and I’ve chosen this vintage broach due to the bright silver and sparkle of the gemstones. Red, white, clear and bright silver are difficult to photograph and adjustments may need to be made when trying to capture these items. I’ve also found that I need to re-adjust my camera if I photograph after dark because my results are not the same. Remember, your goal is to take a picture that needs little to no editing to save yourself time.


>>Photos below are ISO80 with the aperture/ f-stop set on 4 (a little "dreamy"; refer to the fstop description above under "camera settings to know"). The shutter speed is labeled with each photo. Again, the smaller the number, the brighter the picture. Notice, the photo below with shutter speed set at 1/20 is overexposed and I'm losing the definition of my piece; see how the outside edges of the broach are disappearing.
The 1/40  shutter speed appears to be the best while the 1/80 is too dark and 1/20 is overexposed.



>>Photos below are ISO80 with the aperture/ f-stop set on 8 (entire item in focus; refer to the fstop description above under "camera settings to know"). The shutter speed is labeled with each photo. Again, the smaller the number, the brighter the picture. Notice the photo below with the shutter speed at 1/10 is a nice white and I still have definition of my piece; you can still see all the edges of the broach. Yay! success!!!
The 1/10  shutter speed appears to be the best while the 1/30 and 1/20 are definitely too dark.






















Analysis ~


As you can see from the photos above, I’ve achieved my best results using the f-stop 8 with a shutter speed of 1/10 OR using the f-stop 4 with a shutter speed  of 1/40. The difference in these photos will be that more of the item will be in focus using the f8 while the f4 setting will produce a blurred/dreamy effect on the part of the item that's the farthest away from the lens. If you want more of a dreamy look, simply lower the f-stop even more. However, keep in mind your shutter speed will need to be adjusted accordingly.



Finishing Work ~


The following photo shows the edited version of the f8 1/10 image directly above. I simply used the clarity and crop functions in the Adobe Lightroom 4 software. The Clarity Function brings out the brilliance of the stones. Remember, you want to be able to take your photos with minimal editing needed in order to save yourself time. If you start with a photo that's underexposed, overexposed or out of focus, the best photo editing software in the country will not turn it into a good photo. I would suggest importing a few of your completed photos into a word document or on your own blog to see how they look. If the background is pure white, it will disappear on the document and your item will appear to float on the page (as seen in the photo below). I think it's also worth noting that you can download a 30 day free trial version of Lightroom 4 to "try before you buy".

In case you had been wondering if you really needed that underlight, I've taken a photo without it in order to compare. They are both taken with the setting f4 1/40. You can really see how that underlight helps in alleviating shadows/reflections and brightens the photo. However, if you want the item refection and like that look, simply adjust your shutter speed to a number lower than 40 and that will brighten the photo. Remember the photo I included above showing the stunning reflection achieved using the black Plexiglass? Well, you can achieve a less dramatic reflection using your frosted/clear Plexi and turning off your underlight.






Conclusion ~


Hopefully, this information will give you a few ideas with a guideline of where to begin. Once you find your “zone”, you should be able to leave your camera settings the same for most of your jewelry with only occasional small adjustments needed for certain items or lighting situations.


Thank you for reading and I look forward to your comments or any photography tips you might have. 

Don’t forget to leave links so others can see your results =) 






47 comments:

  1. Wow, this is a terrific tutorial. Thank you for sharing it.

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  2. Wendy, this is wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing this very helpful information.

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  3. You did a wonderful job of creating step-by-step instructions and compiling helpful tips too! Thanks so much Wendy!

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  4. Wendy, thanks for sharing your results and tips, lots of great info here I am going to have to try. I'll let you know how it goes:)

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  5. Wendy, this is great. Thank you for sharing this information.

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  6. awesome intel esp. for someone like me...I have to yell at Cher every time I mess up my camera (Cher, you're still not out of the woods) ...and I even have a 2nd one b/c I am stupid...blonde (no offense to our other fair haired folks) ....I *do* have a light box, but will re-read your tutorial a few times to see how that applies...THIS IS SO WONDERFUL OF YOU. I love you. :-)

    Many thanks, Trendy Wendy!

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  7. Fantastic info. Thanks for doing this.

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  8. This is fabulous! I have one suggestion ... I use a photographer's "18% Gray Card" to set my camera's white balance. This really helps and I recommend trying it! The card is a neutral gray with an 18% reflectance which is the standard used to calibrate all light meters.

    Lighting from below is brilliant ... I'm going to try it this weekend! Thanks very much for posting this, Wendy!

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    Replies
    1. Great tip Bob! Thank you for sharing this =)

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    2. yes Bob i am also use Gray Card to set camera's white balance.

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  9. amazing detail explication! Wow! Thank you for sharing!

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  10. I just took a "Know your Camera Course" but what you have here is worth so much more than what I learned in the course.

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  11. Really great tutorial! Thank you so much for sharing! The light underneath is definately what I have been missing with my light box!

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  12. Wow! What great information! Thank you so much for sharing the results of all your hard work :) I am always struggling to improve my photos and this may be the solution for me to try. Thanks again !

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  13. This is a great tutorial - so detailed and informative! Thank you so much for sharing these tips with us in a way that's easy to understand. I always have difficulty getting great photos using my light box and I learned a lot of new things here that I'm going to try!!

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  14. Thanks so much...I am all over this!!!!!!!

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  15. Thank you for the tips! What kind of lamps are you using with your lightbox?
    Donna

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    1. I found two clip on type lights (they also stand on their own) at Target. The best I remember they were under $15 each. I use Helical light bulbs by GE in the lamps. The wattage you use will depend on the lamps you buy. Helical wattage is not the same as the standard light bulb wattage, but there will be an equivalency chart on the package. Copy and paste this link to see what the Helical bulbs look like: http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=helical+ge+bulb&qpvt=helical+ge+bulb&FORM=IGRE

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  16. Wendy, Thanks so much for this tutorial!

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  17. That was Awesome! Thank you. Where did you get the black plexiglass?

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    1. Copy and paste this link for one source that carries the black acrylic (there are more sources, just enter something like "buy black plexiglass jewelry photography")
      http://store.tabletopstudio-store.com/blacri.html

      Copy and paste this link for more information on using the black acrylic in your photos
      http://tabletopstudio.com/jewelry_photography2.html

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  18. The only thing I would add is that on the white balance, it needs to be set each time you turn on your camera. You should be able to set it by aiming your camera at a pure white piece of paper and then when you set it your camera actually takes a picture. On my Sony I just go to the top of the white balance setting and it takes the picture.

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    1. Thank you Allison for this reminder. My camera only has certain white balance settings to choose from, but when I upgrade my camera I will need to remember to do this, thanks again!

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  19. Thanks for the tips, Wendy, they're brilliant! I do have a (probably very silly!) question - I know it sounds stupid, but how close to your setup is the camera positioned, and at what height relative to the object on the illuminating box? Thanks a million! Erika x

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  20. thank you this really helps Ive been messing with camera settings a lot but had no idea what i was doing!

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  21. Wonderful tutorial! I have a light box I ordered on Amazon, but I still cannot get that perfect white background. I need to work out some way to use an underlight with it. I also need to adjust my camera settings. Can't wait to try it, Thanks so much!

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  22. Thanks so much for the clarity & easy understanding of your tutorial. I have not yet used the under lighting...I am going to try it out and play with the settings! Thanks again for such great info!! Beautiful jewelry too!♥

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  23. This is the best jewelry photo tutorial I have seen...so explicit and easy to grasp. Thanks for sharing your tips.

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  24. So glad everyone is enjoying this tutorial. As I mentioned, I'm not a professional photographer but I love playing with the camera and trying new things with my jewelry pictures.

    I'd love to see your links to your new photos too.

    Erika... depending on the particular item I'm shooting, sometimes my camera is perhaps only a couple of inches from the item (for earrings). On a necklace that I want to capture the entire thing, my camera would be further away (usually just far enough to see the entire image in my view finder).

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  25. If you want to publish and sell photos and digital artwork on your own website then Pixaria Gallery is the ideal solution.
    Digital Asset Management Software

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  26. This is, hands down, the BEST photography tutorial I've ever seen! I love the step-by-step for camera settings as well as the DIY instructions for making the light box. I wish I had seen this before I had already bought most of it. The one thing I don't have is the handy-dandy under light feature for under my acrylic stand. That is such a great idea! Thanks Wendy for this wonderful post!

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  27. This is a great tutorial.I always take pictures outside with plant, flowers, rocks. This tutorial really answers questions about achieving a Pure White Background In Jewelry Photography.
    Thank's for sharing !

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  28. I have been struggling with our product photography ever since our art guy left! So frustrating! I am so excited to try your tips tomorrow!

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  29. Thanks for this tutorial, I've had so many problems with getting a white background even after manipulation. I used glass and white tissue paper but I'm wondering if the light beneath the glass is bright enough. It's a light up tracer I bought so I could put it behind canvas and see my art lines. Either that, or I don't have enough light around my box, I'm not sure yet...

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  30. beautiful work .. Jewelry photography is all about making jewelry glow by eliminating the reflections of the lights.. see jewellery photographs at productphotographerindia

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  31. This is the tutorial I've been looking for! Thank you so much for sharing, I can't wait to build my artist tracing box for my jewelry pictures!

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  32. I can't thank you enough for this tutorial. Finally!!

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  33. Love this tutorial. I am trying it out as I type!! My only issue is that I take a lot of earring photos with the earrings hanging. What is the best thing to use for this?? Everything I have tried shows scuff type marks after only a couple pics. Thanks for any help. Char

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  34. one of the best site of @pendant you can learn more http://stores.ebay.com/Holyland-Ethnic-Tribal-Jewelry-shop @craft @silver

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  35. hello! first let me say, thank you for sharing this great information! my desperate search for information on achieving a "white" background brought me to your site. i've gone to great lengths in hopes to create photos like yours with bright white backgrounds. unfortunately, i have NOT been successful. i've purchased expensive cameras and fancy lighting boxes. i've been at this off and on for over a year and still can't seem to achieve the "white" background. all i get is hazy grey tones. ugh! i'm going to try your method of a homemade lightbox. maybe this will be the change that i need to accomplish desired results with a white background. i see that you have cut out the sides and the top of your box. what material did you use for these three areas? also, what type of lights are you using? iridescent? incandescent? any further information you can throw my way would be greatly appreciated. i'm ready to throw everything out my window and into my neighbors yard where their dogs can chew it all up lol...no, really, i'm almost in tears over this... :( thanks, stacey

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  36. i forgot to mention, i'm using a MyStudio MS20 Professional Tabletop Photo Studio with fluorescent lighting. my camera is a nikon 5200. the camera and table top studio have great reviews. i'm very discouraged, as i am just NOT getting this whole photography thing...

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  37. Most important tutorial about to get pure white background during jewelry photography.

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  38. Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences with jewelry photography. You have inspired me to re-do all my photos for my jewelry collection. Thank you.

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