I think most jewelry makers have faced this problem at least once: How to take a good photo and how to style that photo to highlight the best features of the piece of jewelry. Here I'll share practices I learned as a photojournalist, which have proven useful for photographing jewelry as well.
1. Light: Sharp vs. Smooth Shadows
There you are, with a beautiful piece of jewelry, ready to take some photos and list it in your shop. Right before you push the button on your camera, there are a few things that might be good to consider, including the angle of the light coming from outside (or inside) and the shadow it casts on your item. Some may like sharp lines, others may like smooth. For those who belong to the first group, natural light it is best, and it is useful to take pictures around noon, when the sun is high. Those who prefer smooth lines should shoot in the morning or after 4 p.m.
Of course, most of us don't have time to wait for the perfect sunlight to arrive. What can you do if you only have time to shoot in the early evening, when the light is not so bright, but you don't want an underexposed grey picture as a result? Use the flash, but not directly — and ever so carefully! Using flash directly makes very bright white spots on the picture, because the light of the flash is not diffused to different directions. So either put a small white plastic card on the flash to diffuse light or cover the flash with a white tissue. This will result in a brighter picture but without the distracting, overexposed bright spots.
2. Correcting the Photometer
If your camera allows you to adjust it manually, don't be afraid to use the manual settings. At first it might seem difficult, but the settings can be surprisingly easy to learn. There are two main numbers you'll encounter: the shutter speed (the duration of time the shutter is opened) — its values are marked with 1/125, 1/60, 1/30, et cetera — and the F-stop (the amount of light coming into the camera’s aperture) — its values are marked with numbers like 2, 2, 2, 8, 3, 5, 5, 6, et cetera.
Don't panic about having to measure these values manually, as the photometer built into the camera does it for you. Though built-in photometers react quickly — my photometer measures on nine different spots — at the end of the measuring process we get an average number. This means that if you do not correct the measurement a little bit, we might get a photo with overexposed or underexposed spots.
If you want the darker spots to be more detailed, add a bit more light, either with a lower F-stop or with a lower shutter speed. Consequently, do the opposite in case of overexposed spots. For example, when taking photos of a white, glittering or very bright jewelry, add one or one-and-half to the measured values of the photometer, which means higher numbers of F-number and shutter speed.
If you sit in a dark room, and all F-stops are gone (which means that the shutter is opened to its maximum size), there is still the opportunity to let in more light with an even lower shutter-speed number. As far as I know, most people can make a sharp picture with the maximum value 1/30 of a second for shutter speed; below that, photos become blurred. So if the picture requires longer than that, use a tripod or stabilize our hands on a sturdy object (in extreme situations it can be your knees, as well), hold your breathe, and shoot!
3. Getting Closer: Making a Photo Essay
When I was in photography school, my teacher always asked me, “? Go closer!” Luckily enough, we can get close quite easily when shooting jewelry, thus easily fulfilling what my teacher always wanted: One close-up picture showing details of the item and one "big picture" showing the whole item its environment or on a model. Also take some photos from different angles. What does the item look like from the back or from the sides? It is like telling a story through pictures.
4. Background: Patterns Versus White
The background is an important part of telling the story of your jewelry in pictures. Browsing Etsy, you can find a few main types of backgrounds: Plain white, solid color backgrounds and colorful, patterned backgrounds. The plain white background has an advantage: It is easier to photograph, and easier to take in visually. Plus it intensifies the light, so it can help in taking photos of a darker item. I use a plain white sheet for photography, a white box or a lightbox.
The advantage of a non-white background is that a good background adds a special meaning and an atmosphere to the jewelry, thus creating its own little world. Make sure to consider the look and feel of your shop as a whole. Ask yourself, "Does this background work with the overall branding and image I want for my work? Will my target buyers relate to it?"