If you’ve ever tried to take a picture of jewelry using any kind of contraption, you know it’s not the easiest subject matter. It’s small, it’s shiny, and it has a thousand tiny details that look terrible as soon as they’re the tiniest bit blurry.
You’d think it would be impossible to take a bad photo of jewels this gorgeous, but unfortunately it’s all too easy. Can you tell why I put the photo on the right up on Instagram and archived the one on the left?
Those of you who have tried it know that jewelry can be tricky to capture, even for someone who has a lot of practice. After three years of photographing jewelry with only my phone, I’ve learned a trick or two. I’ll show you some optional toys you can buy, but even just the proper techniques can get you a long way.
You can’t take a decent photo if the lighting isn’t right. What’s “right” is hard to define – indirect, diffuse light is the holy grail, but different pieces come to life in different conditions.
My favorite place to take jewelry photos with my phone in my old apartment was in front of the living room windows: with the blinds open if it was cloudy, or closed if it was sunny. In my new apartment, I’ve been favoring the balcony so far. When I’m out and about, I just move around and try taking photos until they start to look good. It’s pretty subjective.
I can tell you one thing for sure, though: direct light is almost never the answer. When you’re looking at jewelry with your eyes, shining light right on it can help you see it better. But through a phone camera, that much light will just muck things up. Indirect light is your friend.
This means – of course – do not use the flash. It won’t go the way you’re hoping it will.
If you want to get serious about taking jewelry photos with your phone (or with any apparatus), you may want to consider creating an area of perfect lighting by building or buying a lightbox. I haven’t tried this yet, but I may soon.
Lighting and focus are the two most important basics to master if you want to take jewelry photos with your phone.
Out-of-focus photos are frustrating and unprofessional – they’re the best way to tell your audience that you didn’t care enough to do any better. After all, what’s the point of a photo where you can’t clearly see the subject?
I have three main pearls of wisdom when it comes to focus and taking jewelry photos with your phone.
First: don’t hold the phone too close to the piece you’re trying to photograph. Phones take great photos, but they can’t zoom in too far on their own. Hold the phone further away, and then crop the photo later to get closer. Trust me.
Second: if you’re using an iPhone, you can tap the screen to show the phone where you want it to focus. This is key. You don’t want to see a blurry necklace against a crisp background, do you?
You just tap the screen where you want the phone to focus, and a little square will appear briefly over the new focus area as your phone camera adjusts. (I’ve been known to do this with my nose if my hands are full.) If it still doesn’t look right, tap a few more times. If it still won’t focus, try turning the camera away for a minute, and then back onto the piece you’re trying to photograph.
If it still refuses to focus, your phone is probably too close to your subject. Give it a little more room, and tap again. This should also adjust the phone camera’s exposure, which how the camera interprets the amount of light in your photo.
Third: take a lot of photos. The more attempts you have, the higher your chances are of one of them being good. This is a concept I will mention again.
And finally: find a way to hold the phone as still as possible. Which brings me to my next point…
The best way to ruin a photo of jewelry is to fail to get the piece in perfect focus.
There’s pretty much nothing more disappointing for me than when I get home from seeing some truly spectacular piece of jewelry and every single photo I snapped turns out to be slightly blurry. These are the pieces you never see – I keep to a high standard for you, my darlings.
(Photo via JCK Events’ Instagram.)
To help in my constant battle against blurriness, I’ve invested in a tiny table-top tripod with an attachment that holds my iPhone. It’s become an invaluable tool. I rarely go to a show these days without a vendor or exhibitor saying they remember my tripod. I’ve even had people whip out their phones or tablets and buy one of their own in front of me right there.
If you’re going to take photos of jewelry with any kind of regularity, one of these tripods is the best, easiest thing you can do to up your game. It’ll keep your phone stable, let you get both hands in a photo at the same time, and makes you look super cool (IMHO, anyway).
Jewelry is small. Sometimes you want to get closer to it than an normal phone camera allows.
This is when you buy macro lenses. There are a ton of different ones you can get that clip onto your phone or cling with magnets.
My dad gave me my first set of iPhone macro lenses for Christmas a couple of years ago and I love love love them. They’re especially good for playing with antique jewelry. This is the first photo I took with my lenses – it’s my engagement ring at 15x magnification.
5. Being extremely stubborn.
This is actually the most important one. When I’m trying to get a particular shot, I sometimes take hundreds of photos. I’ll sit on the floor in the middle of a jewelry store if that’s what it takes to find the right lighting or an unobstructed shot.
Photographing jewelry is HARD. Most photos will turn out poorly for one reason or another. If you want to get to the good ones, you have to be willing to take (and look through) a whooooooole lot of bad ones.
Sometimes you can salvage bad lighting in post-production, but sometimes you can’t. Your photos are going to be as good as the amount of effort you put into them, and sometimes that effort is going to be in the form of tilting your hand slightly and trying again 80 different times.
It’s up to you to decide what “good enough” is and then to get yourself there. Practice helps, but what you really need is persistence.
Be sure you have enough battery for all those attempts. I’ve taken to stashing at least three battery packs in my purse when I go to events – and a spare iPhone cable or two, after two broke on me in a four-day trip in July.
Now: get over to Instagram, take a photo of your favorite piece, and tag me in a comment so I can see what you’ve learned!
Here’s a slideshow of all of the gadgets I recommended (click through to buy):
To see my favorite tools to take jewelry photos with your phone, visit my Amazon jewelry phonetography store anytime. This post contains affiliate links.