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.
** To read my later post about my new favorite clip-on phone light, click here! **
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 are some of the gadgets I recommended (click through to buy):
This post contains affiliate links.
6IX Gold says
Fabulous article!! Thanks for the tips.
I’m so glad you enjoyed it!
Svet Tour.Com says
Using cardboard might take a bit of extra time, but as with using a mannequin it shows the natural shape of the necklace and will look pretty good when you take the photo from the front.
Using props of various kinds can definitely be helpful for a photoshoot!
Ana Moore says
Good Article!! The techniques you have given are really important for jewelry photography. When it comes to jewelry photography, lighting and background setup is important. If you using a phone to capture a jewelry picture, then use a macro lens and use a sturdy tripod to avoid camera shake. Thanks for sharing.
Kitten Hill says
These are great tips. I have found that standing back and cropping works great and avoids shadows. A tripod is a great idea, I am going to get one. Thank you for the tips.
J. Howard says
The lens feels cheap. I ended up picking up a better one at Wal-mart. The focus moves way to easily (no resistance.) the plastic feels like it could be easily broken.
I’m glad you found a lens you like!
J. Howard says
Good lenses takes great pics. Screw lenses in gently and slowly threading is plastic on the clips and strip easily Do not over tighten or go back and forth between lens alot other then that pretty cool
I run an online jewelry store as my hobby and I always struggle to take good photos. Thanks for sharing these wonderful tips Becky.
I’m so glad it was helpful!
Helena Mykhaylova says
Thanks for the great phone camera tips! A nice quality macro lens can make a huge difference 😉
You’re welcome! Thanks so much for reading and commenting.
A critique is coming your way. I run/moderate a number of jewelry groups. One of the biggest mistakes made in amateur jewelry photography is the inclusion of HANDS in the photos. Please keep your hands out of jewelry photos. (Your fingers look absolutely huge in the camera roll photos.) The camera lens will automatically focus on the largest object in the frame rather than the object closest to the lens. The photo of your engagement ring against a bright red background does the ring no favors, as the diamond has picked up the red color. Parts of the ring are out of focus. The ring cannot be seen in it’s natural beauty and the bright red color is distracting. Jewelry should be photographed against a neutral background, in natural daylight (not direct sunlight), with no visual distractions within the frame. A simple shadowbox (instructions can be found on the web) and proper lighting will showcase the jewelry. You can also diffuse natural sunlight coming through a window by taping a thin sheet or net curtain over the window. If a ring needs to be propped up for a photo, put a white or other neutral colored rolled up napkin through the shank. A small piece of white Play-Dough is another useful option.
I completely disagree. I’ve had great success with photos of jewelry on hands, as opposed to jewelry that just exists out of context. It gives the viewer a feeling of accessibility to the jewelry, especially on Instagram, and the focus and color issues you are concerned about can be avoided if the photographer is skilled. Almost all jewelry Instagram accounts that have achieved a notable measure of success use photos of jewelry on hands or on non-neutral backgrounds.
That said: it’s a matter of preference. If you’re having success with hands-free photos, then that’s probably what’s right for your audience. It would not be right for my audience.
You also missed the point I was making with the screenshot of my camera roll: it was to illustrate the fact that taking many raw photos is necessary in jewelry photography in order to end up with usable photos. That and the fact that you gave a lot of the same lighting advice that I gave leads me to suspect that you barely read my article before rushing down to the comments section to insult my photos (and my fingers, oddly).
I am always happy to engage in discussion and I certainly don’t mind being disagreed with, but please do me the courtesy of reading what I have published before you tell me how wrong it is.
Janna Conner says
Becky, I couldn’t agree more with you that using a hand in the photos is important for scale. It’s hard to judge the size of a piece when it’s shot alone. Also, people like to see what it looks like on! Jewelry is meant to be worn and enjoyed after all not just looked at from afar.
Your nails are always on point, which I enjoy as a second bonus. I can’t stand when people have chipped or grown out manis to model. They can take a lesson from you, I can spot your hands anywhere!
Thanks so much, Janna!
I absolutely love hand shots and while not a necessity, when the nail polish harmonizes or complements the gem assortment, I am mesmerized!
Exactly what I was thinking, this person didn’t read your article. I prefer buying jewelry that I can see on a hand because it is just so much easier to picture what it will look like on my own hand. I loved your article. Thanks. I used to use a black velvet background and a lamp close by with a piece of fabric draped over the shade to diffuse the light. Great article. Great advice. Carry on!!
Your DIY diffused light approach sounds great – I’ve definitely done similar things when I’m shooting on the go. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
Thank you so much for all your great!!
Personally I prefer to see how the jewelry looks on. It gives me an idea on the size and what it looks like on. I find it frustrating when a seller doesn’t have pictures showing how it looks on.
Thanks again for you wonderful knowledge!!
Thanks so much, Kimberly! I always love hearing other people’s thoughts. And you’re very welcome!
Hands do not belong in jewelry photos. Period. It is very unprofessional. Those photos are awful. Her fingers look like logs!! Notice how the focus is taken away from the jewelry and gone onto her hand. Notice the fuzziness of the jewelry and the sharpness of her hand/fingers. I moderate a vintage and antique jewelry group of more than 17,000 members and see tons of lousy photos. Jewelry belongs on it’s own against a neutral background with no visual distractions within the frame. Good lighting is essential. Macro photos should be taken in the same manner, with the focus completely on the jewelry item and not so close that the item becomes fuzzy around the edges.
I know several members of your Facebook group, and they all post photos of jewelry on hands. Merely citing the size of a community you’re involved with isn’t much of a claim to authority, especially since you don’t seem particularly in touch with others’ opinions on this subject.
Discussion is always welcome here on Diamonds in the Library, but I do require a modicum of respect in the tenor of that discussion.
Both your description of my photos as “awful” and your comment about my fingers are exceptionally rude. Please reconsider the way that you speak to people.
I agree completely with you; both in having respectful discussions rather than insults and that photographing items on hands can be very useful. I have purchased rings and bracelets for myself, and others, that either are far larger than I thought and look ridiculous on, or they simply looked far better on the ‘prop’ than it did being worn. Great advice for jewelry photographers! Thank you!
Oh dear, I’m afraid you’re embarrassing yourself. Becky’s hand looks like a dainty fairy hand and you can check out the comments from LITERALLY MILLIONS of her followers sharing how much they love her photography (and her hands).
Keep doing what you’re doing, Becky! We love it!
Joie Gahum says
Try lenses like roadeavour as well. It will make better shots.
Good tip! Thank you.
You photograph your jewelry beautifully (love those turquoise rings)! Thanks for sharing your expertise with these wonderful tips.
Thank you, Rob! I’m so glad you found my article helpful.
Kathleen Watson Cotter says
Thank you! I’ve learned many of these the hard way but you’ve given me MANY more additional tips.
Thanks so much for the lovely comment, Kathleen! I’m glad I was helpful.
I enjoyed reading this article. Photographing jewellery with a phone can be tricky so your tips are great. I often find that the least prettiest thing to hand works as a perfect background. I have used an old scorched piece of wood to sit items on before and the results have been fab. I too am stubborn and take lots of pics from different angles in the hope that I can use at least a handful of them. x
Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Pamela! I love the sound of your wooden background I think so much of taking good photos with a phone is just practice, practice, practice and figuring out what works for you.
Great article! Thanks for the tips. Which macro lense do you like?
Thanks so much, dear! I’ve owned two different brands of macro lenses and I liked them pretty much equally. My old lenses were by Carson and came in 10x and 15x magnification, which was fun. They didn’t work over a phone case, though, and it was a pain to have to take my case off for photos.
The lenses I have now are Mpow (http://amzn.to/1hibVFP). They came with a wide angle lens and a fisheye lens, which I never use, and a 10x magnification lens which I use alllll the time. It clips on over a case and is super convenient.
Janna Conner says
Thanks for the tips! For my IG iphone shots I find that using Camera+ and Snapseed help a lot.
Thanks so much, Janna! I always love trying new photo apps – I know Camera+ but not Snapseed. Will have to check it out!
Great article! Many of these also apply to macro flower (and bird) photography. And I’m going to DREAM about that asscher cut ring from Lang in the section on Light. Just phenomenal!
It’s a beauty, isn’t it?? I still wish I’d been able to do it justice. Siggghhh.
Amy Roseveare says
Fabulous article!! I’m going to investigate those macro lenses for my iPhone. 🙂