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Photoflex Lighting School

Friday, June 29, 2012

Lighting Jewelry Simply and Effectively

Lighting Equipment

Lighting and photographing jewelry is one of the more challenging endeavors in studio photography for a couple of reasons.

First, you need to be able to bring your camera in close enough to capture the essence and details of the jewelry you're photographing. And secondly, you need to be able to light the jewelry naturally, while simultaneously controlling and modifying reflections, which can be very unwieldy.

This lesson explores some basic studio techniques for capturing the charm and craftsmanship of fine jewelry.

(Click on any thumbnail image below for an enlarged view.)

Topics Covered:

  •     The Presentation
  •     The Before Shot
  •     Throwing Soft Light
  •     Adjusting Reflective Shapes
  •     Bouncing Light from the Main
  •     Adding Sparkle
  •     Adding Color
  •     Comparisons

The Presentation

For this lesson, we wanted to demonstrate how to go about lighting and photographing jewelry using just one light and a couple of reflectors. Our concept was to create a 3/4 overhead view of two wedding bands and an engagement ring propped up in an antique soap dish with course sea salt.

For many jewelry dealers and resellers, it often pays to get creative with props like this for marketing purposes. As any ad agency will tell you, the presentation of a product in marketing collateral is generally more important than the actual product itself.

First, we rolled in a homemade, plywood shooting table, suspended a 4-foot wide roll of white seamless background paper using a ProDuty Support Kit, and clipped the front end of the paper to the table using spring clamps. [figure 1]

Figure 1

We placed the soap dish near the front right corner of the table so that we could have flexibility in positioning our camera and lighting gear. Once we had the rings arranged, we positioned a tripod-mounted digital SLR with a 50mm macro lens attached in close and framed up the shot.

The Before Shot

For comparison purposes, we first took a fully automatic shot with the built-in flash enabled. [figures 2 & 3]

Figure 2

Figure 3

In the result shot, we noticed a couple of things right away. First, the quality of light was plain and flat. While the rings were illuminated adequately, there was no real sense of depth to the shot, and there was a hard shadow cast in the lower half of the shot.

Secondly, the wide aperture setting [automatically set to f/2.0] on the macro lens caused the depth of field to be so shallow that the cherub holding the soap dish was simply rendered as a big blur.

Throwing Soft Light

The first step in improving the shot was to disable the built-in flash. To illuminate the scene with a softer quality of light, we set up a small Starlite Kit and positioned it at a 135-degree angle to the right of the camera. [figure 4]

Figure 4

Next, we set the exposure mode in the camera to Manual, which would allow us to adjust the aperture setting and shutter settings. We set the aperture to f/10, set the shutter speed to accommodate a good exposure, set the White Balance to 3150K (or Tungsten) to match the color temperature of the Starlite, and took another shot. [figure 5]

Figure 5

With just this one light, we see a big improvement. The shadows are soft and gradual, the lighting on the rings looks more natural, and there is an increased sense of dimension to the shot overall.

However, on closer inspection, we noticed two more things. First, the back of the cherub was overexposed since it was white, reflective, and closest to the soft box. If we kept the light where it was and wanted to maintain the overall exposure, we would need to place a scrim or makeshift gobo ("go-between") in between the cherub and the light to prevent it from being overexposed.

Secondly, we noticed that the bands of the rings looked a little too dark. This is a common situation with rings and other jewelry, as they tend to reflect everything in the room. In the front of the men’s wedding band, you can see the reflection on the soft box, which is quite small in relation to the rest of the reflection. The rest is mostly underexposed ceiling.

Adjusting Reflective Shapes

Instead of settling on that shape and size of reflection, we decided to reposition the soft box to see how it would affect both the reflection in the rings, as well as the exposure on the cherub’s back.

For the next shot, we positioned the soft box at more of a 90-degree angle. Without changing the camera settings, we took another shot. [figures 6 & 7]

Figure 6

Figure 7

In the result shot, we saw that the reflection in the men’s band was now more than twice the size, but that the shape was not very aesthetically pleasing.

When shooting reflective objects like jewelry or cookware, it’s very important to pay attention to the shapes you create in the reflections. Soft boxes, with their uniformity, can do wonders in creating and controlling these shapes.

Next, we angled the soft box so that it was coming more from behind the soap dish and really close to it. Remember, the closer your soft box is to your subject, the larger the reflection becomes. Looking through the viewfinder, we could easily see the shape the soft box was making.

Once it was angled where we wanted it, we took another shot. [figures 8 & 9]

Figure 8

Figure 9

Now you can see that the reflection follows the shape of the ring a little more and that we’ve maintained the natural quality of the light. Also notice that the light on the cherub’s back is no longer overexposed and that the deeper depth of field allows us to make out the features of the cherub more clearly.


Below is a side-by-side look of the effects of the soft box in its various positions. [figure 10]

Figure 10

Bouncing Light from the Main

Next, we decided to bounce a little light from the soft box back into the rings and shadow sections of the soap dish. We decided to use a 39x39” LitePanel with white fabric, but realized that it was going to be tricky getting it in close to the rings with the shooting table set up the way it was.

We also wanted to be able to angle the LitePanel on the set to optimize the light bounce from the Starlite Kit. So we first mounted a Main & T Clamp to the end of a LiteDisc Holder. [figures 11 & 12]

Figure 11

Figure 12

We then secured the LiteDisc Holder to a sturdy LiteStand, attached the LitePanel to the Main & T Clamp, and positioned it to the left of the rings. This set-up then allowed us to easily angle the LitePanel to the optimal reflective position. [figures 13 & 14]

Figure 13

Figure 14

Without making any changes to the camera settings, we took another shot. [figure 15]

Figure 15

The biggest change to the shot was the reduction of overall contrast. Notice how the shadow areas of the cherub are now much brighter in tone. You can also make out the reflection of the LitePanel in the women’s wedding band to the left.

Adding Sparkle

With the overall contrast set to where we wanted it to be, we net focused on adding more sparkle to the diamonds. While we could have added another StarFlash strobe with a Snoot and Grid attached to throw some hard light on the diamonds, we decided to keep it simple and just add a small reflective silver card to the mix. We used a flexible arm clamp to position it in place. [figures 16 & 17]

Figure 16

Figure 17

With the reflection looking good through the viewfinder, we took another shot. [figure 18]

Figure 18

Notice how this small card had added a significant amount of punch to the rings. Again, there are several different ways to pull out the sparkle in jewelry like this, but this is probably one of the simplest.

Below, you can see the differences these two reflectors have made in the results. The first comparison examines the entire frame, while the second comparison focuses on just the rings. [figures 19 & 20]

Figure 19

Figure 20

Adding Color

At this point, we were pretty happy with the results. The only thing that was bothersome was that the shot felt a little too monochromatic. As a last-minute fix, we decided to slide a piece of painted foam core under the soap dish to add a little color. [figure 21]

Figure 21

Once this was in position, we rechecked focus and took a final shot. [figure 22]

Figure 22

The sea green background was just the thing to complete the shot. The small soft box and reflectors worked well to render the rings naturally and effectively.

When compared to the very first shot we took, you can see how far we came with the lighting! [figure 23]

Figure 23

Remember that while we just used one small soft box and a couple of reflectors, jewelry sets can get fairly intricate with many different lights, reflectors, gobos, etc., involved. As you add lights and lighting modifiers to your arsenal, you’ll discover how best to incorporate them into your basic lighting approach. Keep in mind that it’s always best to start simple and then build to it from there.

As always, remember to experiment with your lights and have fun!

Lighting Equipment


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