Jewelry Photography

What aperture is the best for jewelry photography and why: science of the diffraction: Part 1 by Vadim Chiline

Hey there everyone! Some of you might have seen this video previously as it was first posted on photigy.com, but for those of you who might have missed it, here it is! Over the past several years on various forums and through direct contact, I’ve seen many images of jewelry or other product photography that are basically void of sharp detail and contrast. I’ve always replied back with my comments regarding diffraction and its effects.

In 2012, I wrote a blog posting about this very topic and has been a great hit. I decided to recreate it with some additional information. In the first part of this video I will be covering the underlying physics of diffraction in photography and in the second half I will be using a Canon 5D Mark III to showcase real world examples of diffraction.

In the follow-up video blog in the next short while, I will show you how I counteract diffraction or avoid it all together by using a process called focus stacking. I’ll show you my favourite software of choice, Helicon Focus and the various algorithms and variables you can use to produce great diffraction-free images.


Photography Expert Tips: Must-Have Photo Studio Accessories by Vadim Chiline

Hey there, yep, it's been a long while since I've last posted something blog-wise. Well, here's something new, a video blog by yours truly! Having been a jewellery photographer for over 10 years I've come across many tools and accessories I deem really important. I've decided to introduce them to you in this video below.

In addition, you will find links to some of these awesome accessories below over at B&H Photo/Video. They really are top notch for shipping anywhere and fast (including awesome shipping to Canada)!

Live "On-Air" Comments & Critique Session in January

Over at the Photigy.com Pro Corner forum, members can submit up to 2 photos each that I will then go over during a live "on-air" broadcast. The broadcast will be 1 hour long, so first come, first serve. Act quick! There should be more coming as well as an announcement in the the first quarter of 2015. So stay tuned!

Jewelry Photography Tip from a Pro: Stopping Down & Diffraction vs Focus Stacking. by Vadim Chiline

Jewelry photography focus stacking

Jewelry photography focus stacking

The area within the red square is show below at various apertures and focus stacked.

In jewelry photography, most of the time we need to make sure everything is pin sharp. Having some blurred stones or portions is often frowned upon unless it’s quite deliberately done and for an artistic purpose.

I sometimes receive less than ideal jewelry items to retouch where the focus is extremely limited, or everything is soft as though Vaseline was smudged over the picture. In most cases, the lens and camera are perfectly fine, but the user has done some serious mistakes with how his camera’s setting have been adjusted.

As many of you know, stopping-down a lens, or in human-like analogy, squinting your eyes when you want to see “sharper”, gives you more depth-of-field (DoF). For example, a lens shooting at f2.8, which is quite open, means the lens’ iris is nearly wide open, letting in lots of light – the image will have a very shallow DoF. Therefore to compensate, we stop-down the lens, going from f2.8 to say f5.6, f8, f11… etc.

What I want to cover today is that many of you out there are somewhat unaware of the limits of stopping-down a lens. After a certain point, every lens starts to loose overall sharpness, to the point of looking blurry. Every lens out there suffers this, it’s called “diffraction”.

To explain this, the edges of the diaphragm blades in your lens disperse light. When you begin stopping down say at f8 to f25, the diffracted light is initially a small percentage of the total light that hits your sensor, but gradually, it becomes a larger percentage of the light recorded.

How this applies to Jewelry Photography

When photographing jewelry, you are using a macro lens and usual some extension tubes. When working in the macro world, DoF is quite shallow. Any of you who’ve shot flowers or insects, heck even jewelry since you are reading this, know that unless you stop-down your lens quite a bit, you will not get enough of your subject in-focus. Therefore you tend to shoot at around f11-f16, some even f22 or higher. Have you seen a sudden decrease in sharpness in your images? Well, that’s diffraction at work. The following is an example of DoF vs Defraction as applied to jewellery photography. Note: only a little sharpening was done in Capture One Pro. Additional sharpening in Photoshop improves the images a little best kitchen knives - but those affected by diffraction, win nothing in my opinion.

Jewelry photography & lens diffraction at f8

Jewelry photography & lens diffraction at f8

Shot at f8: Notice the lack of depth of field, but the portions in focus are sharp.

Jewelry photography & lens diffraction at f11

Jewelry photography & lens diffraction at f11

Shot at f11: Slightly more depth of field, sharpness is still good.

Jewelry photography & lens diffraction at f16

Jewelry photography & lens diffraction at f16

Shot at f16: Depth of field increases once more, but sharpness begins to drop.

Jewelry photography & lens diffraction at f25

Jewelry photography & lens diffraction at f25

Shot at f25: Much more depth of field, but now image looks fuzzy.

Jewelry photography & lens diffraction at f32

Jewelry photography & lens diffraction at f32

Shot at f32: Not much more depth of field than at f25, but seriously diffraction is happening.

Finally, here’s an image that was done using focus stacking software. A total of 9 images were used:

Jewelry photography & lens diffraction at f8

Jewelry photography & lens diffraction at f8

9 photos that were stacked together, rending everything sharp.

For jewelry photography, or really, any macro photography where DoF is a must, focus stacking is the way to go for ultimate sharpness. We use Helicon Focus exclusively at the studio. It's proved itself faster and more reliable than the equivalent in Photoshop. Outside of using View Cameras with bellows, there's no way to achieve this effect. To some of you it might seem not cost-effective, but take it from me, we shoot thousands of images a year for print and web catalogs, nevermind magazine ads and trade-show displays. Focus stacking is easy, anybody can do it really. We basically start the sequence by focusing on the front-most part of the image, and with each shot, focus a little further into the image, until we reach the back. Export it with your favorite software, in our case, we recommend Capture One Pro, and then open the sequence in Helicon Focus, press the start button, you're done!

We have used a tilt-shift lens on occasions, the Canon 90mm TS/E, but we limit the use to items that would require at most 3 image stacks - pendants, certain earrings. Time is money, but critical image quality is what drives us the most.

Jewelry Photography & Retouching: Realistic Expectations & Budgets by Vadim Chiline

In today’s highly retouched advertising world, people assume everything can be solved with a quick airbrushing in Photoshop. It’s widespread knowledge that yes indeed, most if not all advertising material goes under the loupe and gets a big changeover: Think of fashion photos where skin, hair and makeup are made blemish-less. Same goes for food, where stylists work tirelessly to make it look the most appetizing, and then more adjustment are done in post-production. The world of jewelry photography is no different, or maybe it is? Relying on post-production is a “must-do”. How does a Tiffany’s image look out of camera? How about some David Yurman pieces? Birks & Mayors? Everybody pays big money to get images perfect and stylized to their branding needs: gold color is adjusted; diamond contrast and colors fixed; stones copy and pasted to replace less-than-stellar ones, etc.

before

before

after

after

Fig. 1: Drag the slider to see a before and after of a 4.3 ct diamond engagement ring.

Unfortunately, because of the “that’s the way it is and done” nature of the industry, we think Photoshop can solve every problem and give you a “Tiffany’s” look. Before being a running EpicMind Studio, I was a programmer for a few years, having studied Computer Science and learned quite early on the motto: “Garbage in = Garbage out”. If you input bad data, you will get out bad data in return. In jewelry photography, the same can be applied. Start with very low quality photography, where you have blurred out portions, color casts, and bad lighting, unless you are ready to spend lots of money, there’s no way this will turn into your dream “Tiffany’s” image. Jewelry that is bargain priced, or has been heavily worn, and not fresh from production the so-called "vendor samples" requires lots of time and effort in post-production: hence money. These jobs are more doable, if the photography is alright (see Fig. 2)

before

before

after

after

Fig. 2: Drag the slider to see a before and after of a

heavily used "vendor sample" ring. Notice the scratches, and dirty stains.

Worse than the above case is when we are asked to retouch somebody else's photography where it suffers from very low resolution, may have blurred out portions, color casts, and bad lighting: unless you are ready to spend lots of money, there’s no way this will turn into a winning shot. Garbage in = Garbage out. See Fig 3. for a sample image I created using my unlock iphone 4 (you would be surprised what requests we sometimes get).

We tell our clients that most of the budget for catalog style photography is spent on retouching – especially on lower-end jewelry, but there are limits to what we are willing to do. We do get requests where we are asked to edit photos that they will provide us thinking it bring the images to the next level. I don’t say we can’t, I just say that the likelihood of it depends on the source image and how it was captured. Start with a great image, and you will end with a great image – at least that’s what I think.

Quality jewelry on the other hand, requires generally less retouching than lower-end. Although this is a general rule I’ve noticed, some higher-end clients still require that it is retouched above-and-beyond. Jewelry being used on backlight posters at shows such as JCK Las Vegas, that blow-up the jewelry to a 6’ size, will require tons of retouching no matter what – jewelry is not designed to be shown at larger than life sizes – some are machine made, some man made, and precision has its limits.

Bad jewelry photography

Bad jewelry photography

Fig. 3: A sample of bad lighting, focus and low resolution;

sometimes there's just so much retouching you can do within a budget.

I try to coach clients approaching me with “home brew” photos – it doesn’t hurt to learn to produce better in-house photos that we will need to retouch. They win in the end – getting amazing marketing material.

Finally, it’s got a lot to do with economics: if you want great work, you need to spend money to get it done right. If you cut corners, then more money it spent to make-up the problems incurred by the cut corner. Money isn’t the only driving factor, but with today’s economy, today’s jeweler is more price-conscious than ever and wants to stretch their marketing dollar further because of shrinking margins. Unfortunately, cutting corners when "first impressions" matters just isn't an option.

before

before

after

after

Fig. 4: Drag the slider to see a before and after of an image I did a couple of years ago. The client wanted a very "blue" oriented image, a little in the Tiffany's style.

Simple Jewelry Photography Using 2 Lights by Vadim Chiline

I’ve finally made it back to my blog after a long absence – work has consumed most if not all of my time: We’ve been busy shooting hundreds of photos and videos for the fall season which includes the ever popular Thanksgiving/Black Friday and December holidays. It’s the time of the year most retailers make their money. Today’s blog will showcase a very simple 2 LED ceiling lights light setup that can give quite a lovely metallic shine to a ring shot tabletop. The setup consists of using 1 softbox, 1 diffusion panel (in this case, a run-of-the-mill 5-in-1 circular one easily available at any quality photo store) and finally a strobe with a 30-degree grid mounted on it. Scroll down to see the before and after version rollovers.

A before and after image for jewelry photography

A before and after image for jewelry photography

In the my previous blog post entitled Cosmetic Product Photography Using a Simple 1-Light Setup I showed how we can use a simple 1 light setup to get a lovely gradient shimmer on metallic objects. That time I bounced light on an opaque white foamcore panel. The strobe had a grid modifier mounted on it as well. I re-iterate the purpose: A gridded-strobe hitting a surface will generally diffuse itself somewhat in a nice gradient-like fashion. This will give metals more character and shape.

Normally at our studio we employ 2-3 techniques to light our jewelry or other metallic objects:

Softbox: This gives even light across metallic object – it doesn’t sculpt the object much as the light is rather flat. The “empty space” between softboxes gives the shadow areas that define the object. This is why I normally rarely if ever recommend light-tents – you normally have too little areas with no light therefore your photo will look generally flatly lit, and dull.

Bounced light off white card/foamcore This method is very similar to passing light through a diffusion panel – it’s similar to the above method – it’s a simpler method than nearly anybody can just undertake. The problem with this technique comes when multiple lights are used and several bounces are needed – you need to use flags to block out the light that might created an unpleasant specular highlight on the jewellery. I normally use this technique the least though I do often use this when photographing the collection coins for the Royal Canadian Mint, see the next image. I'll try to discuss that technique in a future blog when time permits.

Bounce lighting technique applied

Bounce lighting technique applied

A coin we shot for the Royal Canadian Mint recently using the bounced light technique.

Diffusion panel based lighting: This is a technique we’re using a little more these days here – I find it gives jewelry a more sculpted, nearly CGI or post-processed look – on quality rings its surreal.

Lighting diagram for 2-light jewelry photography

Lighting diagram for 2-light jewelry photography

In any case, and without further a due, here is the setup I used to photograph the image you see above using diffusion lighting: Here's the lighting diagram for the above image. Very simple indeed

The camera was set slightly above table-top level with the diamond engagement ring. As you can see in the reflection in the "before" image, you can see the camera reflection in the prongs holding the center stone. The purpose of the softbox behind the camera was to light-up the diamonds. I could have added additional lights or bounce cards, but I wanted to illustrate here how such a simple setup can lead to a nice image.

The gridded-strobe was aimed to give a pleasant graduated feathering of light on the top portion of metal - play around with it; we're in the digital age, so play around and see where you like the light, and at what strength.

In post-processing, we cleaned up the ring and diamonds: we desaturated the gold and then applied a color balance of cyan/blue to make it more "metallic" - take this as "artistic liberty". The diamonds are adjusted on their own layer. I kept the original background and again, simply cleaned it and adjusted the curves on it.

It's quite a simple setup - but one that gives great results fast. We use more complex setups for jewelry angled differently (such as a standing ring etc), but it's generally a similar principle.

Here is the original image out of camera:

Photographing Glass and Metal on Dark Backgrounds by Vadim Chiline

Photographing glass and metal on black

Photographing glass and metal on black

High Precision Diamond Cutting Tool with Optical End Products Hi, and welcome to a new blog entry (finally!). I’ve been kept away from the blog for a while, but here I go again!

In today’s blog I’ll move slightly away from the jewelry photography realm, and showcase a job that we shot a little while ago. The client, K&Y Diamonds, is a global leader in high precision diamond cutting tools used in the automotive, aerospace, optical and medical industries. These tools are used to cut, shape, and polish object for their respective uses. Because most of their tools are small to tiny (2" down to microns), and that they are metallic and have diamonds, they contact us knowing that we work pretty much exclusively with small shiny objects. For this particular job, they wanted to have their tools photographed with "end products" besides them. They also stressed the importance of color, that the tools appear "high tech" and as sharp as possible.

I decided on using the blue color gel as the main highlight color in the series of images. Blue is a very typical color used in technology imagery: it conveys the right emotion to the consumer. Using orange, doesn’t do as well .

High tech tools under blue lighting increases their

Using blue light, we give a "techie" feel to products.

The setup was photographed on a large piece of brushed aluminum provided by a contact at Electrolux/GE. Collecting many different types of materials is really important for the product photographer: you never know when you might use a certain surface. The brushed aluminum worked great because the tool itself has a brushed finish – thus creating unity.

The tricky part of this job was the glass products: 3 pieces of glass used in the optical industry (the final end-product are eyeglass lenses). They posed some difficulties with respect to where lighting can be put, at what height and at what intensity. Everything gets reflected and warped via internal refraction.

The lighting setup I used was composed of 3 lights. The key light was a softbox mounted to the left of the camera, this illuminates the tool and gives the nice bright highlight on the diamond tip. A secondary, fill-light was placed further away to the right of the camera, and the intensity was reduced to simply bring back some detail on the tool’s right side. Finally, a blue colored gel mounted with barn doors was pointed on a black paper background approximately 3’ away, and 1.5’ higher than the setup. Raising or lowering this light affected the amount of blue that showed-up in the frame.

The options are limitless when it comes to painting with light. Using various light modifiers, as discussed in my previous blog entry, you can create stunning combinations, even without Photoshop. In this last image below, I have added a yellow gel on the camera right to give additional color. The pink/red hue was added in post-production via Photoshop. As a photographer, go as far as your mind can see (or a client's ability to pay for good work).

Photographing glass and metal on black, the lighting diagram

Photographing glass and metal on black, the lighting diagram

Here's the lighting diagram to the top image.

Engine part shot under colored gels

Engine part shot under colored gels

Using colored gels, we can sculpt a rather unexciting piece metal into something much more interesting (object is part of a car piston).

Photographing a Diamond on a Black Background: Capturing the Sparkle by Vadim Chiline

Loose diamond photography on black

Loose diamond photography on black

Two diamonds composited together from two individual photos showcasing lovely faceting and fire. A diamond’s beauty lies in its sparkle. The main challenge when photographing the stone is capturing and showing off that natural brilliance. In this project, we’ll shoot loose diamonds against a black background.

A diamond is basically a translucent, prismatic, glass-like object that refracts light. It’s the cut of the diamond that determines the pattern of refracted light and the type of lighting required for the optimal photographic effect.

Some photographers prefer constant lighting because they can quickly see the effect of the light. Others wrap diffusion paper around the stone in a cone like-fashion, pointing lights directly at the subject and also using a multi-LED bulb, such as the Dazzler, to achieve the “fire” effect in a diamond (the flecks of light). Personally, I prefer using my conventional lighting system—strobes, softboxes, or bare lights with reflectors and grids. I think you should be able to get the “fire” from a diamond using these tools alone.

Let’s get started: First, wear gloves. Medical-style latex gloves work well, but any lint-free substitute will do. With gloved hands, inspect the diamond and remove any oils, fingerprints, and dust. I recommend a standard jewelry cleaner with a quick rinse under water. The less retouching we have to do in post-production, the better.

Next, place the diamond on a black Plexiglass surface. In the example above, I have placed them pointing to off-center for a non-standard diamond shot.

Now, we need to look at our light sources. Let’s compare non-diffused light (using the Sun as an example) with diffused light (clouds) on diamonds. On a cloudless sunny day, a diamond will sparkle with all its might, producing the “fire” effect. On a cloudy day, a diamond will be duller and whiter, showing less “fire”. Photographically speaking, we generally want a little of both. Too much “fire” obscures the shape, while too much diffusion loses the life of the stone.

Loose diamond photographed straight-on with softboxes only

Loose diamond photographed straight-on with softboxes only

Shot using ONLY 2 softboxes, colors boosted in post-processing

Working in the studio, I need to reproduce this in a controlled environment using a combination of bare strobes (which act like the Sun), and softboxes (the clouds). It's a balancing act that requires trial and error to find the right mix to achieve a pleasing image. The advantage of the studio is that I can have several "suns" and "clouds" at my disposal.

I begin by setting up the clouds, with one softbox on each side of the camera, and take a photo. Boosting saturation and adjusting levels in the RAW file sometimes gives enough "fire" immediately, in which case you have a winning shot. (See the straight-on diamond image below.) Often, you’ll need to do more.

To replicate the Sun (a small, non-diffused light source), I use bare strobes at various angles, creating "fire". There is no right or wrong way to shoot. It might take some practice to get the perfect image because every stone is slightly different and reacts uniquely. Continue moving light positions and angles to the stone until you capture the perfect image.

Photographing-diamonds-on-black-lighting-diagram.png

Lighting diagram for diamond image at the top of this blog. Using both "sun" and "clouds" in the studio.

I hope this behind the scenes has given you some insight. Should you have any questions or topic you would like me to maybe cover, please send me feedback below or drop me an email.

Jewelry Photography Tutorial – How to make your image pop by keeping it simple by Vadim Chiline

Rollover the image to see the original, as shot.

The task was to create a holiday-themed ad and I was given a diverse set of jewelry items to work with: various pearl items, diamond key pendants, and a diamond sapphire ring. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to incorporate so many unrelated pieces onto a festive background and maintain a professional tone. In marketing, less is more and a common theme is an important starting point.

A mistake many jewelers make is to request too many items with incongruent styles in a single ad. Their goal is to please every type of client with one ad, but this often backfires and ultimately cheapens the ad.

Ads should have one focal point, not 10. That doesn’t mean you’re limited to one ring. You can group a few pieces together in an interesting composition, carefully placing each object. I chose three key-shaped, diamond pendants.

The holiday theme presents a setup challenge since festive props tend to be quite colorful and, if used in the wrong way, steal the spotlight away from the jewelry. An additional obstacle when photographing jewelry is its small size relative to other props. If you do manage to find small enough props not to overshadow the main subject, when photographed close up, the props are more likely to show production faults and ruin a beautiful photo.

I visited a few stores, collecting a number of props that could set the right mood—but once I got to the shooting table, I realized they simply didn’t work with the pendants. I had bought fabrics, artisanal papers, ornaments—heck, even a bottle of wine! Sometimes an idea is only good on paper and when you actually prep the scene, it fails miserably. Who said ad design was easy?

I finally settled on light-colored Christmas tree ornaments. I blurred them slightly by shooting at a wider aperture of f8 for a shallower depth of field so that the ornament was recognizable, but didn’t detract from the diamond pendants. The setup included a total of 4 lights. 3 lights had 24x36 softboxes mounted, and one light with a 20-degree grid. If you aren't familiar with certain light modifiers, check my previous blog post here. Pendants where hung via flexible arm clamp. I retouched the image in Photoshop, de-saturating the pendants to remove some of the color cast, adding saturation and color to both the paper background and ornaments, and finally darkening above and below the image to accommodate the text and logo. Overall, retouching was minor. The text and logo were added in InDesign for a final press version delivered as a PDF.

Jewellery Photography Lighting Diagram

Jewellery Photography Lighting Diagram

The setup included a total of 4 lights. 3 lights had 24x36 softboxes mounted, and one light with a 20-degree grid. Pendants where hung via flexible arm clamp.

If you have questions or suggestions for this and other blogs, please contact me.