jewellery photography

Photographing a 16-Carat Yellow Asscher-Cut Diamond Ring by Vadim Chiline

An amazing Birks & Mayors engagement ring featuring a large 16-carat yellow Asscher cut diamond.

An amazing Birks & Mayors engagement ring featuring a large 16-carat yellow Asscher cut diamond.

In the world of jewelry photography, having the chance to shoot rare and exotic stones and designs is a huge privilege. Normally, we must work with the so-called more affordable and inclusion-filled variety of jewels. If doing lots of web or catalog photography, this is sometimes what makes up your bread and butter as a jewelry photographer.

Sometimes though, you get a call to shoot something that’s more intriguing, rare, or even spectacular in nature: The large diamond; the odd cut; an intense color rarely seen; or a combination of some of the above.

Several weeks ago, I got the call to shoot a large 16-carat fancy intense yellow Asscher-cut diamond ring for Birks & Mayors, sometimes called “Canada’s Tiffany’s”. The diamond was stunning and sat in a yellow-gold flower petal basket, laced with yellow diamonds. This basket was then wonderfully flanked by additional pave diamonds. Overall, it was quite the exquisite piece of jewelry to photograph. It is currently on display in their store in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

A head-on photo of a 16-carat yellow Asscher-cut diamond.

A head-on photo of a 16-carat yellow Asscher-cut diamond.

The photography was done using our lovely Phase One system. The RAW images were processed and converted with Capture One Pro 7 into 16-bit TIFF, allowing for the most color and tonal range possible while retouching (banding issues in gradient areas are greatly reduce or avoided all-together). The above photos were made-up of between 7 to 15 images and then stitched together using HeliconSoft.

Retouching was relatively straight-forward (although took several hours of work because the images were to be used in large prints) requiring contrast adjustments, cleaning the metal and improving the diamond faceting (removing some unwanted dark reflections/refractions, and unwanted colors). Last but not least, additional contrast was added via sharpening at the end as well as a blue colour cast was added to the white metal matching the Birks blue standard.

We were very pleased with this result and are looking forward to future collaborations with this wonderful company.

Book Recommendation

Great jewelry photography reference book, Harry Winston.

Great jewelry photography reference book, Harry Winston.

Recently published, Harry Winston

On a different note, if you are interested in large diamonds, including rare and exotic designs, I highly recommend you take a look at the following book: Harry Winston. I just purchased it recently and love looking over the amazing history at this jewelry institution. It's a large hardcover book, filled with some of the history of Harry Winston Inc., covering many of it's classic collection pieces including the Hope diamond, a large 45.52 carat blue diamond. It might not contain every masterpiece ever created, but it's quite impressive. Every jewelry photographer or designer should own this book. Great jewelry photography - great jewelry design.

In the Next Blog...

In the next blog I will cover a retouching technique with my first video blog: converting white gold to yellow gold. So please stay tuned (hope to put this up in the coming week).

Shooting 60 Megapixel High Resolution Jewelry Photography Now at EpicMind Studio by Vadim Chiline

Jewelry photography with our new Phase One 60 Megapixel camera system

Jewelry photography with our new Phase One 60 Megapixel camera system

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, but as is usually the case, we’re busy here at the studio churning out work for our great clients. I’ve also been in the process of purchasing a new camera system for the studio. Well, it’s now complete, we are now equipped with a 60 megapixel system of high resolution madness! The studio is now equipped with a Phase One 645DF and IQ160 digital back alongside a slew of insanely sharp lenses.

Why did I consider going medium format? For a few reasons:

1. I believe Medium Format offers the best possible image out there, within a controlled environment bar none. The resolution and color depth is great, especially highlights I find. There’s more tolerance to retain what matters in jewelry photography, bright tones that define and shape the in the metal and stones.

2. Stacking! I will not necessarily try to make full frame image using the new system, but will shoot the items smaller in the frame, which is still as large as say a Canon 5D Mark II/III produced image, but because of the relation of the image size and sensor, the depth-of-field is greater. For example, take your macro photo from further back, yes the image is smaller, but you get additional depth of field the smaller the object is in the frame. Now instead of needing between 8-9 images for a given piece of jewelry, I can get away with 4-5 via the Phase One. After cropping (in Capture One Pro), the image is about the same size as the Canons, but took less time to shoot, and to stack together. But why not use the full resolution then? Much of our work, the final destination is small catalog and web sizes, so no need to go overkill. The advantage is that say for a given client we have 1000 products to shoot in a given year, in the end we have 9000 photos vs 5000 photos, so a 4000 photo difference for ONE CLIENT. Do this across our entire client base, and that’s time and money saved.

3. Reliability of our Canon bodies was sad to say, poor. In the past 1-2 years, we’ve had three 5D Mark IIs going in and out of repairs for a broken USB connection – which means $300+ in servicing + the trouble of getting it sent in, etc. Images were getting stuck while we were working tethered to the computer, they wouldn’t download. This sometimes required a full system restart, but in most cases, the camera needed to have the battery pulled out to reset it. Part of the problem we also realized was our iMacs had problems connect with the USB on the camera. We were loosing our minds when again; time is money with catalog photography. On the other hand, the Phase One system, uses a thick Firewire cable which has a thick plug that is more “commercial” in build and can withstand much more abuse (and in our studio there is NO ABUSE: the 5Ds "lived" on a tripod in the studio all day ugh..).

4. Critical sharpness and lack of anti-alias filters. The medium format system as some of you might know (as well as the new Nikon D800E and some Canons) no anti-alias filter (AA), which helps remove moire patterns in images. AA has a final effect of blurring or removing a tad of sharpness in your images. In jewelry photography, when sometimes we need to resize the images to poster size, every bit of original sharpness counts – for me! Add to this the lenses that are available such as the 120mm macro, which is razor sharp, even when stopped-down to f29, suffers very little diffraction compared to the Canon equivalent where shooting f16 or smaller rendered garbage. We can easily shoot at f22-f29 and feel very comfortable using the images. For important projects we would open-up a little for sure, but again, depends on our needs.

5. The next fun aspect of the Phase One System is the availability of the Leaf Shutter lenses. They allow shooting with synch-speeds of up to 1/1600 of a second. For outdoor photography and fashion work, it will permit using strobes to counterbalance the ambient light quite well. It wasn't a huge selling point for us, but as mentioned earlier, we are heading in a few new directions here at EpicMind.

6. Lastly, with 60 megapixels on the IQ160 digital back, as mentioned earlier, there’s plenty of cropping room. In a fashion shoot, we can easily crop a hand, or a part of the face, and still have something usable for a full pager. It’s quite insane to be honest with you. We will be branching out with our photography in the coming months and this will be something that will be loved by us, and our clients I’m sure. It doesn’t hurt to have room to crop.

Phase One IQ160 Digital Back

Phase One IQ160 Digital Back

Why didn’t I go with the Nikon D800/E? I’m sure some of you must be asking yourselves this exact question. I mean it is substantially cheaper; I don’t even want to talk about that (because if you look at the money aspect only, most of you would think I’m crazy). I listed above my reasons, the Nikon though great, is not the studio camera for me. Its resolution bump is nice but not in the same league. The tonal range that I’ve seen from the Phase One or even Hasselblad is just superior out of the box. The dynamic range is quite comparable from the data; the shadows might even be better on the Nikon! As they say: different strokes for different folks. I have no regrets. This is a business tool for my studio – something that I count on.

What did I do with the Canon system? I sold some of it, but kept most of it. We run a second shooting station as well, so this will remain Canon-based. There are certain things that the Canon does much better, but those are mostly out of the studio type things such as: blazing fast auto-focus; great high ISO performance; shoot several frames per second burts, etc. The same can be said about Nikon.

In the coming months, I will share with you some images, comparisons, and more with the Phase One system.

I would like to thank the following people who helped me along the way:

Walter Borchenko, Phase One Canada representative from B3kdigital.com Jean-Yves Lapierre, Montreal Commercial Sales Rep, Photo Service, photoservice.ca Doug Peterson, who got the ball rolling, Phase One Rep in the USA working at Digital Transitions, digitaltransitions.com

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.