photography lighting

Forking Around? by Vadim Chiline

Well, that certainly got your attention. I've decided to change the blog around a little and have some fun posting some of the various things we play around with at the studio during non jewellery days. I decided to shoot something simple with simple lighting, and just play with shapes, shadows and contrasts. Out came some utensils from our kitchen drawer. Because the utensils weren't in pristine condition, and not wanting to burden my retouchers with pointless scratch removal, I decided to shoot in a very high contrast, playing more on the silhouette of the object, making a very black and white image. Most of the images on white were shot with a very shallow depth of field of around f4 on the Phase One camera's Macro lens.

Here's a story I created from the shoot: The text is perhaps a touch graphical in nature so be warned :) Images are mostly out of camera with minimal retouching. You can see the lighting diagram for the first image at the end of this post if interested.


Lighting Diagram for the "Go Fork It" image on black:

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.





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)





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.





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:

Jewellery Photography of the Month - July by Vadim Chiline

Jewelry photograph of the month of July

Jewelry photograph of the month of July

The image above was done for our client Ex Aurum jewellers of Montreal. It will be featured as an ad in Weddings Bells and Marrions-Nous magazines upcoming editions.

Sometimes shooting away from the classic all white, or all black background leads to some wonderful images - Images that showcase sparkle and fire, alongside a mood for the brand or the item itself. In this image here for Ex Aurum, I decided to shoot on a leatherette and added some simple background lighting to add to the mood.Blue and purple are generally quite awesome to use with jewelry - they are very opulent/royal in lineage. I added a tilt to the image giving it a little more dynamics - too many times are images shot "table-top" straight on. Adding some "jazz" did this shot some good.

The shot was generally done "as-is" with very little post-production. Purple was added in post-production as well as a reduction in the blue being reflected on the rear shank of the ring by the client's request. We then added a little more blue in the actual stones, and removed some reds/yellows.

The lighting used were 2 softboxes + 2 stobes with grids. In the back there was a colored gel used.

Watch this same ring in all its glory sparkle to life in 1080p

We tried to capture the fire as well. Check out our upcoming blog regarding video promotion for your online, and in-store display needs. The sky's the limit to make your product shine.

Cosmetic Product Photography Using a Simple 1-Light Setup by Vadim Chiline

Large yellow diamond engagement ring tutorial: how to get your diamonds to pop

Large yellow diamond engagement ring tutorial: how to get your diamonds to pop

Cosmetic photography using a relatively simple setup. I decided to have some fun just recently and decided to step away from my daily jewellery photography work and do (finally) a new blog entry. This past weekend I was shopping with my wife and found myself in the makeup section of The Bay department store. My wife decided to buy some makeup by Yves St-Laurent. I saw an ad for the item she bought - a product called Metal Eyes. I told my wife that if I bought it for her the only condition was that I could shoot it before she used it (hehe). I decided to recreate an image similar to the one I saw.

YSL makeup ad

YSL makeup ad

The ad that inspired this blog entry

The image has a nice graded light painting it; something that immediately tells me it’s not simply a softbox bouncing light onto it. Softboxes generally give an even diffused light across a surface, and to get it to graduate is much tougher than some other methods.

As I only had one makeup kit at my disposal, I decided to reproduce the lower portion of the ad. Doing the top part would require risking ruining the makeup with water and as this was my only kit, my couch would be my best friend should my wife’s temper be raised (hehe). During real shoots, clients normally have several kits at our disposal, where the nicest one is selected, and budgets are allotted for this sort of mishap.

The Setup!

Image out of camera, stacked

Image out of camera, stacked

Out-of-camera, stacked image.

This was the simplest setup possible I’ve used recently. I used 1 strobe mounted with a 30°grid. The object was shot laying flat on the shooting table sitting on white foamcore. Behind the object, I had a 20”x30” white foamcore at a slight angle held by a clamp. The strobe was pointing towards the center (this is where the work goes, placing the light to get a nice gradient on the object). You might have to play a little to get the light to shimmer nicely on your object. It will come with experience (and more play).

To the immediate left of the object and camera, was a 18”x20” black foamcore. This added some black delineation to the object by bouncing back some black. Finally, at the front of the object, was a small 4”x8” piece of silver card that filled in the shadows on the hinge of the little makeup box.

When I shot the image, I first shot without any water droplets to get the right shimmer across the gold cover. Once satisfied, I spritzed some water with a bottle. On a real shoot, the droplets would be critical, and most often several dozen images are made with various droplet configurations and selected by the art director and client. For my demo/blog purpose, this was adequate.

I used focus-stacking comprising of 4 shots exporting to tiff. Color, contrast, and other tweaks were done in Photoshop.

The actual ad for Yves St-Laurent was photographed using 2 light sources reflecting on a card. You can see the 2 sources by looking at the droplets. This brief tutorial was to give you some insights for you to try at your own studio. The sky’s the limit! Stop surfing and go shoot!

Lighting diagram for single light cosmetic image

Lighting diagram for single light cosmetic image

Here's the lighting diagram for this image. Quite simple no?

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).

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.

3 Studio Lighting Options for Photographers by Vadim Chiline

I’m starting a new blog category called “Beginner’s Corner,” mainly targeting new photographers seeking technical information about commercial product photography. A successful photograph depends not only on the subject, equipment, and post-production. It’s the lighting that will make or break your image. My studio is equipped with all sorts of lights and accessories, from strobes and continuous lighting sources to umbrellas and softboxes to colored gels and various backgrounds and backdrops. Today let’s focus on the three main lighting options:

Continuous lighting


With this system, the light remains on and at a constant intensity or brightness. Great for getting instant feedback about the highlights and shadows on your subject, continuous lights are also relatively cheap compared to strobe-lighting systems. In video production, they’re used 99% of the time.

Unfortunately, they’re nicknamed “hot lights” for a reason. They get extremely hot because of their tungsten or quartz-halogen bulbs. At 500+ watts each, these lights require special, heatproof accessories for safe use in your studio or home. Tungsten hot lights, can increase the ambient temperature quite considerably, just three 1000-watt units will not only suck lots of juice, but can also wilt or even melt certain props used during a product photography session. For example, prop wax with prolonged heat exposure will no longer hold properly, and if you’ve concocted an elaborate scene, it can be a frustrating event when it all collapses.

Newer lights are on the market today, which use fluorescent bulbs that don’t generate the same heat. The trouble is that you’ll need many fluorescent bulbs to match the intensity of a tungsten bulb.

The second problem with hot lights is the lack of light-intensity control. Most continuous-lighting sources have only one setting for brightness or perhaps a simple toggle with half or full power. To top that off, most lights aren’t strong enough to freeze action at the lowest ISO settings, unless you shoot at relatively large apertures in the f2.8 to f5.6 range. As a studio photographer, lighting is your paintbrush – you need maximum freedom to adjust the lighting conditions in your “controlled environment.” Unless you are on a tight budget, I don’t recommend this route.


These lights are small, very portable units that attach to the camera’s hot-shoe connector. They’re rarely used in studio photography because they don’t provide any visual guide for shadow and highlight placement, which basically means that you’re working blind, more or less by trial and error. Some photographers use flashguns in the studio for high-speed, action-freezing situations, such as capturing liquid splashing (some studio strobes are able to do this as well). They’re most often used outdoors for weddings, reportage, and wildlife or nature photography.

Strobe lighting:


Strobe lights deliver a powerful but short-lived flash as the main light source and are usually fitted with a secondary light, a tungsten-based modeling lamp of relatively low wattage. A modeling light is a continuous light that's used to help show where the light and shadows will fall on the subject. It’s not what lights your subject when you press the shutter – the flash does that. On the strobe unit, there’s a knob or slider that controls the output strength of your light. This is also usually tied to your modeling light so you see the effects instantly. This is especially useful with a multiple light setup. We can modify the intensity of each light to see the general effect with the modeling lamp to “paint” your subject.

The strobe’s strong, short bursts of output allow you to maintain a low ISO in the range of 100 to 200, reducing noise and enabling your digital sensor to produce the best image quality. Secondly, because of the variable power, you still have control over the aperture setting. Reduce the power and you can use f5.6 or crank it up to use f16.

Quality studio strobe light manufacturers provide power packs that let you shoot in the field – giving you ultimate flexibility, which continuous lighting can’t provide, unless of course you have a gas-powered generator!

Shopping guide for continuous and strobe lighting

Continuous lights Affordable: Britek 3-light kit

Britek lights are popular because of their price. Many photographers and especially, videographers purchase these as first lights. They are more fragile and have less attachment possibilities, but for those on a budget, this can suit your needs.

Moderate: Lowel 3 light kit;

Lowel has been around for a long time in the industry, serving both the photographic and video community. We own a set of these lights. The price/performance is great as well as durability.

High: Arri 3 light kit

Arri is an industry standard, used throughout the world, and because of this, they are priced to match. Mostly a video and cinema lighting company, they produce a full range of low to extremely high powered lights. They are very rugged, and can take a beating.

Strobe lights: Affordable: AlienBees

AlienBees are created by Paul C. Buff, a visionary some might call him because of his dedication to producing what I think is the industry's best price/performance lights. They are built in the USA, and come in various strengths (and colors). Many amateur and professional photographers use them in their studio. They do suffer from some inconsistent light output and color. There is a new light being produced called the Einstein and is taking the industry by storm.

Moderate: Elinchrom D-Lite

Elinchrome lights have been used by professionals for years as their trusted light. Not overly priced, they have been a workhorse in the industry.

High: Profoto

Profoto is recognized as one of the top brands of photography lighting equipment out there today. Most top photographers are equipped with these, and rental companies carry them in stock. They are built to last and take a beating in and out of the studio. They have power packs and all the accessories you would ever desire. They are priced extremely high, but some photographers will only swear by them. With the cost of one Profoto strobe, you can almost purchase a whole set of AlienBee lights with modifiers.

I’ll be back in a week with a discussion on light modifiers. If you have topics which you are curious about, please, drop a comment or email me, will be my pleasure to help you.