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Tips on Selling, Feature Stories, Jewellery Photography Tips













Retailers can now take their own quality images
Retailers can now take their own quality images

Smartphone jewellery photography: studio images from your desktop

PART 1: Studio photographer Lex McColl discusses how jewellers can take high-quality photos of product using only their smartphones and a few low-cost accessories.

The social media explosion is providing retailers with a virtual window display where customers can come to view merchandise in the privacy and comfort of their own homes at a time of their own choosing. All they have to do is log on and go window shopping. Why is it then that the pages of so many businesses lack high-quality images of their stock?

Professional photographers can be expensive, and taking "happy snaps" often delivers sub-standard results, causing retailers to avoid photo promotion when it is by far the best way to generate interest in a jewellery piece.

Photography doesn't have to be a grey area. When suppliers are slow to deliver high-quality images, or when the only examples are already in-store, retailers can turn to their phones to get the shots they need.

Smartphone on a simple mount
Smartphone on a simple mount

The latest Smartphone cameras have reached a level of quality that makes them serious contenders for capturing great product photographs. Combine a smartphone with one of the many user-friendly apps in the Android or iPhone marketplace, together with some inexpensive accessories, and retailers can easily shoot jewellery photos that will show off product.

Straight out the box, smartphones make various presumptions about the photo being taken, typically assuming every shot is a family get-together with blue skies, green trees and pink to red faces. These cameras might even lock the focus on a bowl of upturned bananas after mistaking them for smiling faces!
 

Composition

This diamond bracelet was shot using a Samsung Galaxy SIII on a coloured background – a vintage photo-album cover – to deliver general mid-tones. This is the right zone for the camera’s default meter settings while the coloured background gives an ideal level of contrast between the white gold and diamonds in the bracelet. The two other key factors in achieving this result are light control and a solid camera support.

Diamond bracelet photographed with Samsung Galaxy SIII, Jansjo LED lights AND Modahaus SS200 Steady Stand with elevated platform
Diamond bracelet photographed with Samsung Galaxy SIII, Jansjo LED lights AND Modahaus SS200 Steady Stand with elevated platform

This diamond bracelet was shot using a Samsung Galaxy SIII on a coloured background – a vintage photo-album cover – to deliver general mid-tones. This is the right zone for the camera’s default meter settings while the coloured background gives an ideal level of contrast between the white gold and diamonds in the bracelet. The two other key factors in achieving this result are light control and a solid camera support.

Lighting

There's no need to invest in a wide range of expensive photographic lighting and other equipment. The three lights used in this shot are gooseneck LED table lamps from Ikea called Jansjo costing around $20 each.

These lights were not daylight-balanced but the auto white balance (AWB) on the Galaxy SIII is very accurate and guessed the lighting colour temperature accurately.  Other smartphones may not have an auto white balance feature that is as accurate as this one, but the "Camera FV 5" app for android allows the user to set custom white balance and has some other really neat features.

• TIP 1: Download the Camera FV 5 app for android smartphones

• TIP 2:The success of controlling any light is in diffusing the light source so that there are soft shadows, and so that light doesn't burn out the highlights. While there was an option to use natural daylight in this shot, mixing daylight with artificial lights can cause trouble with colour casts.

• TIP 3: Never mix your light sources.

• TIP 4: Switch off the camera’s flash and never use it for jewellery photography. Also, set the image resolution to the maximum quality.

Jansjo Gooseneck LED Table Lamps provide a cost-effective lighting option
Jansjo Gooseneck LED Table Lamps provide a cost-effective lighting option

• TIP 1: Download the Camera FV 5 app for android smartphones

• TIP 2:The success of controlling any light is in diffusing the light source so that there are soft shadows, and so that light doesn't burn out the highlights. While there was an option to use natural daylight in this shot, mixing daylight with artificial lights can cause trouble with colour casts.

• TIP 3: Never mix your light sources.

• TIP 4: Switch off the camera’s flash and never use it for jewellery photography. Also, set the image resolution to the maximum quality.

Camera support

ss200 on ts216 elevated platform
ss200 on ts216 elevated platform

To support the phone during the shot, a Modahaus Steady Stand SS200 was employed.

This is effectively an overhead tripod for all smartphones and compact cameras with built-in light-diffusing side panels.

By creating an elevated platform beneath the item being photographed, jewellery can be brought even closer to the camera. The overhead viewpoint is often ideal for shooting jewellery; it makes it very easy to control light and shadows and eliminates the need to prop up pieces.

Keeping the camera completely still is essential when shooting product photography. The slightest movement will lose sharp focus.

• TIP: Set the camera’s self-timer (2 seconds is fine) to avoid movement when releasing the shutter.

 

iPhone 4S – earrings

Equipment: iPhone 4S; Camera+ App; Modahaus Steady Stand SS200 with elevated platform
Equipment: iPhone 4S; Camera+ App; Modahaus Steady Stand SS200 with elevated platform

The earrings were photographed with an iPhone 4S. While jewellery experts will notice these are not real diamonds, what the shot demonstrates is that the camera can achieve edge-to-edge sharpness by keeping the subject on an even plane.

Unlike the Samsung SIII, the iPhone’s native camera has very basic functions.

Retailers should download the Camera+ App from the iTunes Store. Camera+ has a simple interface that allows users to set and lock white balance, focus and exposure all independent of each other. These are really useful functions for product photography.

• TIP: Download Camera+ App from the iTunes Store

 

iPhone 4S – bangles with accent halo

Equipment: iPhone 4S; Modahaus TS216 tabletop studio Pro; Manfrotto pocket tripod Glif iPhone mount Jansjo light
Equipment: iPhone 4S; Modahaus TS216 tabletop studio Pro; Manfrotto pocket tripod Glif iPhone mount Jansjo light

The bangles on were shot on the level using the Modahaus TS216 tabletop studio with the translucent, coloured backdrops (blue on top of red, on top of white). The Glif iPhone mount on top of a Manfrotto pocket tripod supports the iPhone 4S. This allows the photographer to get down low with the subject, which gives a better perspective for this shot.

Creating the accent halo on the background is just a matter of placing one of the Jansjo lights at the rear. These lights have a really sharp, concentrated beam at close quarters, which softens nicely the further away it is placed.

The translucence of the coloured backdrops makes this a simple technique – to achieve this with traditional photography methods requires a lot of space, expertise and equipment.

TIP: Use LED lights at rear to create accent halo

 

And the winner is …

Taken with an iPhone 4S
Taken with an iPhone 4S

The Samsung is the better option than the iPhone for jewellery photography. That is, having just purchased the Samsung SIII, as well as owning the iPhone 4, 4S and 5, the Samsung narrowly beats the opposition, with the iPhone 5 just head of the 4S.

The Galaxy SIII native camera has one killer function that makes a big difference for product photography. Users can manually set the ISO sensitivity to the lowest level – 100 ISO. This can prevent the camera raising the ISO in low light conditions, which causes grainy images.











ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lex McColl

Contributor • Founder of Modahaus


Lex operates the UK-based Modahaus online photography accessories store. Modahaus develops and sells tabletop photo studios for use with all types of cameras. Visit: modahaus.com

Jesse-Leigh Elford Photography
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