You can learn just about anything through trial and error. It may take a while, but eventually you'll figure out what to do—and what not to do. The problem is, this method of learning is not very effective.
Don’t waste your time learning how not to photograph jewelry. Learn from our experience instead.
Jewelry product photography comes with its own unique set of challenges. Products are small, reflective, and can be difficult to stage for shooting. However, these challenges can be easily overcome with a little bit of planning.
Here are ten common mistakes to avoid when photographing jewelry.
1. Smudged, Unprepared Products
Clean jewelry after touching it. Consider using gloves.
It sounds obvious, right? Of course, your jewelry should be clean and polished. The challenge comes from the level of detail captured by a DSLR camera and proper lighting setup. The final image will often be blown up several times the jewelry’s real life size. Details invisible to your naked eye will be revealed when photographed.
Wipe down your jewelry every time you touch it. Wearing cotton gloves may save you time and reshoots.
2. Inconsistent Shooting
Even slight changes can have jarring consequences.
Develop a set of guidelines for your jewelry photography and follow them. Consistency is key in product photography, and variations from product to product or shot to shot will distract your customer. Document everything: camera settings, lighting, background, and equipment position. Make sure you can resume shooting on a different day without any noticeable changes.
3. Complex Background
Some inexperienced retailers look at a white background and think “boring,” or “missed opportunity for branding.” They try to differentiate themselves with colorful, active backgrounds. That’s a mistake.
Don’t add distracting elements into the background.
There’s a reason Amazon, eBay, Rakuten, and most marketplaces require or recommend a white or neutral background. A plain white or light gray background keeps the focus where it should be: on your product. Black is also popular in jewelry photography, but be aware you may have difficulty submitting images at some marketplaces.
White backdrops are cheap and easy to create. You can use seamless white paper, create a lightbox, and even photograph white products on white backgrounds.
4. Unnecessary Props
This mistake is based on the same “keep your focus” principle we just discussed. Props are a distraction you don’t need. You may think your jewelry will look best when staged elaborately, or maybe you just want to show it in a lifelike manner using a mannequin.
Left: The mannequin obscures part of the necklace and dominates the shot.
Right: This is a branding shot. Editorial photography differs greatly from product photography.
The reality is that most props draw attention away from your product. There are times where it is appropriate to use stylish props, models, and interesting locations in shots that include your product. Those are editorial shoots, for branding purposes. Editorials belong on magazine covers, as hero images on websites, and banners in emails. They do not belong on product category pages.
Use minimal props intended to showcase jewelry that can be easily removed in post-production processing.
Jewelry photography kits are relatively inexpensive. Remember, you want your jewelry photography to be consistent and focused on your product. Most props create inconsistency and distraction.
5. Reflections Everywhere
You want your customers to be looking at your jewelry without trying to puzzle out if that’s the photographer’s reflection or a flaw in the stone.
Reflections can ruin a product image.
The presence of gemstones and metal creates a technical challenge for jewelry product photography. It’s difficult to shoot highly reflective objects without capturing distracting reflections. Follow this guide to controlling reflections, and try a double overhead light for shooting metallic jewelry.
A double overhead lighting setup can minimize reflections.
Place your jewelry on a sturdy surface, like a table or a block, and position one large studio light on either side. Diffuse both lights with umbrellas. Hang and sweep a roll of seamless white paper behind and underneath your product, and attach the paper to the bottom of your camera lens. This will block off reflections from the foreground and reflect more light back onto the subject.
The right setup prevents ugly bright spots on your product images.
Position your camera on its tripod so that you are shooting slightly down at the product. Position your lights (with diffusing umbrellas) above your product to either side, angle each down at the product, and set them to the same power. This setup should evenly fill the frame with light without creating ugly bright spots on your product.
To get professional looking results without a full photo studio, check out the Halo and Foldio: Inexpensive mini photo studios you can easily set up at home or your office to take product photos.
6. Shaky Images
It doesn’t matter what lighting setup you use if you try to handhold your camera. Handholding your camera or smartphone will either result in camera shake, or you will have to use something less than full focus. Neither is a desirable situation.
Wven smartphones have tripods.
Always use a tripod. Tripods are cheap, effective, and improve both quality and consistency. When your camera is held steady by a tripod, you can use optimal aperture and ISO settings. Mark a spot on the floor for your tripod and it will be easy to replicate your setup even when shooting on different days.
7. Poor Focus
Don’t take artsy low aperture shots of your jewelry that focus on only one part of the product. High aperture, full focus photography will create a sharp image that your customers can trust.
Your customer wants to see every detail. Give it to them with aperture settings of f/11 or greater, and set your ISO to as low as possible—preferably ISO 100.
8. Inaccurate White Balance
If your white balance is off, a gold image can look blue or vice versa. Remember that meme about the gold/blue dress? Vision is ambiguous.
The human eye is easily deceived. This is the same dress.
Ensure your white balance is set accurately so that you capture your jewelry with the colors you intended. Either set it manually or use your camera’s automatic mode and double check the results.
Different backgrounds and white balance make the same necklace look different colors.
9. Too Few Images
It’s incredibly disappointing to click on a product on a category page and then find there are no more images. Maybe the customer liked an overhead shot of a necklace but wanted a detail shot to clarify some engraving on the side. Give it to them.
You’ve gone to all the trouble of prepping your product, lighting, and camera. Don’t stop now at one or two images. Build trust by showcasing every aspect of your jewelry. More images lead to more sales, so capture as many angles as possible of your product.
10. Bad Photoshop
Few things kill a sale as quickly as a bad Photoshop job. Poorly retouched photos feel fake and destroy a customer’s trust in the product image, and therefore in the product. Either invest the time to become skilled in software like Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, or hire a professional.
In addition to retouching, you should create templates that consistently crop, set margins, and align your product images. Remember: consistency is key.
If you don’t have the time or skillset to brush up your own images, consider hiring a post-production processing company.
Now that you know what not to do, get shooting! Avoid these ten common mistakes and you'll be well on your way to creating beautiful product photography.
About The Author
Thomas Kragelund is the CEO and founder of Pixelz, a leading product image solutions partner for internet retailers, bloggers, designers, photographers and webmasters worldwide. He has been working in ecommerce for the last 15 years. Sign up today and get 3 product images edited for free.