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A workable photo studio for jewelry artists

Hi Daniel and Bruce,

In my experiments with similar “pseudo-Cloud Dome” filters, I wound
up with the same kinds of yellow glare, especially when using the
plastic that trashcans are poured from. After a bit more searching,
I settled on another method, entirely and, if you=92re using even a
halfway-decent digital camera, are willing to be a bit creative, can
follow these directions (and can afford to part with a whopping
$30-40.00), I can pretty well guarantee you of some truly outstanding

First, head over to your local supermarket or hardware store and
invest $4.99 in a white, rectangular Styrofoam cooler; the one I use
measures roughly 22x13". Next, stop off at the local K-Mart or
equivalent and splurge for a pair of cheap lamps (a clamp-on
gooseneck-type and an articulated/spring-loaded draftsman=92s lamp) an=
a cheap penlight. On your way home, stop by the local fabric shop
and invest the rest of your money in a box of chrome or white T-pins,
three yards of lightweight cotton muslin, a yard each of thin and
medium-weights of pellon, and some 3x1’ remnants of black leatherette
vinyl, and black, dark blue and “grey card grey” fabrics, preferably
not shiny. When you arrive back at your home or studio, take a matte
knife, X-acto or box cutter and cut a 9x6" rectangular area out of
one of the long sides of the cooler, using the underside of the top
edge’s rim as the top of that cutout. (Make sure the cutout’s
direction matches that of the cooler.) Next, use the muslin to line
the inside of the three uncut sides of the cooler, using the T-pins
to hold it in place. On these three sides, make sure the fabric
conforms to the walls fairly closely. For the side you’ve just
relieved with the knife, cut a separate piece of muslin about 8-10=94
wider than the widest point of the wall and use T-pins to mount it in
such a way that it both overlaps the ends of the previous sheet of
muslin and hangs down like a sail, about 3=924=94 from that side, when
the cooler is laid on its opposite side. Next to last, place the
cooler on its longest uncut side on a tabletop or desk, position the
draftsman=92s lamp over the cooler, shining through the opening and
muslin, and clamp the remaining lamp onto the front edge of your desk
or tabletop, making sure to bend it down and rotate the reflector
back upwards, to illuminate the fabric above and to one side of the
object you intend to shoot. You will be creating a beautiful wash of
ambient lighting, this way, without much in the way of =93hard=94 ligh=
to overwhelm the lens. And, for the =93pizza of resistance=94 (sorry =96
just couldn=92t help myself) lay the fabric of your choice beneath and
behind your subject and, placing the camera on a tripod, use the
penlight to add a spark of intensity to your gems from 6=94 to a foot
behind the camera. Depending on the results I=92m seeking, I also use
an 8.5x11=94 sheet of 1/8=94 Lexan polycarbonate as a background, with
its narrow ends supported by 8=94 lengths of 2x2=94 lumber; I aim the
camera at a spot about =BD=94 in from the front edge, and pan back. On
shots in which the white background is overwhelming to the image, or
if I=92m shooting Opals (which can otherwise be a nightmare to light
properly), I=92ll pin up that black sheet of fabric I=92d mentioned, a=
run it from the top rear edge of the cooler to the bottom front edge,
under the plastic sheet. By playing with light placement, I can
usually get results equal to or better than the commercial
photographers I used when I lived in the NY area. Another lighting
trick I=92ve used is done with a matched pair of 8x10=94 Kodak grey
cards. I place one under the suspended Lexan and the other behind it,
and leaning against the back wall. When you focus in on the ring,
pin or gem subject of your shot, the seam between these two cards
vanishes, and you=92re left with this stunning effect of your item
=93floating=94 on this subtle, glassy background, which =93washes=94 i=
shadow=85 Gorgeous! Well, gang, I think that about covers it. If you=92=
on a budget (and/or if you=92re not, but can stand having a cheap
Styrofoam foam cooler lying around your shop), give it a try. I think
you=92ll be as surprised at the quality of the images you=92ll be able=
generate as you will with the versatility of this setup.

P.S. - I almost forgot! cut a 3" hole in the center of each of the
pellon sheets and, when needed for even softer ambient lighting,
drape whichever one you choose to use over the open edge (i.e. the
otherwise uncovered top) of the cooler, then pin it in place. Shoot
through the open hole. One word of caution though: don’t use the blue
"hot lights" that Bruce mentioned, when using pellon. If you do,
you’ll get a great shot, immediately accompanied by a nasty smell
which, in rapidfire succession, will lead to a scene reminiscent of
Michael Jackson’s famous Pepsi commercial. The 60, 75 or 100W GE
"Reveal" bulbs work almost as well, last longer, are much less
expensive and, I find, are substantially easier to work with, under
these circumstances.

All the best,

Douglas Turet, G.J.
Lapidary Artist & Designer
Turet Design
P.O. Box 242
Avon, MA 02322-0242
Tel. (508) 586-5690