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Photographing faceted gems


#1

Hello,

Have been having a tough time getting decent photos of gems in my
sterling jewelry. The photos simply lack that certain “wow” factor. I
photo all types/colors of faceted gems including tourmaline, topaz,
spinel, citrine and a few non-colored gems too.

I’m using a small tabletop lightbox with two compact fluorescent
bulbs(100W equivalent - 5000k Full spectrum white) on either side of
the box. I’ve experimented with all sorts of angles and light-to-box
distances. I’ve photoed in a room with and without ambient daylight.

The camera is a Canon PowerShot ELPH 12 mega pix point and shoot. I
figure my lighting techniques are more of a problem then the camera
although I could certainly stand an upgrade.

If anyone has any suggestions, tips and tricks on the topic, I would
be plenty grateful.

Best,
Chris Young


#2

Chris –

I have tried basically the same setup as yours (different camera)
with pretty much the same results. Part of the problem is having a
light on each side of the light box. This illuminates the piece of
jewelry pretty well but the cabs don’t look right. I have had better
results with a light on top and on one side of the box but it’s
still not great. I’m thinking that one (or both) light[s] at about 2
(or 10) o’clock to the box would be better.

I’m sure that there is some experience on the list that can “shed
some light” on this subject.

Also, I think I saw something on photographing jewelry by Tim
McCreight but I don’t remember which book it was in.

alonzo


#3

The problem is that you’re using only diffuse lighting. To get good
strong refraction you need direct lighting.

Get a couple of pin lights, ideally focusable ones. Then you can
direct more intense beams of light at the gems to produce the
reflections and refractions you want. You use them in tandem, not
instead of, the diffuse lighting.

If you have a mini-maglite flashlight you could test it out with
that. Those produce intense direct light, have a focusable beam and
aren’t expensive. You can hold it by hand playing the light over the
stones and get some test shots with the light from different angles.
That might even be enough for your purposes. If so, you can get an
inexpensive table-top tripod and rig a way to affix the flashlight to
it. Or you could go for professional equipment, if necessary.

Some Maglites use a krypton bulb and some use LEDs, but you can fix
color balance in your editing program.

Elliot


#4
Have been having a tough time getting decent photos of gems in my
sterling jewelry. The photos simply lack that certain "wow"
factor. I photo all types/colors of faceted gems including
tourmaline, topaz, spinel, citrine and a few non-colored gems too. 

Problem #1 is metal. Silver robs gemstones of their color.

Review recent discussion on color of gold.

I'm using a small tabletop lightbox with two compact fluorescent
bulbs(100W equivalent - 5000k Full spectrum white) on either side
of the box. I've experimented with all sorts of angles and
light-to-box distances. I've photoed in a room with and without
ambient daylight. 

Problem #2 is the light box. I know it’s been pushed like some kind
of panacea, but frankly it is the worst idea in photography, except
maybe shooting in complete dark. Light box is a 30% solution. Since
most people photographing skills are even less, a lot of them using
it. However, photographing gemstones require 100%, so light box does
not work. It creates a lot of diffused light which bounces of
gemstones surface without penetrating it. So you do not get internal
reflections. When arranging lighting of a scene, which is a huge
subject on it’s own, keep in mind that lighting should illuminate
gemstone with direct light and camera should be positioned to capture
reflected light. Source of light must have must full spectrum point
lighting.

The camera is a Canon PowerShot ELPH 12 mega pix point and shoot.
I figure my lighting techniques are more of a problem then the
camera although I could certainly stand an upgrade. 

12 megapixel sound a lot, but for jewellery photography quality of
light sensor counts for more than quantity of pixels. You need
camera with CMOS sensor and ability to dial high ISO. High ISO
produces a lot of noise, which has to be corrected. That means
shooting in raw format.

Bridge CS6 raw utility does great job in eliminating color noise.
Quality of lenses is a huge factor as well, probably even more
important than camera itself. But one cannot be separated from
another.

Both are required. Consider using polarized filter. LIght reflecting
from metal surfaces always becomes polarized. Filtering it may help
with gemstone appearance. But understand that cheap filters do more
harm than good.

Leonid Surpin
Studioarete.com


#5

Hello Chris,

If you have a penlight, try shining it on the faceted gem while the
photo is taken. A focused beam can enliven that stone without
over-exposing the rest of the piece.

Good luck.

Judy in Kansas, where it has been a perfect Easter day. Going to
check and see if the asparagus is coming up.


#6

I was looking at the special lights in the shop the other day, they
are designed to make gems dazzle, I’ll buy one at some stage.

Regards Charles A.


#7

Hi Leonid,

Problem #1 is metal. Silver robs gemstones of their color. Review
recent discussion on color of gold. 

As I recall, you lost that one pretty conclusively.

I'm using a small tabletop lightbox with two compact fluorescent
bulbs(100W equivalent - 5000k Full spectrum white) on either side
of the box. I've experimented with all sorts of angles and
light-to-box distances. I've photoed in a room with and without
ambient daylight. 
Problem #2 is the light box. I know it's been pushed like some
kind of panacea, but frankly it is the worst idea in photography,
except maybe shooting in complete dark. 

You mean shooting in a blacked out studio, like most pros do? (The
ones with enough room, anyway.)

Light box is a 30% solution. Since most people photographing skills
are even less, a lot of them using it. However, photographing
gemstones require 100%, so light box does not work. It creates a
lot of diffused light which bounces of gemstones surface without
penetrating it. So you do not get internal reflections. 

So, how exactly does a photon know it’s been through a diffuser, and
so should bounce off a stone without penetrating it as it normally
would? The mechanism of these genius photons intrigues me.

He’s half right, though: if you use just a diffuser, the lighting
will be pretty flat. (that’s the point of a diffuser in the first
place, and light boxes are just inside-out diffusers.) The reason
for using a light box is to control the reflections of the rest of
the room environment, so you don’t get all sorts of random room
stuff showing up in the reflections. Silver hollowware is infamous
for this. If you don’t want to use a light box, your other solution
is to shoot in a blacked out room, with enough space that nothing
else in the room is illuminated by your lights. Most of us don’t
have that kind of space, so we use light boxes.

(Light boxes give a flatter effect, as they’re white, rather than
the darker, more dramatic effect of a blacked out studio. (The
shadows are brighter, rather than pitch black.) But either one’s
lots better than having to retouch your couch out of the side of a
silver goblet.) My normal setup is two diffused 14" lights on either
side of a light box, with a 7" diffused light somewhere very close
to the camera lens axis, as a front-on highligher. That usually
works pretty well, or at least it’s a starting place. The 7" light
gives enough ‘direct’ light to keep the image from looking flat,
while the big diffused lights do most of the work.

As has been pointed out by others, if you want to get some sparkle
going, you need direct, focused light. I’ve been known to use
flashlights, or fiber-optic illuminators. (I even tried lasers on a
ruby once. Not such a good idea.)

The problem with teeny secondary lights is that they probably don’t
match the color balance of your main lights. It’s reasonably easy to
compensate for color shifts of the whole shoot, but if you’re
using lights with two different color temps, all sorts of really
nasty localized color shifts creep in.

I keep a small Gretag-Macbeth color card in my camera bag. It’s
about the size of a credit card. Chuck it down in the first shot in
a new setup. It’s got a whole bunch of ‘known’ color swatches that
will let you get your color balance and exposure dialed in properly.
(Looks like they don’t make the one I have any more. Closest I could
find was this one on amazon:

It’s in a hardshell case, and is nicer than the one I have, if a tad
more expensive.)

One of my tricks for dealing with both color shifts, and
spotlighting stones is to remember that I’m shooting data, not film.

Take a nice overall shot of the piece, with the camera locked on
manual focus so nothing moves between exposures, and then take
another shot without moving anything with the stones picked out
with spotlights. Make sure you get color balance exposures for both
lighting setups. Then use photoshop to swap in the ‘hot’ stones from
the spotlit exposure into the diffused one. (You really want a
camera that can use a cable release.)

Another problem with sparkling stones is that you have two eyes, but
your camera only has one lens.

Your brain takes the images from both eyes, and synthesizes them
into one ‘whole’ image that you think you’re seeing. For most
things, it doesn’t matter, but for stones, you’re getting the
sparkle from both eyes, and they’re 3 inches apart. You physically
can’t get as much sparkle out of a single-lens setup as you can
from two eyes side-by-side. As an experiment, grab a CD, and look at
the rainbow side. Now close one eye, and watch what happens to the
rainbow. Close the other. Notice it shifts around? Notice that the
rainbow is wider with both eyes open than it is with one closed. Try
the same thing with a nice big sparkly stone. You’ll suddenly notice
that half the sparkle you’re seeing is coming from each eye, and
that neither one of them is getting anywhere close to all of it.

You simply can’t get the whole effect that you think you’re seeing
without using photoshop to simulate the merging that your brain is
doing on the fly. There are techniques that let you shoot for that
effect, and then do a photoshop merge, but they’re pretty advanced
PS magic.

12 megapixel sound a lot, but for jewellery photography quality of
light sensor counts for more than quantity of pixels. You need
camera with CMOS sensor and ability to dial high ISO. High ISO
produces a lot of noise, which has to be corrected. That means
shooting in raw format. 

He’s not totally wrong. I shot professionally for years with an 8MP
camera, but it was a DSLR, with a real sensor, and good lenses. It
held its own for about 5 years before I had to replace it, simply
because of the quality sensor and optics. On the other hand, I’ve
gotten some surprisingly good ‘off the cuff’ shots with an 8MP
compact camera.

That said, I have no idea why exactly he thinks high ISO is a good
thing. It makes the exposures noisy as hell. If you’re shooting
seriously, you’re already on a tripod, so there’s no reason not to
keep it down to ISO 100, and let it take however long it takes to
get a nice clean image.

If you have some way to rig it up, shooting tethered makes life a
lot easier. That way you can evaluate your exposure, focus, depth of
field & etc, immediately, on a nice big screen. And yes, if you’re
serious, you’re shooing in raw. It lets you tweak the image without
changing the original data, so you can always go back if you don’t
like the ‘fixed’ version.

Bridge CS6 raw utility does great job in eliminating color noise. 
Quality of lenses is a huge factor as well, probably even more
important than camera itself. But one cannot be separated from
another. 

I tend not to use bridge for raw processing, I prefer lightroom. It
makes bulk file handling, keywording and archive management easier
than Bridge does. (It’s also cheaper, if you don’t have the full CS
package.)

He’s right about the lenses: if your glass is crap, there’s an
ultimate limit to what you can achieve, regardless of other factors.
The point-and-shoots are shockingly good these days, and may
possibly be ‘good enough’ for anybody but serious image snobs, (like
me) but they’re never going to be as good as a full-on D or L series
macro lens. On the other hand, the small size of their lenses gives
them amazing macro capability, and depth of field in macro mode. So
there are positives to them as well.

The real question is this: what’s the purpose of these photos?
Getting your stuff into shows, or publications? In that case, use
what you’ve got, and figure out how to get the most out of it. (I
suggest workshops.) If people are paying you for the images, you
need to get real gear, and learn to use it.

Both are required. Consider using polarized filter. LIght
reflecting from metal surfaces always becomes polarized. Filtering
it may help with gemstone appearance. But understand that cheap
filters do more harm than good. 

I do shoot with polarizers, both on the lens, and on the lights.
They let me control the reflections very precisely, but they also do
weird things to stones, and frequently kill surface reflections on
stones completely. (To the point where I have to grab a 'reflection’
shot to use to put the reflections back on the surfaces of the
stones.) Nothing looks weirder than a cab with no shine on it
anywhere, or a brilliant. that isn’t. They also boost the apparent
saturation of most transparent colored stones. Which may, or may not
be an issue, depending on the purpose intended for the image.
Souping the stones on a shoot that’s going to be used as a magazine
PR image of a line of jewelry is one thing. Souping the stones on a
sales image of a particular piece of jewelry is another. (In the
first case, it’s a generic image illustrating an entire line,
printed in a way that couldn’t hold the real colors anyway, rather
than the second case in which the image needs to be an accurate
representation of one single piece.)

For whatever that all was worth.

Regards,
Brian


#8

Try a direct light, spotlight.

David Cruickshank (Australia)
jewellerydavidcruickshank.com.au


#9

Hi all.

Sometimes the best avenue of attack is to subtract light. Black
construction paper, among other items to soak up stray light, will
work. It is called negative fill (lighting). This is especially true
when using light tents which tend to have a lot of uncontrolled soft
or diffused ambient light bouncing around. See Lenoid’s post for an
example of hard or controlled direct lighting which is its opposite.

The size will depend on the problem you’re having. It could range
from, say, an inch up to one whole side (doubtful, but who knows).

Could be held by a couple strings of monofilament line to smallish
rods or clear glass or plexiglas rods to place the flag in place.

Placement is criticial. The flags size, position in the tent as well
as distance from the object.

Much of the time the problem is the result of the size of the lights
in relation to the size of the piece being photographed. The angle it
is striking the object will also have a great affect on the object’s
look.

The size is important because many of the objects are small. And if
a hard light is close to the size of the object being photographed it
is going to act much like a fill or diffused light solely because the
light is large.

Eric


#10
The photos simply lack that certain "wow" factor. I photo all
types/colors of faceted gems including tourmaline, topaz, spinel,
citrine and a few non-colored gems too. 
Problem #1 is metal. Silver robs gemstones of their color. 
Review recent discussion on color of gold. 

Which was your opinion, and many disagreed with you. A green stone
looks better in a white metal, like silver or platinum, because the
contrast is better (imo). Yellow stones look better in a white metal
too. Gold would over power yellow stones (imo).

White diamonds look awesome in in yellow gold, and they can look
awesome in white gold too.

It really depends on the stone and its cut as to what colour metal
suits it best.

Problem #2 is the light box..... 

There’s nothing wrong with light tents you just need to know how to
use them.

Here’s a good tutorial :- http://www.ganoksin.com/gnkurl/ep804x

Or you could splash out for a MK Gem-eBox, if you have some cash
laying around. A professional tool, that saves a lot of time.

Regards Charles A.

P. S. I will be buying a diamond dazzler at some stage in the near
future.


#11

Hi Charles,

The tabletop studio folks were just a town down the coast from me
when I was living in Santa Barbara, and they used to regularly turn
up to photography workshops at Brooks. (School of Photography) Great
people. Husband & wife team, but unfortunately I’ve spaced their
name.

I had a chance to play with an early LED dazzler at one of the
workshops. Works very well, so long as your main lights are also
CFLs, rather than incandescents. (the CFL’s run 50 watts, versus
250+ for incandescents. Much, much brighter.)

I’ve got legacy incandescent gear that won’t convert over to
LED/CFL, or I’d be thinking seriously about picking one up. As it
is, my incandescent lights are the wrong color, and waaaaaay too
bright for it to work well.

I do have one of their light boxes, and sundry bits of accessory
widgetry, and am very happy with it all.

Regards,
Brian


#12
I had a chance to play with an early LED dazzler at one of the
workshops. Works very well 

Which brand/model pen light do you guys suggest? I’m unable to find
a full spectrum mini maglite…


#13

I went to one of the early Rio Clasp Conventions in Nashville and
went to a photography workshop. They actually suggested using a
handheld LED penlight and move it around on the stone while shooting
(helps to use a remote or timer for hands free)…to get a sparkle
because the tents/domes, while great for taking glare off metal, kill
the life in stones.


#14

Hi Orchidians long time no hear from It’s me the Super novice, no
project to report still waiting –

but i had to tell you all this: I found the coolest table top photo
studioset up by a guy from Great Britain who understands the needs
of entrepreneurs. So much cheaper than Cloud Dome less complicated &
you can use any kind of camera even a cell phone they have tutorials
for that on the site. The Modahaus Photo Studio - A fabulous blogger
i found on Pt put meon to this find.

the blogger – http://www.ganoksin.com/gnkurl/ep8052 has great
tutorials the table top system is (INEXPENSIVE THANK GOODNESS!!!)
even a novice with very low funds can afford the Modahaus table top
photo studio & with the tutorials anyone can get surprizingly great
shots, of course videos on another site known to have millions of
tutorial videos – no need to name the web site, shows off the new
product. Inventor Lex McColl a professional product photographer and
designer - made Modahaus photo studio easy even for dummies to use
"MODAHAUS" Below is one of the tutorials:

http://www.ganoksin.com/gnkurl/ep8051

sabra


#15

You’re not going to find a full-spectrum flashlight. Flashlights are
designed to help you find things and navigate your way in the dark.
Accurate color representation is not part of the design criteria.

What you can do is use tungsten or LED lamps outside the enclosure
that are the same color temperature as your penlight, and correct for
color either with your camera’s white balance or in your photo
editing software.

Elliot


#16

Hi Sabra,

That ModaHaus thing is pretty slick. I’m trying to decide if I want
to pick one up or not, but it’s certainly a well executed riff on
the standard sweep frame. The fact that it forms its own box is a
big plus.

Thanks for the pointer.

Regards,
Brian