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Photographing Jewelry 101

I also purchased the jewelery photography kit. It’s pricey… but
found it handy for several reasons…

  • lightbulbs burn cool

  • draw low power (I live in an old appartment)

  • very portable and easy to pack up and put away

  • large enough for stands, props etc.

The one thing that I find makes a HUGE difference is Photoshop. I
wait until dark, so I have constant lighting conditions. Turn off
everything except the photography lights, colour balance the camera,
then take the picture. I use a white background, so in photoshop I
tell the program that “yes the background is supposed to be white”,
then it magically fixes the colours and brightness levels of the
whole photo to match.

God knows it’s not professional… but good enough to attract
attention, and hey even my first sale!

Sterling/gold does look AMAZING on graduated backgrounds, but I
imagine you could do similar things to get the colours and
brightness levels work out properly.

One thing I’d love to see more of is short courses in “product
photography” for the web. Yes a professional photographer is
indispensible for things like Jury Show shots… but far too
expensive for photographing $30 trinkets to sell on the Internet.

Rita, Vancouver, BC

hi rita,

in photoshop I tell the program that "yes the background is
supposed to be white", then it magically fixes the colours and
brightness levels of the whole photo to match. 

i have photoshop cs2, which i plod my way around. its a wonderful
prog, but i take ages to suss out how to do things! you couldnt
detail exactly how you tell it to adjust for the whit bg, could you
please? it sounds ideal

chris bailey

Hi Rita,

One way to ‘tie’ the scene in the light box to the colors seen by
the rest of the system is cut a little square (about 1" x 1") of an
18% gray card & place it in one of the corners of box. Then, as the
picture is ‘edited’ the little square can be referenced by the camera
or Photocopy & a color level is established. After setting the color
of the system, the gray square can be edited out.

Give credit for this suggestion to Wayne Emery.


This is always a very vigorous topic, but it’s one that has so many
facets to it that it’s always interesting to hear what other people
have found important and useful. Actually, the last time this was a
topic it inspired me to change my setup and I’ve been very pleased.
Anytime I do things like this I try to be creative and make use of
inexpensive materials to do a professional-looking job. I don’t want
to spend a ton of money to have someone else take my pictures, nor
wait for someone else to do it, so since I’m already a very avid
photographer I of course want to be able to take my own pictures.

My first setup emulated a tute I saw at Amy O’Connell’s website, Basically she created a box with a draped black
paper in it, lights in front, and a camera on a tripod. Most things
were photographed while held vertically with various support options,
which might have to be removed digitally later. A suspended black
wire, for instance, could hold a pendant, or little vertical wires
coming up from below could support earrings. Also had to be removed
from the image. Necklaces are clipped at each end to the top of the
box, so just the front center part (or as much as you want, so long
as the box doesn’t show) is in the picture, sort of showing it as it
would be worn. Doesn’t work for every necklace, but pretty good.
Other things I just put on the black paper itself, like bracelets &
rings. I didn’t always like the suddenly fuzzy background look of the
paper, though, when it’s shot that close-up.

When I was inspired by the discussions of this last time, I Googled
and checked out recommended sites, and I found there are tons of
ideas of ways to setup your own light tent, without paying the
hundreds of dollars that some places want you to spend. Someone
mentioned using a large white translucent storage tub, turned on its
side, and I thought I’d try that out. I even had one sitting unused.
Fantastic! And cheap! :wink: My setup now consists of said tub, on its
side, with yet another barrier layer when needed of white fabric
over top. I ditched the PVC pipe stands (and trust me, it’s not easy
to clip lamps to a round pipe!) for simple snake necked desk lamps
that sit on the table (card table) on either side of the tub, or next
to and above, or next to and in front of, or wherever works for that
image. Some things require that you get closer to or farther away
from the overall setup (rings vs necklaces, for instance) and that
changes the lighting needs. Inside the tub, I have a piece of very
smooth black paper that covers the whole bottom and goes up just a
few inches in the back. Actually it hangs down a bit in the front,
too, just to ensure complete coverage. I suppose you’d want white
since you want a white background. Anyway, on top of that paper I
have 4 empty film canisters, any such thing would do, and then a
sheet of non-glare glass on top of that. Glass size = inside of tub
size. Mine is actually a bit longer, but basically just as wide as
the tub. As someone else mentioned, that has the piece floating
above the background and makes the background much smoother in
appearance. No more worry about little paper fuzzies suddenly showing
up in macro mode, or other imperfections in the paper or fabric on
which the piece is sitting. I tried, as one person on-line suggested,
a black marble tile & setting the things right one that, but then
there were little light-reflecting flecks, and that was distracting.
I don’t know, maybe they found a more solid colored marble than I
did. Plus, it’s darn heavy to move around! Each time I set something
up I play with the lights to get them to give just the right effect
for that particular piece. I’ve used a big flashlight with a plastic
bag over it (what I had handy) to add a little fill light now & then,
and I’ve used white fabric or foam core to block things (me, the
camera, whatever else is nearby) from reflecting when something’s
been extra smooth & reflective. Usually if I’m shooting a few pieces
at a time, I’ll try to, for instance, shoot all the rings at the
same time, then move to the necklaces, etc, to minimize having to
change the lighting for each things.

The other points, of course, are that you need a tripod and you need
to have a macro function on your camera. You don’t have to have a
super expensive camera, but you do need macro. I also prefer to have
the ability to manually adjust my camera’s settings, and my camera -
although in the “point & shoot” price range - allows me to do that. I
have an Olympus Camedia and love it. I find the other ones have so
many darn “modes”, and none of them really worked for what I wanted.
I couldn’t get the depth-of-field I wanted without doing it manually.
So, unless you want to spend the $$ on a fabulous D-SLR (which I’d
love to one day), I highly recommend the Olympus as a really nice
camera that gives good manual options, macro, and still a lower price

Designs by Lisa Gallagher

I have found that using raw format, if you have it available, is
indispensable. Editing in Photoshop is a breeze and when switching
from photoing silver with green stones to gold with white, you don’t
have to tell the camera what to think…Photoshop does the thinking
for you.


Hi Chris,

I just discovered the trick recently from a tutorial on the
internet… it was so easy, I could have kicked myself at all time I
wasted before I knew it.

  • click on ctrl-L so the levels dialog box pops up.

  • There are 3 eye-droppers on the right hand side… click on the
    right eye dropper

  • now click on something that’s white

Photoshop will now set what you clicked to white, and alter the rest
of the colours to match.

I haven’t experimented much with it… but it’s been working pretty
well. I assume the left eye-dropper is black, and the middle eye
dropper grey… what level of grey, i’m not sure.

Dave Arens had a suggestion below that he got from Wayne Emery…
put a little piece of 18% grey in the corner, and use that as the
’colour’ reference. I expect that would work better, since any
"white" would have a shade of it’s own anyway. (And I noticed that my
photos do still have some odd purple-blue colour casts… but then
who knows if it’s the photo or the monitor!)

Now to figure out how to make photoshop use that ‘18% gray’ as a
reference… I’ll have to check back with google on that.


Dave Arens had a suggestion below that he got from Wayne Emery...
put a little piece of 18% grey in the corner, 

thanks rita! i’ve never heard of 18% grey. i assume it’s something i
can buy somewhere- i’ll suss it out!


Thought I’d drop in my two cents worth on this:

I don’t use expensive fancy lighting.

I use a good camera (Nikon D40x DSLR), a cookie sheet full if some
kind of particulate (coffee beans, rice, sand, etc.), and the
completely free light provided by the sun after it’s gotten high
enough in the sky to throw my front porch into shadow. It’s a nice
direction-less bright light, and the only time this set-up is
irritating is when it rains on a day I want to shoot on. I never use
the camera’s auto setting. It’s a matter of tweaking the manual
settings till you get the exposure you want, and not wearing bright
colors that reflect on the shiny bits. After shooting, I use Nikon’s
Picture Project software to auto adjust the brightness, and adjust
the sharpness if it needs it.

I’m not saying that this is a cure all for everyone. But it works
for me.

Lindsay Legler
Dreaming Dragon Designs

Hi Rita,

If you place a little piece of an 18% gray card in an inconspicuous
part of the photo, click CTRL-L to bring up “Levels” and click on
the middle eye-dropper in the lower right part of the screen, you
ARE using the gray card as a reference. 18% gray reflectance is the
standard to which all light meters are calibrated for exposure, and
using the eyedropper tool will make all parts of the image which ARE
18% gray in the real world, appear as such in the photo.

However, and this is big, this is assuming that your original
expossure was correct or very close. If it is not, all bets are off.

The same holds for using the white eyedroper on your back ground.
The biggest problem I hear is people syaing “My background doesn’t
come out white!” And usually that’s because it’s really not white to
begin with. Kodak glossy photo paper is as close to white as you can
likely get. If you compare that to “white” cloth or typinfg paper,
etc., you’ll see those items are really a shade of gray, not white
at all.

But, because they are the lightest thing in the scene, your brain
plays a trick on you, and you think it’s white. But it isn’t, and
you can’t fool the camera, which renders that off-white background
as off-white when it is all properly exposed.

If you depend on your auto light meter, well, it’s trying to make
the dominant tone middle gray, and that’s not what you want if you
have a white or black background.

When a scene is properly exposed, it means that all the tonal values
from blackest black to whitest white are rendered correctly…and
it’s not easy. And I will GUARANTEE you that any camera used in auto
mode with a white or black background is incapable of creating the
proper exposure. It’s impossible. This is why we must work in Manual
Mode so that we can independently control the shutter speed and
aperture to get the exposure correct. At THAT point, we can make
maximum use of our post-processing software.

IOW, when the exposure is accurate, the eye-dropper tools work well.
Otherwise, if you “force” our improperly exposed background to be
white, you are overexposing the darker tonal values. I hear folks
say that the eyedropper makes all the other tones and colors fall
nto proper place. Nothing could be further from the truth.

This is all explained in a step-by-step manner in my CD “Jewelry
Photography Made Easy”. It really does get great reviews, but I
can’t reproduce thwe whole thing here.

Wayne Emery

Now to figure out how to make photoshop use that '18% gray' as
a reference... I'll have to check back with google on that. 

Hello Rita, Chris, and all other interested parties:

I’ve spent the last 6 months or so lurking on here, soaking up all I
can from your individual and collective experience…what a
treasure chest this collective is!..and I thank you from the
bottom of my heart for all the insight.

I have waited for an opportunity to make my first post for a time
when I can offer something of value. Photography, and subsequent
correction in Photoshop, is an area I can help with.

The very short answer for using the 18% grey card as a reference in
Photoshop is to click it with the grey eyedropper (the middle one)
in either the levels or curves palettes.

Now here’s a little more that you should know about how
this stuff works, and how you can make it work better for you.

If you double-click on the eyedroppers in either the levels or
curves palettes (black, grey, and white) you can set what the values
for those eyedroppers are. By default in Photoshop there are 255
levels of grey: ‘0’ being pure black, and ‘255’ being pure white. The
grey, therefore, is ‘128’, or what is referred to as middle grey.
Middle grey is also the value on an 18% grey card (don’t ask, just
accept that it is). But there are a couple other things you need to
understand before blindly clicking those values in your photo:

First of all, your eyedropper could be sampling 1 single pixel
(‘point sample’), an average of 3x3 pixels (‘3x3 average’), an
average of 5x5 pixels (‘5x5 average’), or any of several other
settings. So when you click on that black area in your photo to
establish your shadow zone, remember that if your eyedropper is set
point sample, you could be clicking on color noise in the shadow, and
that will indeed throw off the colors in your photo. Most people set
the eyedropper to 3x3 average. That way you are getting an average of
the pixels in the area you click, but it’s not sampling too wide a
range. To set the sample range of your eye dropper, just select it
in the tool box and set the sample range up top in the options bar.

Next, defining the values for the eyedroppers depends on your
intended final output for your photos. Will they be viewed
exclusively on screen, will they be printed on your inkjet, or are
they intended for a brochure or some other 4-color process printed
piece? You need to know this because each of these output methods has
limits as to how dark or light an image will print with detail
intact. Suffice it to say that a printed value of 255 (pure white)
will show no detail at all. Neither will 0 (pure black). Most people
set the black value at about 4-6, and white to around 246. Also, and
this is important, when you are sampling these values in your
photograph, you are NOT sampling blown out white values nor are you
sampling totally black shadows. The idea is that you sample the
brightest white and the darkest shadow that still has detail.

There is a normal order to this process: First you establish your
shadow zone, then you do your highlights, and then you do your grey

The black and white eyedroppers are for setting contrast. They set
the range of values between your shadows and highlights. For color
photos, the grey eyedropper is the most important…and the one that
can, in one click, eliminate a color cast. However, to get this
result, you MUST be sampling an area in your photo that should be
neutral grey, or you will just be introducing a different color cast
to the photo by forcing a color that shouldn’t be neutral middle grey
to be neutral middle grey…and all other colors will fall in line
with that false grey. A failsafe way to make sure you have a known
neutral gray in your image is to standardize a shot by putting an 18%
grey card in the frame. That way you have a known neutral to sample.

That’s the medium long answer. Good luck, and I hope it helps.


Rachel L. Naugle

Photoshop will now set what you clicked to white, and alter the
rest of the colours to match. 

That’s the quick and dirty way, and the results may make you go

Here’s a more nuanced approach using the same levels box. See the
graph thing with the three little triangles underneath? Grab the
right hand triangle and move it to your left. The whole picture gets
lighter. The left hand triangle controls the dark shadows, and the
middle triangle controls how contrasty the picture is.

You can do a lot with this one setting.

Greetings all:

regarding the highlight/shadow/grey balance eyedroppers in
Photoshop’s Levels & curves pallettes.

Kim, watch out, if you peg your ‘white’ or ‘dark’ level to something
that isn’t fully bright or dark, everything that’s lighter or darker
than those points will go to either full black or full white, thus
destroying detail. You need to be very careful with the white &
black eyedroppers. The safest one to use is the middle “grey” one,
and that works best with a known neutral grey, like a grey card.
(Depending on your output, you don’t really want to chop your
highlights or shadows using the automatic settings anyway. I almost
never use those two. You really need to know the dynamic range of
your output system before you get into messing with the black or
white points. )

As Rachel mentioned, it’s always best to make sure your eyedroppers
aren’t set to sample a single point, but rather at least a 3x3

The thing I’ve found most useful is a miniature color chart, which
has a range of greys on it, so that I can set my target neutral, as
well as evaluating exposure. I’ve used QP cards, both the 101 (greys)
and the 201 (colors) with great success. ( Normally, I
keep a small Greytag Macbeth mini-color checker in my camera bag.
That also has a range of neutral greys, as well as patches of known
colors that I can use to dial in my color values. These can be
ordered online through various sources. (amazon & etc) Take a shot
with the color chart in it, then take another with it out. Use the
first shot to generate a set of level/curve settings to apply to the

Another resource that I’ve found handy is a book called ‘Preventive Photoshop’ by Douglas Ford Rea. (Amazon, about $12). He explains how
digital cameras work, and how to get decent pictures out of them in
the first place, so that you don’t have to spend hours mucking about
in photoshop. (On the assumption that you’d rather be mucking about
with metal, rather than pixels.) He explains color balancing in great

If you really want to crawl down the rabbit hole, start reading
Dan Margulis’ books. (Professional Photoshop and “LAB Color”) Some of
the definitive works on the subject of photoshop and color
correction. (But about as dense as Brepohl.)

Brian Meek.

Hi Chris,

Any well-stocked photo outlet can provide you with the Kodak 18%
reflectance gray card. Just ask for the “gray card”, they’ll
understand. For students of Ansel Adams, it’s a Zone V card. No
serious photographer would be without one.

Oh, and full instructions are included with the card! But if you
have any questions, feel free to contact me, glad to help any way
that I can…

Best regards,
Wayne Emery

i've never heard of 18% grey. 

18% grey is the standard “grey” for photography, and any good
photography store will sell grey cards you can use. With a good
camera you can calibrate with the card in the picture, then remove
the card and shoot. They come in a sort of mat board weight. Used
them a lot back before digital when I used to be a studio
photographer (dating myself here!).


I use a good camera (Nikon D40x DSLR)

I have the same camera - a great little DSLR camera!

I never use the camera's auto setting. It's a matter of tweaking
the manual settings till you get the exposure you want 

What setting do you have most success with? I seem to prefer
Aperture priority mode.


Hi Chris,

i've never heard of 18% gray. i assume it's something i can buy
somewhere- i'll suss it out! 

You can check with a good photo store. They generally have 18% gray
cards & may have other backgrounds & things used by photographers.

The 18% gray card I got was 8 1/2 x 11". It’s made of heavy
pasteboard. The one side is gray & the other side has instructions.
The product number on the back is: 22010. It’s made by Delta 1/CPM
Inc in Dallas Tex 75238… Sorry that’s all the address That’s listed.


That's the quick and dirty way, and the results may make you go

The same “Awk” for the ‘Sharpening’ tool in Filters (photoshop). I
have an alternative and probably the most perfect way of sharpening
your jewelry. I got this trick from a photographer, who said that
most professionals she knows are doing this before the image go to

  1. Make (drag) a copy of your image,

  2. go to ‘Filter’,

  3. then ‘Other’,

  4. choose ‘High pass’,

  5. adjust with the ‘radius’ slide, make sure it does not appear to
    be embossed, but get only the contours (need some trial and error

  6. ok it

  7. ‘Overlay’ the two layers (flip out box in layers…you will find
    ’Overlay’ somewhere in the middle)

  8. You can see the image sharpening up… if needed you can play with
    the amount of fill

  9. ‘Flatten Image’

  10. Walla

This is a real trick not many people know about…

Peter Deckers
New Zealand

I have an alternative and probably the most perfect way of
sharpening your jewelry. 

I tried to try this… I ran into trouble on step one. What do you
mean by “drag a copy”? I tried making a duplicate layer, but it was
opaque and obliterated the original image, so that was wrong…

Meanwhile, the trick a photographer told me was to go to filter, to
sharpen, then to “unsharp mask”. Set radius fairly low, then play
with “amount”. On a really out-of-focus shot, increasing "radius"
may help. I use this on nearly every shot to some degree. (PLUG: see
the results in the process shots of my articles in the brand-new
issue of Art Jewelry. I did NOT take the cover art… colors are all
wrong, but, hey, I’m on there!)


Its been a long time since I had the store, but if I remember
correctly (Wayne could pitch in here) I think we set the camera to
"F-11" (the small aperture opening) and adjusted the speed so in the
eye opening, we turned the knob until it also said “F-11”. This way
we got depth of field to focus in the center of the ring and with a
good light box, a good picture.

If I remember correctly.

David Geller

Thank you for all the tips!

Now that I know the middle dropper is 18% gray, I will pick up that
18% gray card.

I did try moving the little triangles inwards from the left and
right (the white one on the right and the black one on the left),
and it really didn’t work too well. The photo still ended up looking
really gray, just cause I didn’t have the courage to keep moving
that triangle far enough.

I know the white background has a colour cast… but I’ve found a
particular background that gave me good results for most of my shots
(a white ceramic floor tile of all things). Only item that really
didn’t turn out the correct colour was the rhodochrosite… it came
too nice and pink looking.

Well to be exact, sometimes I click a few places, till I find the
best ‘white spot’ to correct it with. It’s just nice to be able to
see the result in one go, instead of fiddling with the little
arrows… it makes it easier to try different options and see which
matches real life the best + gives me a nice white background to the

I will definitely explore all the suggestions posted. I’ve kinda
given up on having the perfect shots before I post them to the
web… as long as they’re accurate enough colour-wise I post them…
then do the WHOLE THING all over again when I find a better
technique. Lol I can see another couple all-nighters in my future.

thank you! rita.