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Photographing transparent enamel on silver

Does anyone have any tips to photographing jewelry that is cloisonné enamel on fine silver?

I’ve struggled with photos for years, and just recently upgraded my light box to these 2 products. It’s made getting decent photos a lot easier.
I like that it has different light tones & strength & that you can take a photo from the top.

Light Box
LED Light Panel


I don’t enamel, but why is it different from photographing any other jewelry?

I’m on board with Rob, it’s just like other jewelry…I would try one of the clip on macro lenses for your phone from ebay. They come with a variable ring light attached, so no shadows. If you want some shadowing, you can mask off some of the ring light with tape. Search for “Rechargeable Ring-light Clip-on for phone.” Simple and convenient. I have a friend who takes all his pictures of loose gemstones with one of these.

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it’s different because you’re photographing the way the silver shines through the enamel but the enamel is also shiny. Think of it like taking a picture of a fish in water. It’s kind of like that. The enamel reflects light, but light also passes through it and the silver mirrors the light through the enamel. It’s the most beautiful effect of this kind of enameling and what makes me love it, but I find it hard to have the pic tell this story. It’s either garrish with direct light or milky with diffused light. Someone else suggested underlighting. I’m going to try that. I’ll get there eventually.

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I didn’t mean to be confrontational in my comment, I just don’t know if there is something unique to enamel that makes it especially difficult to photograph. There have been many discussions of this topic that you can review in the archives. I make almost all sterling silver jewelry. Over the years I have used many different cameras from simple film cameras to my current SONY A1000 digital. They all require that you learn about white balance, F stops, manual and macro focusing and, most importantly, how to light your subjects. As royjohn suggests, I use four led type lights that have a full range of the light spectrum and a diffuser to soften the light reducing the reflections and hot spots. Use as simple a background as possible. I alternate between a white and a black background. I like both, but white works better for websites. Good luck…Rob

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Thanks, Patty. I ordered the light panel. I already have a light box.

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No worries. I didn’t take it that way, Rob. I’m new at the photography stuff. I have a lot to learn. I’m using a Canon 35mm on the Macro mode. Thanks for the pointers!

If I’m understanding the question right, the enamel is over sterling and not a window, like plique-a-jour. If that is so, I fail to see how underlighting is going to work. I looked for images of transparent enamel on line and all the pieces I can find that seem to be of transparent enamel are lit with shadowless lighting, which suggests a light tent and/or ringlight. Since the effect you are seeking to highlight seems rather evanescent, you might want to try a video, since catching the light just right so that the reflection off the surface of the enamel comes and goes and alternates with the reflection thru the enamel might be what you are trying to show. You could also try a polarizer on your lens if you are trying to minimize the reflection off the surface of the enamel. I’m just not clear on exactly what you are trying to illustrate. Have you seen any pictures of this sort of thing (maybe on Etsy) which show what you’re after? If you can’t find a photo of it, maybe it’s so subjective, it can’t be photographed, but I would bet that video will show what you want to show…kind of how opal looks better in a video than in most stills…

it’s cloisonné. The piece is being photographed face on (hanging), not lying down, so that’s why I think it may help to have it under-lit. The video idea does work. I’ve done that on a little turntable. Ricky Frank has amazing cloisonné photos, but you can’t share his pics from his website. Maybe you’ve heard of him? I’m certain he has his professionally photographed.

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I looked at the photos on Ricky’s site and it looks to me like he (or somebody he’s using) is using a light tent. The shadows are very soft and multidirectional, which suggests diffused light from various angles. This is pretty typical for photographing jewelry. It looks like cool rather than warm lighting. The light may be boosted to be stronger than what you are using so that it shows the reflections from behind the enamel. The colors are very saturated, so you may have to play around with exposure and color balance or even use a polarizer to enhance color. If I were you, I would send Ricky a message and ask about his photography. Sometimes folks are very secretive about their methods, but the most secure artists are often very forthcoming and willing to help.

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Sorry in advance for the length…

For a few years I did commercial product and portrait photography, both of which are far easier than photographing silver jewelry.

There are some basic principles that go back to Ansel Adams’ zone system of black & white print photography. You have pure white (the paper) and pure black, and shades of gray in between. If you photograph a black car in the sun the specular highlight of the sun on the chrome bumper will be maximum white and show no detail. The black paint in shadow would be maximum black and show no detail. But you want to see the shape of the bright bumper and the contours of the black car body, so those must be less than maximum white and black even though the bumper looks purely like a mirror and the paint is solid black.

Ansel Adams controlled the range of brightness with exacting film and print development. Digital photographers do it in a ‘paint’ program by adjusting brightness, and especially, contrast. Unless your lighting setup and camera really nail the shot, some editing may be necessary so the final image is the same as what is actually perceived by people.

In the case of enameled silver, you need almost all the silver to show texture - not be pure white - and you need the darkest enamel to have the same saturation (‘darkness’ of color) as you see in person. You do the best you can with the lighting, and then edit the image as needed to present what people actually perceive.

Some items are incredibly difficult. If you hold a brightly polished hoop earring and move it about in your hand you will see nothing but a mirror shine even though your reflection must be on the hoop (unless you are a vampire). Your brain does ‘post production editing’ in real time and you don’t notice your reflection, but it is there. It is impossible to photograph a mirror and not have the camera and photographer show in the mirror. The best you can do in such circumstances is what Royjohn suggested, and shoot a short video of the item rotating, or if that is too much, perhaps a sequence of animated .GIFs.

To eliminate shadows, suspend the piece far enough away from a background. To minimize the size of camera reflection, shoot as far from the piece as you can.

I hope this helps.

Neil A

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Thanks, RoyJon. I will reach out to Ricky.

Personally, I was never interested in how-to recipes about anything. I want to understand the concepts and the know the why’s. And go from there.

An interesting topic popped up while I was reading a book about photography. It essentially said you can’t photograph a mirror, you can only photograph the mirror’s reflection. And for those who want to nitpick on this, please note that I said mirror, not the frame of a mirror.

A polished piece of jewelry is not far from being a mirror, so getting a nice photo is about what your jewelry reflects. And this changed how I approach photography now. It’s about trying to get light and shadow where I want, and so it’s me who decides which parts get attention or not. In the context of the question, ask yourself how you can the shinyness of the enamel and of the silver below. Maybe one light from the side for the enamel, and a second light, slightly weaker, from above. And a dark reflection from the side to emphasize contour.

Photography is about actively managing light. Throwing a piece into a lightbox will emphasize everything and highlight nothing. Which is pretty boring in my books.

For the curious, the book is called “Light : Science and Magic”. If you worship Brepohl, Untracht or Lewton-Brain for jewelry, you should have Hunter, Fuqua and Biver on your bookshelf as well.



You need to show reflections on highly polished jewelry. I tape different shapes of black paper on the ends of coat hanger wire. Move them around near the jewelry item (out of camera view) until you get some pleasing reflections that show the shape. Sometimes you need just one black paper, sometimes several… Try big and small. Sometimes a reflection from gold colored paper is good on yellow gold jewelry. The white walls of a tent tend to wash out the color of yellow gold. You can get some of this saturation back if you hang pieces of gold foil on the walls. One time I was helping a friend who published a catalog of material handling equipment. They couldn’t get a good picture of a chrome garbage can. I walked around it with a big piece of black paper. Picture printed beautifully in the catalog.

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A while back someone here on the Orchid forum explained how to photograph opals to maximize the fire. He took several shots from different angles and composited them together so all the flash in the stone was visible in his final photo. This approach might work with the enameled piece; shooting one image that shows the underlying reflection from the silver, and another showing the surface reflections off the top of the enamel surface, then combining them using variable opacity to get the right balance between the two.

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I have found this youtube channel to be a good resource for product photography, macro product photography, lighting set up, etc.

He could be shooting a bottle of perfume, a watch, or a razor, and there will be aspects that apply to jewelry photography…lighting, highlighting edges, lighting not the piece but what the piece “sees, lighting gemstones, glass, liquids, etc…using different kinds of lighting…

he goes thru the camera setting he is using, etc


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i forgot to insert the link! here it is!

great stuff with Alex Koloskov…he also features other professional photographers…

i really also like Vadim Chillin

he really covers understanding lighting…how to “see” what you are shooting, focusing on, highlighting, etc, …different types of light and their uses and effects…macro…depth of field, camera settings…product photography…photography for e-commerce, focus stacking, post-production, jewelry photography, gemstones…

there are tons of free videos to check out, and if you like what you see, he also offers in-depth paid subscription tutorials and programs…


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my above comments were primarily about Alex at Photigy, although Vadim’s channel is excellent also!


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