5 Mistakes Designers Make when Photographing their Jewellery

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  This is a guest post by Jess Van Den, the maker of Epheriell jewelry & the founder and editor of Create & Thrive, the site where you can learn how to turn your handmade hobby into a thriving business from those who’ve done so. I’ve been on a jewelry photography journey since I started selling my work online in 2008. When I started out, I knew NOTHING about photography – let alone the best way to shoot jewelry. It took me many years of trial, error, practice, and education to reach the point where I’m proud of the photos I take of my work. Of course, I have no doubt that I’ll keep learning and trying new things, but I feel like I’ve ironed out the major issues that plague jewelry designers who take pictures of their own work.

Today I want to share 5 of these mistakes that I see jewelry designers making over and over again in their indoor and outdoor photographs.

1-Men's Matte Oxidised Wedding Band (7)

Main image not cropped for detail

If you’re selling a necklace where the pendant is the main attraction, don’t make your main image a shot of the whole necklace. The detail in the pendant is what will really draw the customer’s eye – so make sure that your main product image is a closely cropped shot that shows the beautiful detail in your piece. Use your additional product photos to show the design as a whole. The same goes for any other large piece – choose the part that really stands out to focus on in the main image.

Not showing it on a model

You have a close-up shot, a whole image shot… even shots showing the back of the piece. But you’re missing a crucial photograph – your item on a model. Don’t underestimate how important this image is to your customer. Not only does it ‘humanise’ your jewelry, it also gives an immediate sense of scale. When we’re looking at small items of jewelry blown up at huge resolution on our computer monitor, we can get a skewed sense of the size of the piece. Showing it on a model eliminates this problem immediately, and it is also a great opportunity to extend your branding with the style of model photo you use. Swoop Urban Eco Earrings (5)

Over-exposure on white backgrounds

White backgrounds are commonly used in jewelry pictures (though I’m not a fan personally, except for wholesale catalogue and press-ready images). But even with a plain white background, the framing, angle, and editing of your image can make or break it. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen a piece of jewelry photographed on a white background at home… and I can’t see the details of the piece because it’s been over-exposed. This leaves the whole image looking washed out, and you can’t see the detail in the piece. Sometimes it can even blend into the background. This is particularly common with silver jewelry. So, be careful that you’re not over-lighting with a strong lightbox, or over-editing your jewelry images. You need that contrast!

Busy backgrounds

If white backgrounds aren’t your thing, because you want your photographs to reflect your unique style (like I do), you have to be careful to make sure your jewelry remains the star of the show. Don’t get so excited adding styling and branding elements to your photos that your jewelry ends up blending in. Strategic styling through the use of props can work really well… or it can tip your best photograph over into disaster. The first question to ask yourself if you’re afraid you’ve done this is: ‘if I didn’t know what was for sale and I saw this picture – would it be obvious’? That might sound over-simplistic, but it’s the most important test – one that many jewelry designers fail. Glacier Blue - Oxidised Urban Candy Earrings - Swoop (7)

Unflattering angles

A truly breathtaking product photo not only shows your jewelry clearly, it also tells a story. It evokes an emotion. It draws the customer in because they just HAVE to find out more. Show your jewelry in its best light by playing with the angles that you photograph it at to discover which angle catches the light – and the eye – more than any other. Don’t just lay it out clinically and photograph from the front. Again – this is fine for a wholesale catalogue, but for selling online and for advertising and branding purposes, get some personality into that shot. There are so many things to learn when it comes to photographing your jewelry – these are just a few of the aspects you have to work on to get truly fantastic, eye-catching photos that sell your work.

I’d love to hear from you: what are your biggest challenges when it comes to photographing your work? I’m happy to answer any questions you might have in the comments.

Do you want to learn how to take truly stellar product photos? Then you need the Create & Thrive Guide to Product Photography, written by professional photographer Jeffrey Opp. It’s a plain-English, easy-to-understand guide for the beginning to intermediate product photographer. You can also grab a FREE copy of Jeffrey’s step-by-step guide to crafting your own ‘studio-in-a-box’ by subscribing to the Create & Thrive email updates.

Want more FREE advice just for Jewelry Designers? Sign up for Updates...it's FREE.

27 Responses to 5 Mistakes Designers Make when Photographing their Jewellery

  1. Great tips! I don’t have the camera of my dreams yet, but I am trying to make the most of the one that I currently have. I often find it difficult to find the right backround for my items and lighting. Angles are somewhat tricky as well. I will definitely start taking pictures on a model as well!

    • Devora – you just listed the main bugbears of us all, for sure! It’s finding the magic combination of lighting, background, and angles that creates a ‘star’ product shot. It’s always quite the thrill when it happens! 😀

  2. I disagree about using models. As you so well put it, “you have to be careful to make sure your jewellery remains the star of the show.” Using a model distracts from the piece itself, people begin to look at the models hair, her dress, shoes, where she / he is standing, background elements, and the lovely piece of jewelry vanishes amidst the fluff. Models are a no-no, period, unless you are selling clothing. I can’t tell you how many times I have looked at a model and thought what am I supposed to be looking at? What’s worse, I am more interested in the elements not for sale then what the model is trying to show off. If the piece can not stand on it’s own, and be alluring and attractive without additions or accents (models) then it is more than likely not a good piece. I suffer from the white background problem as well, I have found that earth tones, greys and browns work best to show off jewelry, but that may be just my camera. The other four tips are very good.

    • Alix – that’s a really great point! I have a couple of suggestions. First – I generally wouldn’t suggest a model shot as the main image – more as a supporting image. I sometimes play with this in my shop (using a modeled image as the main image – for example a ring) BUT my model shots are closely cropped, which is my second point – you don’t have to have a ‘whole person’ modeled shot – just having the piece on a person to show how it sits or hangs – but you really only need to show the jewellery piece. So, most of my model shots are just a part of the hand to show a ring – the side of the face to show earrings, or the neck to bust to show necklaces. Doing it that way, the viewer still focuses on the piece, not the other elements you mentioned.

      • Jewelry is designed to be worn, so I believe that an important shot is on a model. Just as clothing can be designed to ‘look good’ on the hangar, but does not look that great on the body, jewelry can be the same.
        If the piece is designed to be an art piece that is never worn, then it need ONLY stand on its own. But if it is to be worn, it needs to be seen in that context as well.
        Personally, I want customers to wear my jewelry.

  3. Such great info, I have an awesome camera and photoshop but struggled for the longest time with my photos primarily because of the lighting and also having a cohesive background for all of my shots. I’m about to re-shoot all of my items and this will definitely help!

  4. Thanks for a very useful article. Photography is so hard, so every little tip is helpful for me. I do my own but could do with having photos taken of the pieces worn on a model. These can be taken so that your are not distracted by the model but can see the piece in context, I have seen it done really well before. Some people make the piece in focus and soften/blur the rest of the image which I think can work quite well. And crop so you only see part of the face from the side for a pair of earrings for example, this puts them in focus and not the model. My problem is that I don’t have anyone I can use as a model, and I can’t afford to have them professionally taken just yet. I will have to ask around amongst my friends I think!

    • Carin – I just saw your comment after replying to Alix above :) I forgot to mention the focus thing, so nice one. Definitely try asking around amongst your friends and their families. I use myself most of the time, but my husband takes the photos of me for me most of the time.

  5. Thank you for all the great info. Over the past year on Etsy I believe I have made all these mistakes, but learned by trial and error. Sometimes I do a search for my item and if I can’t find it I change the landing photo. If you can’t find your own stuff something is wrong! The single biggest improvement has been to use a model. I bought a 3/4 dress form – nothing fancy. She is beige with shoulders, breasts, torso, and half legs, but no head. In most cases I am photographing from chest to top of neck so the only possible distraction is the background which I sometimes make a bright color. This seems to work because the color is similar to a matte that frames a painting. If it is a long necklace I “dress” her in a top or dress that highlights the jewelry – usually a solid color.

    The one thing that I still struggle with is lighting. I have the big photography lights and light box, but think that some of my best (and worst) shots are with natural light. I would love to hear your comments on natural light; sunny day, cloudy day, morning/evening sun or high noon, how to avoid shadows.

    • “If you can’t find your own stuff something is wrong!” <– absolutely! And great point about experimenting with the main image, I do that too. On Etsy, I sometimes even list the same thing multiple times (all my work is made-to-order) with a different main image to see which one gets the most hits and sales :)

    • Natural light, all the way, every time. The best day is an overcast one and the best light depends on the time of year and where you live. I love afternoon light but I’m in Australia so that might be different for you. If the sun is strong enough to cast shadows, I use a paper parasol from Chinatown to shield my tabletop. I also shoot indoors at a window, so I don’t have to worry about wind.

  6. I keep working on my photos. I almost always used white backgrounds fairly successfully. I just recently started using gray backgrounds and find that my items seem to have more personality. Also, I am trying to crop in closer and get good angles. I can’t use a model at this time. I could use a mannequin. I will have to play with that again.

    Thanks for the good tips.

    • “I just recently started using gray backgrounds and find that my items seem to have more personality.” <– I love this – it definitely pays to experiment!

  7. all great stuff! I too made a ton of these mistakes in the beginning, i say don’t give up, keep experimenting with angles and lighting till you get it right :) Thanks for sharing these gems

  8. My #1 takeaway is that I’m going to go hunt through my store and make sure I do close ups for all the main shots. Usually I do, but I’ve been lazy about it while uploading here & there. I find that it gets people curious.

    Fun example of a story telling shot: (http://www.aradiashand.com/store/p153/Queen_of_Hearts_~_Vintage_Button_Necklace.html) The shots need a little work, but I did have fun conceptualizing the idea with the name, it’s inspiration, and some of the styling. This is also at the same time a terrible example because the entirety of the photo is interesting, not just the jewelry.

    What I struggled with for a long time was not knowing my camera – clearly a rookie mistake! I told myself I couldn’t afford to hire a photographer, but then didn’t take the time to beef up on my own personal knowledge. I learned the best overall settings for my camera and saw an immediate change. Then I started exclusively using natural light because my home & studio are no nos when it comes to lighting!

    Quick tip (and I know other designs do this) for small pieces scrapbook paper can work wonders as a background. This allows you to style your images (you can choose a color or print that reflects your brand) and also is portable and easily stored. The one caveat to this is you need to make sure that your choice in color or print is muted, either a soft hue or a faded print so that it doesn’t overtake the shot.

    Another thing is just the use of macro or close up shots as Jess puts it. When you’re super close to a piece the background will blur out so you don’t have to worry if it’s not the most ideal.

    I like a mixture of white/patterned. Part of this lends a smidge of variety so I don’t see a wall of white, or the same patterns that blur together when I scroll. But part of it, for me, is also necessity. I have some larger non jewelry pieces that do not lend themselves well to my other techniques.

  9. Thanks for the photo tips. We can all use some help in that department. Even though I have a light box and spotlights, set my camera on macro, etc. I still have trouble with getting that very white background. I place white paper both at the back and on the floor of the open light box and it does help. Using an editing tool like Picasso help, also, but I still have problems with some of my pictures. I have a white jewelers bust and a natural (jute) one that I use to photo my jewelry on depending on the colors in the piece. I try to photo only on days where the sun shines, usually in the morning. My pictures have improved, but I still cannot get all the details that I would like to have in the pictures. It is a learning process, I am sure.

  10. What a useful website this is! Great tips on the photography I make pearl jewellery and that is hard to grab a good shot of. Kyrene Designs. I’ve not used a model yet and am undecided. People say my photos are good but I don’t really know –I’m a natural light not white background type of gal and overexposed white commercial photos often look washed out and unreal. Sure we’ve all suffered from not having feedback from peers and creative types as to whether we’re getting ‘there’ with the photos, it’s so very hard to judge!

  11. What fantastic tips!! Thanks for sharing this post.

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  12. These are great tips, but as someone that teaches jewelry photography, I think folks that are just getting started with their jewelry photography should leave the model shots for when they have developed their photo taking skills more fully.

    Model shots may help sell jewelry (although I have never seen a model in a Tiffany or Blue Nile shot) but they also have risks and are more difficult to take than jewelry by itself. The risk is the model may detract from the image and introducing a live person into the shot makes it much more difficult to get a sharp shot.

    Again, these are some good tips!

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