By special request, I’m going to talk a bit about how I use props when shooting photos of jewellery 🙂 Please note again: this is not a how-to tutorial but essentially my own personal journey in product photography, whose merit (or lack of) is, of course, 100% subjective.
I started out without props of any kind (and a white background that got really hard to maintain – again, a different story and a different look!). At the time, I just wanted to show a piece of jewellery as is, up close and with nothing to distract from it. But as you know, gravity can work for or against you, and buying jewellery online is risky business – it needs to be worn or shown as it would look being worn, if for at least one shot out of the several you will undoubtedly upload to each listing. Also, as I slowly got to know my camera and macro lens better, I wanted to create a context or mood for each of my photos, to present them in a little less clinical manner, and this became an outlet for me to practise photography. Or you can also call it vanity.
Different shots, different props
Using the same pair of earrings as an example, here are, roughly, the various stages that I went through (I still try to take a variety of shots for each item though):
Placed flat, there isn’t a wide variety of shots – front, back, but always kind of 2D because I’m trying to show the entire piece in the frame. Sometimes you have certain pieces that are chunkier or are able to “stand” on their own. I propped the earrings up on their earwires and placed one slightly behind the other, shot from a lower angle, to make a photo with some measure of depth.
What about the ones that can’t stand on their own? I started to use some small rocks I had around the house. They are neutral-toned, mostly the right size and provide more stability for the pieces. Here’s a little tip: cropping part of the rock (or any other prop, really) out of the frame helps to keep attention on the subject. I find that if it’s completely in the shot, it can really compete for attention or, from afar, even look like it’s part of the subject. Anyway, I got a bit sick of seeing the rocks in my shots after a while and proceeded to seek out other natural materials such as branches and leaves. I know there’s lots of jewellery display equipment available and they are indispensable for point-of-sales, but I find they’re a bit too factory-like for me. Some people shoot on natural tiles or weathered wood – and those look great!
This second shot with the leaf was taken at an angle to create more depth. A similar effect is achieved by hanging the earrings off a small bowl. Pottery is my current love where props are concerned, especially if it has a rustic feel. I try to avoid the ones with a super shiny glaze because they reflect a lot of unwanted light, especially since I shoot next to a window. Again, I have these cups, dishes and bowls out of the shot as much as possible. These last couple of setups also feature subtle curves/diagonals, which make images appear more dynamic.
The next few shots feature really, really flat pieces. Plain hoop earrings (and rings, not that I make any but the issues are similar, I’d imagine, as I’ve tried to photograph some rings I bought!) are sometimes challenging to portray, compounded by the fact that I need to show the textured skinny edges of my Flint Hoops. I struggled with the rocks for a while, then changed to perching them on the corner of a dish:
Here, the photos have about the same composition except that with the dish, I can get more elevation for the hoops and am able to move in to capture the facets from far more angles than I would if I were limited to shooting it off a flat surface.
Similar to hoops, these bangles are so 2D I could weep. And again, the detail that I wanted to show was on the skinny edge. Check out how they look laid flat vs hooked over a bowl. In the second shot, the position of the bangles allows more light to pass through the gems and the DoF plus darker background makes this all stand out more. Overall I’d say the subject and pic has more “life” 🙂
These are also hoops, but they have earwires which I can actually use to prop them up for some height. Because they’re relatively large and are not uniform in design, DoF with this particular macro lens (at a setting I can comfortably manage without a tripod anyway) tends to make the back half containing those keishi pearls blur into oblivion. In order to show the entire design yet maintain some semblance of depth to the image, I stood them up against a bowl so that at least one side of them from top to bottom is within the vertical plane that is in focus. Similar effect could be achieved by hooking them over the top of a bowl, cup etc – but I kind of like them grounded and at rest like this.
Now for models – I am still struggling with this aspect. I think it’s lovely to see jewellery being worn – only for rings, bracelets or necklaces though. Some people might be squeamish about buying some earrings that have already been through the piercings of someone else, aye? It’s a personal thing. Anyway, since I have no assistant photographer or model to speak of, I have to take my own bracelet shots. And this is exceedingly difficult, if you can imagine holding a 0.9kg (I just discovered the combined weight of camera body + macro lens a couple of days ago, faint) device in one hand and squinting through the viewfinder, trying to get a shot of the other hand that won’t come out at a funny angle or show distracting things in the background.
Besides showing relative size (assuming the model is an “average”-sized person anyway), you get a sense of how a piece drapes, which is especially important for bracelets and necklaces (for the latter, I use a small bust – I would like a mannequin, but hey… I don’t usually make very big or chunky necklaces anyway). I have 2 suggestions if you are attempting this:
1) Try to ensure the piece of jewellery is as large or prominent as possible within the frame while at the same time showing what part of the anatomy it’s being worn on. Although it’s a modelled shot, you’d still want to be able to see the individual components or special features on the jewellery, if possible. This is also where manipulating DoF would be quite useful as you can selectively blur irrelevant bits of background out.
2) As far as clothes and background go, it’s really important to de-clutter so that focus remains on the jewellery. So… that means plain-ish clothes in solid complementary or neutral colours. And if you can, have some nice light to create a mood – near a window would be great 🙂
I have seen some really nice modelled jewellery shots around – and they need not even be done by professional models or photographers. But I’m still trying to get there… I need a model!!
That’s about it for now – thank you for reading and I hope my story has been helpful in whatever small way.