A Simple Guide to Jewelry Photography Lighting & Background Set Up
When I was starting out as a product photographer, I found a lot content out there on how to take photos using natural light, homemade light boxes or the tent-like set ups that are available when you search for photo studios on Google or Amazon.
I tried some of those options and while they work in some cases, I found them inflexible in that there was never enough light plus you couldn’t direct the light to certain parts of the product easily. And these setups didn’t allow you to easily take shots from different angles. If you are already using one of those types of set ups, this article will show you how to take your studio to the next level without spending thousands on expensive lighting and studio space.
While many Etsy sellers take photos on natural backgrounds with props, this article is focused on the standard white background. I find a lot of my clients moving to white backgrounds because they want to sell on Amazon, and Amazon requires the white background.
Overview of the setup:
Though I personally focus more on jewelry, the set up outlined below can work for any tabletop photography needs. It gives you a lit up space of 2 feet by 2 feet and requires a table of roughly 5 feet to give you relatively comfortable working room.
This could be DIY’ed with a few pieces of wood, some clamps and white paper but I recommend the below two products that you can buy for under $50 on Amazon. These are examples so if the below products are not in stock, you can look for something similar. The below background set comes with 3 backgrounds – blue, peach and black. The white is sold separately. If you find a cheaper one with just the white, please post the link in the comments. But if you do need different colored backgrounds, then this would work perfectly.
Why: The advantage of a set up like this that you can have any lighting that you want on either side. And you can shoot from any angle – from the front, sides and top-down so you can get different angles of your product without having to move and set up the products too much – this is especially helpful when shooting jewelry because with earrings and necklaces shot hanging on a prop, they need to be still and not dangle. Each time you move it, you have to wait for it to completely stop swaying before you shoot. With the openness of this set up, you have more flexibility to move your camera around.
Lighting: Soft Boxes v. Other Options
For good product photography, you need soft diffused lighting i.e. light that spreads evenly over an area. With strong direct light, you get light focused on a smaller area and it results in harsh shadows. Most of the studio lighting options you see online are the big black soft boxes in different sizes. If you have the space in your studio area to get a couple of these soft boxes with stands, then you could do that. But the tabletop stands with these softboxes are not very flexible – they don’t tilt easily and when you move them around they fall over. The floor stands will work but again, you need a lot of room to have a set up like that.
I recommend something like the below – again, these can be DIY’ed with some tube lights and something to fasten them to. But here is what you can get off the shelf.
Why: The advantage of these is that they are compact, you can move them around easily and also lay them flat. So if you are photographing something tall, you can stand them up vertically. But if you are photographing something flat (like say a long necklace laid flat, you want the light to be spread across the entire length of the product – you can lay these lights flat.
A reflector does what the word suggests – it reflects light towards the product depending on the angle at which you place it. Most reflectors you find online are the big circular ones that come in sets of 5. These are good for a photographer who does different types of shoots at different times of the day. For product photography, since the lighting is controlled by you, you usually just need white reflectors. These can easily be DIY’ed using white foam core that is available at any craft store and a couple of clamps. The boards in the below image are plain white 3/16 inch foam core. They look grey because there is no light behind the boards – all the light is directed towards the earrings.
Where to buy: Any craft store
If you haven’t used reflectors before, play around with it placing it at different angles in front of the product and see how the image changes based on how the light is being reflected. Notice how the boards are facing the product so all the light is reflected back to the product.
Lens-mount reflector: Another interesting accessory is the lensmount reflector. Most, if not all, DSLR cameras are black. So when photographing metal or glass, the camera frequently reflects onto the piece giving off a black shade on the product. This accessory is mounted on your lens so the camera doesn’t reflect on the products.
With jewelry, sometimes you also need a couple small lights that you can move around easily. Here are a couple options.
Portable LED light: This can be attached to the top of your camera (any DSLR) and used to get light in front of the product. This is useful when shooting products like a pendant that has stones in the front – this front light can make those stones sparkle. You could also place this light on its own anywhere on the table to get more light in certain areas.
LED Light Pen: This lets you focus the light on say a gemstone or diamond to make it sparkle. It’s a small light so it’s not so bright that it whites out the stone.
Total Cost of entire setup: about $200-$250
Roughly $40 for the background stand and white background plus about $150 for lights, maybe $10 for the reflectors). If you need the additional lighting, it’s roughly an additional $50. Considering that you will have better photos and with that, potentially more sales, the cost could be recovered quickly.
You could save some money by DIY’ing some of the above but with the cost being relatively low, it might better to buy than to build.
Most small businesses can’t dedicate an entire room for a photo studio. The above set up gives you more flexibility than a tent like setup and still occupies a similar amount of space. And you use it infrequently, you can put it away easily enough as well.
With product photography, there are many different ways to do the same thing. Have you tried any of the options above? What else has worked for you? Please share your tips and ideas and of course, comment with questions.
Ash Moosa is a product photographer specializing in jewelry – view his site at jewelryshoot.com. He photographs products for small and medium sized businesses for use on the web and print catalogs.