How to Take Great Jewelry Photos

Crisp, well-lit product photographs are the beating heart of multichannel retailing. The brick-and-click concept relies on appealing to consumers online. And in the absence of a flesh-and-bones salesperson,  the photos  sell the baubles.

In the age of Instagram feeds and Pinterest boards, high-quality photos that break the mold—through sheer elegance, quirkiness, or originality—double as powerful, shareable marketing tools that neatly broadcast a brand’s identity (and inventory) to every corner of the jewelry-buying globe.

So consider erecting a small in-house photo studio. (Supply-wise, expect to pay $400–$800 for the whole shebang at a major photo retailer such as New York City’s B&H.) Here’s what you need to get up and running.

A camera
There are several options here—ranging from high-end professional models to the smartphone in your back pocket. Alexandria, Va.–based jewelry photographer Victor Wolansky recommends an SLR (single lens reflex) camera body with a macro lens—he suggests a 180 mm for really small pieces—“of good quality, the best you can afford.” According to Lisa Stockhammer-Mial, owner of the Three Graces, an e-tailer specializing in vintage and estate jewelry (one that photographs all of its products in-house), the range of lower-priced, high-pixel cameras is so wide “that you don’t have to spend a fortune.” And jewelry photographer Steven DeVilbiss, cofounder of New York City–based Antfarm photo studio, which counts Ritani, Tacori, and Effy among its clients, asserts that “an iPhone will work if you have the right setup.”

A tripod
This cheap accessory steadies your camera (or phone) so you can shoot in lower light—yielding greater detail in your images. If your camera’s not an SLR model, which comes with a standard mount for a basic tripod, make sure your tripod can hold your camera still.

Lighting is the most important part of your setup, so don’t skimp on quality or quantity. Shop for one or two professional photo lights that emit bright daylight-grade light on product. Spring for a soft box to place over the light(s) to create a soft, flattering white glow.

DeVilbiss says a basic desktop light box, on which jewelry can be placed, is “hard to mess up.” Wolansky recommends a light shed, a cube-shape tent that bounces light around its small quarters, to spread light evenly across a piece of jewelry.


A white background
Striking still-life photos are ideal for Instagram and Facebook, but you should aim to capture every item in your inventory from multiple angles on a white background that can be “knocked out” (art director lingo for erased). “It gives you the most bang for your buck,” says New York City–based jewelry photographer Arnold Katz.

An image on white is the most versatile for web and print layouts (JCK included!), allowing an illustrator, site builder, or graphic designer the greatest flexibility when creating beautiful pages. “If it’s on an off-white background, if it’s dirty, if it’s not kind of perfectly done, it makes the product look not perfect or not high quality,” says DeVilbiss.

A willingness to experiment
“I have a 16-year-old daughter, and I watch her and her friends going through Instagram; they flip through photos like they’re nothing,” says Los Angeles–based fashion, beauty, and product photographer Raquel Olivo. “It takes a lot to get their attention.”

Modern consumers are inundated with photographs like never before. That’s why any and all stabs at capturing offbeat, out-of-the-box images (that may or may not feature product) are a good use of a brand’s resources. Red-hot social media sites Instagram and Pinterest offer marketers a platform to create entire worlds online, all through photo sharing.

Have a kooky idea for an image involving a wedge of Swiss cheese and a diamond ring? Go for it. Inject wit, grace—and maybe an ounce of irreverence—into your brand’s visual messaging, and consumer engagement will follow.

A version of this story appeared in the May 2015 issue of JCK magazine.

(Lens: Cobalt 88/Thinkstock; camera: Fluxfoto/iStock; tripod: LordRunar/iStock; light: Igor Kovalchuk/iStock; photographer: Ryasick/iStock; Instagram: Prykhodov/Thinkstock)

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JCK Senior Editor

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