October 20, 2015

Jewelry Photography – Part One: The Right Camera for You

Lately at Nina Designs we have been getting more and more questions about how to photograph jewelry. It’s been a while since we tackled this tough topic so we thought it was a good time to review the basics: Equipment, Lighting, and Composition. We will give you tips and tricks to make your images beautiful as well as links to equipment suppliers and other helpful info.  This is a deep subject with many different approaches so this will be an ongoing series. Ready? Let’s Go!

Part One of Three : Which Camera is Right for You?

There are many options for cameras on the market and each has pros and cons. The following is an overview of Smartphone, Point and Shoot and DSLR Cameras. Choose what is best for your budget and experiment with it to get the best results.

DSLR with Kit Lens 18-55mm

Taken with a DSLR Camera with 18-55mm Kit Lens Using a Flashpoint Light Box

DSLR

For more control over your photos, it is best to invest in a DSLR Camera. At Nina Designs we use a Nikon D5100. This is an older model but still does a fantastic job. In the world of DSLRs there are Professional Level cameras and Photo Enthusiasts cameras. The prices vary accordingly. Our camera is considered a less expensive, “Enthusiast” model.  DSLR cameras have the best image quality of the three camera options discussed because they have the biggest sensors – up to 25 times bigger. The bigger the sensor, the less “noise” your image will have (Noise is that grainy quality you sometimes see on photos) making the DSLR the best choice for professional use and print work. The best thing about DSLR cameras is that they are built with “reflex mirrors” which means that you are actually looking through the camera lens instead of looking through a “viewfinder hole” like in the P&S Camera or Smartphone. What you see is what you shoot! You also have full control over a DSLR camera. You can always shoot in auto mode but you have full control all of the settings when you want it and they are relatively easy to access. Learning to use all of the controls can be intimidating at first but it gets easier with practice. But one of the biggest advantages of this type of camera, especially for jewelry photography is that you can change the lens on it. Image quality is impacted greatly by the quality of the lens you use. Since the majority of our photography is of petite products such as charms, ear wires and pendants, we use a Nikon Micro 85mm lens. This amount of zoom is more than what is needed to shoot your finished jewelry. A smaller 60mm or 40mm Micro Lens would be more than sufficient. I have even achieved great success with just using the regular 18-55mm kit lens that came with the camera. (Micro and other specialty lens are sold separately.)

PROS: Versatile, Able to Change Lens, Full Manual Control, and Superior Image Quality

CONS: Cost, Learning Curve, Weight and Size, Maintenance

Point and Shoot Camera

Taken with a Point and Shoot Camera Using a Soft Box and Lights

Point and Shoot Camera

Another great option for your jewelry photos is a compact digital Point and Shoot Camera. They are small, lightweight, typically inexpensive and very easy to use.  Just as their name implies, they are designed for you to point and shoot! These cameras are mainly meant to be used in “auto” mode, letting the camera make all of the decisions for you. There are basic manual controls that can be changed but quite often they are hidden in menu systems and are not easily accessible. Some come with a Macro setting which is great for close up shots of jewelry. Many of the affordable Point and Shoots only come with a fixed lens, which means it is a Digital Zoom. Newer, more expensive Point and Shoot models have an Optical Zoom Lens. Another point worth mentioning is that most P &S Cameras have a massive depth of field, meaning that they typically cannot separate foreground from background. This means everything is in focus…which is great….except when you want to create a little “bokeh.” (Bokeh is that beautiful blur quality produced in the out-of-focus parts of an image.) Similar to Smart Phones, Point and Shoot Cameras also have a smaller sensor than DSLR cameras and therefore do not take as high of quality images. They are fine for everyday use and posting things online but not the best option for print work or professional publications. The newest generation of Point and Shoot Cameras are equipped with Super Zoom Optical Lenses and larger Image Sensors. These newer models are fairly expensive compared to more basic compact models.

PROS: Ease of Use, Affordable, Light Weight

CONS: Zoom Restrictions, Small Image Sensor, Manual Controls Limited

Smart Phone

Taken with a Smartphone Using Outdoor Sunlight

Smartphone Camera

Newer smartphones have amazing photographic capabilities. And because of their ability to access the internet, they are great for “shooting and sharing. “ One can easily go from taking a picture to uploading it to a website or social media.  Some phones have photo editing tools built in, which allow you to crop, adjust brightness and select filters to create cool effects. If yours doesn’t, there are great Photo Apps (link below) available such as Snapseed, Afterlight, Darkroom and Flickr. While these tools save you the step of having to upload your photos to a computer for editing, when photographing small items such as jewelry, it is always best to upload your images and view them on a larger screen to make any adjustments. Smartphone cameras are fully automatic, meaning all decisions are made within the camera for you such as Exposure, Focus, and Shutter Speed. There are small adjustments that can be made to the camera settings but they are very limited. While it’s true that Smartphone Cameras take great pictures, most on the market have a much smaller Sensor than DSLR cameras and therefore do not take as high of quality images. They are fine for everyday use and posting things online but not a good option for print work or professional publications. Smart Phone Cameras are incredibly easy to use, making them a popular option for most artists.

PROS: Ease of use, Lightweight

CONS: Manual Controls Very Limited, Cost, Small Sensor, Digital Zoom Only (see explanation in below)

Learn more about the best phone apps for editing photos!

Optical Zoom VS. Digital Zoom

Optical Zoom:  When we “zoom in” on a subject with a camera, we are actually changing the focal length of the lens.  Therefore, we are truly bringing our subject closer or further away in our visual frame. Optical Zoom always produces better-quality images than Digital Zoom.

Digital Zoom: One of the drawbacks of using a Smartphone and many Point and Shoot Cameras is that they are equipped with a Digital Zoom. This means that their zoom capability is computer generated. Their actual lens is “fixed” at a set focal length. So when you use the zoom on your smart phone it isn’t actually bringing the subject closer by moving the lens, it is actually “resampling” the focal area – creating the illusion of zoom. It crops a portion of the image and then enlarges it back to size, which enlarges the pixels and reduces the image resolution and quality. Always move the camera closer to your subject rather than zooming in when using a Fixed Lens Camera. IPhone and a few other companies are working on an Optical Lens for their Smartphone Cameras and new advancements are happening daily!

Tripod

Lastly, it is always best to shoot your jewelry photos using a tripod. Even when using a Smartphone Camera. It makes a big difference in the focus and clarity of an image. There are Smartphone Brackets/Tripods available that easily attach to a tripod.

I hope this information was helpful for you. Next time we will dive into the deep topic of lighting. To learn more about photo equipment options visit your local camera shop. Many have classes available for all experience levels as well as courses on macro photography.

We’d love to hear your experiences with photographing your work. Let’s get the conversation rolling!

What Camera do you use? Let us know in the comments!

Part Two – Jewelry Photography Lighting and Equipment

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