Photo Advise from VJT Members for Crisp Detailed Jewelry Photography

Photo Advice

Ok, so we have all been there. Searching for photo advice and lost trying to read the photography jargon most experts spew.  By the way what the heck is an “F-stop”  and why do I need “Circles of Confusion”? Isn’t that what I’m trying to avoid?

Anyway, it got me to thinking. Some of the members we have here on the Vintage Jewelry Team take exceptional photos. They are always crisp and clean with amazing details. So I decided to sit down with them and pick their brains on how they do it. Hoping to get layman’s terms we all can understand.

So I looked around our membership and sent feelers out to see if I could get some response from members willing to help us all. I wanted to know about their cameras and the settings they used. What lighting techniques they used. As well as any secrets they had for taking difficult shots like Opals. Other things I wanted to learn what size photos did they upload to Etsy. Why was I able to use Etsy’s zoom feature to see larger photos of their pictures? When so many others on Etsy were the same size

Another thing I wanted to know was, do they use any software to put final touches on their photos. And if so what settings did they play with. So with that, I gathered my panel. And you can see what I mean about exceptional photos in the collage below.

Introducing the Members who will be sharing Photo Advise

So first I guess I should introduce the members who agreed to share their secrets.

Photo Advise about Cameras

One of the first questions anyone has about taking good pictures is “What kind of camera do you use”? I was expecting to see a trend with this question but was really quite surprised. As it turns out our members are using an array of cameras, but mostly older models. With one member using an IPhone7.

Here is the list of cameras used by our members:

SONY CYBERSHOT Model DHC-H20

Canon Powershot SD1200 IS

Nikon Coolpix W100

Canon EOS Rebel XS

Canon Power Shot SX100

IPhone7

Digging Deeper into the Cameras

So there is nothing really extravagant here, and the only member to use any special lens is Greg with his Canon Rebel. But we will get to that in a minute,

Photo Advice PixelsThe real factor seems to be the resolution, but there is a lot of confusion when we read the specs of cameras. Where you see numbers listed in “mp”, “ppi”, and “dpi”.

Most cameras advertise their megapixels. Such as the Nikon Coolpix which is rated at 13.2mp and the Canon Power Shot SX100 is rated at 8.1mp. But if you look for the resolution of the IPhone 7 they don’t advertise their camera in megapixels. Instead, they use PPI (pixels per inch).where the IPhone 7 has a rating of 326ppi.with a resolution of 1334 x 750 pixels.

Digging a little deeper I came across this PPI Calculator to find that the IPhone 7 is actually 1 megapixel. So how can they possibly take pictures anywhere close to each other? In reality, the advertised megapixels is referring to the retina of the camera. While Apple’s description of resolution is more realistic since it is referring to print quality. Or pixels per inch of the printed picture.

Keeping this in mind I did a little research and the recommended PPI for high-quality print is 300 which all of these cameras are capable of.

Photo Advise on Camera Settings, Lighting, Equipment, and Other Tricks for the Best Pictures

One of the biggest problems I face when taking photos for my listings is something I like to call whitewash or glare. It’s where a section of the picture seems to get washed out with no detail or color.

Speaking with Greg, he let me onto a few tricks he uses to bring out detail and prevent these problems. Greg likes to set up his homemade photo tent in front of a west-facing window in his house with blinds to help control natural sunlight. Then use his camera and additional lighting as he describes below.
Photo Advice - Greg DeMark's Edwardian Ring Photographed with a Canon Rebel XS
Greg:: “The camera I use is an older Canon EOS Rebel XS to which I added a zoom lens that goes from 28 to 70mm with a macro feature. On the lens, I have a skylight filter at all times and add magnifying lenses as needed. In 1, 2 and 4 power settings.

I set my lens on Macro and will shoot anywhere from 28mm to 50mm depending on the size of the piece and the distance I need to be from the lens. With the camera set on auto.

As far a glare, that all has to do with lighting and how you direct the light. Filtered natural light is best but my Ott-Light with a 13watt HD Natural Lighting bulb helps to take care of other areas that need additional light or to help flood an area with a softer white light. It really takes both types of lighting for me”.

Photo Advise from Moonbeam on Glare and Her Tricks

When I sit down with Moonbeam of Bejeweled Emporium I posed her the same questions about glare and how she handles lighting. As it turns out Moonbeam is using a photo tent very similar to the one I have recently bought on Amazon below.

Here are a few tips she gave me on the subject.

Photo Advise Moonbeam Rugy Ring Photographed with a Canon Power Shot SD 1200 ISMoonbeam: “After much trial and error, I now use 2 different types of cameras. But my favorite is the Canon Powershot SD1200 IS. The Nikon Coolpix W100 is an amazing camera with wireless features so I can send photos directly to my computer and see (almost in real-time) whether or not I need retakes or adjustments. But the Canon is still my favorite.

I simply set the camera to “auto” and use the macro setting. I’m all for working smarter, not harder.

As far as glare my photo tent prevents most of the glare. I also use two clip-on on style lights one on each side with “daylight” bulbs. The daylight bulbs are more expensive but worth it”. 

Carol-Ann’s Photo Advise on Glare and the Tricks She Uses

When I spoke with Carol-Ann I started to notice a trend. Like most of the other members on our list, Carol-Ann was using a photo tent as well. Although she did have a unique method in her setup. Below are the tips Carol-Ann shared.

Photo Advise arol-Ann's Rings Photographed with a SONY CYBERSHOT Model DHC-H20Carol-Ann: “I don’t usually give out my secrets 🙂 but in this case, I will. Way back I had purchased one of those photo tents. Which I still use, but through trial and error, I have since flipped it so that I have natural light coming in from up above. I also have a light with a normal 60-watt bulb on top of my photo station and two other camera lights that I have set on each side of the box.

The sides of the tent work well in defusing the light so it is not overly harsh in one area, so to speak. Then I’ll set the ring or whatever my jewelry piece is in a diagonal facing one light. That light (say it’s on my right side) I position so that it is pointing just above the ring. The other light (which would be on my left side), I will point directly into the facet of the gem and you end up with what you see in my photos. It does take some practice, but when you have mastered it, it is repeatable”.

Carol-Ann’s Take on Cleaning Fine Jewelry

Carol-Ann: “Another thing to note is that I use a double boiler to clean all of my fine jewelry. Here I want to stress I am talking about Precious and Semi-precious gems set into Gold or Silver. NOT foil back rhinestones or plated or washed metals.

The setup I use is a larger saucepan partially filled with water. Then a smaller pan setting on top of the larger so that the top pan is not touching the water. In the upper pan, I use a mixture of ammonia and dishwashing liquid which I place the fine jewelry in. Which I boil for about 40 minutes. Afterward, the jewelry needs to be carefully wiped dry and clean. One word of CAUTION though, make SURE your kitchen is well ventilated when doing this”!

Rose’s Methods and Photo Advise on Glare

Unlike our other members, Rose prefers to shoot outdoors under natural sunlight. Which creates its own unique obstacles. To handle these problems her methods are a little different from our other members, including the use of manual camera setting. Yet other methods she uses really have the same principles. Here is what Rose has to say about photographing jewelry.

Photo Advise Ruby's ring photographed with a Canon Power Shot SX100 ISRose“I use an older model Canon Power Shot SX100 IS and I always photograph outside under natural light. I also prefer to use the manual settings on my camera, never shooting in the auto mode. I like being able to control the shot myself. Also, I always shoot in micro and need to zoom occasionally.

Here are the settings I play with. I keep the ISO set to 80 and I also make sure to adjust my light exposure / white balance settings (AWB, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, etc) as needed. Here is a Link to an Article that describes what I’m talking about. 

Lighting can be tricky outside. If there is too much overexposure of sun, I use a piece of white paper to help diffuse and soften the sun. Also on very sunny days, a textured base with some color seems to work best. This helps to keep down wash out. But on cloudy days I will use a white base with some reflective light

 It is all trial and error on my part but as long as you have the basic settings on your camera, the lighting may be something you have to experiment with to see what works best for you.

Photo Advise from Carol for Photographing with a Smartphone

I saved the Photo Advice from Carol to last since her situation is so unique using the IPhone 7. As it turns out Carol is another of our members using a photo tent similar to the one above. And without any farther ado here are the tips Carol has for photographing with a Smartphone.


Photo Advise Carol's Pin photographed with a IPhone 7
Carol: One mistake I see some people making is that they are using a smartphone that just doesn’t have high enough resolution for clear jewelry photography. The camera I use is an iPhone 7, but the iPhone 6 and above have really good cameras.

The one I use has two lenses with 1x and 2x zooms. These zoom without any loss in resolution. There is also a manual zoom as well, but it does cause some quality loss. Generally, I choose the photograph mode or square setting and turn on the hdr (high-definition resolution) option.

To reduce glare you want to diffuse the light. A tip I learned from my son who is a Professional Photographer. His setup includes a large photo tent, with large stand-up photo lamps and umbrella diffusers. After talking with him I bought a smaller unit similar to the one you mentioned above with a tripod for my phone and smaller photo lamps, using Daylight Bulbs.

Also, I have been experimenting with backgrounds too. I bought a pad of vintage colored cardstock – faded pinks, greens, beiges, and blue to place my jewelry on. Which I think it makes photo taking more fun and the listings look more interesting”.

Summary of the Photo Advise from Our Members

After looking over the suggestions I got from our members a few points seemed to really stand out.  While a really good camera is nice to have unless you are planning to shoot panoramas and to print out oversize pictures such as 8×10 or larger. Massive megapixels are not all that important. Instead, try to determine the pixels per inch the camera is capable of. Any above 300ppi for the size picture you will be uploading will give you a high-definition image. Another feature to look for when choosing your camera is the “Macro” feature. Which is a feature most of our members use when taking photos.

Yet probably the best piece of photo advice I got was to diffuse lighting by using a photo tent with daylight photo lamps. This will give you the correct color of lighting.

But I would like to give a word of caution about lightbulb advertisements. Doing some research I found bulbs ranging from 4000k {k = kelvin, which is the color temperature measurement) to 6500k. Plain and simple this is not correct. Any light rated above 5000k will start to take on a bluish tint and below 4000k will give off a yellow tint. So pay attention to this rating, where the best choice is between 4500k and 5000k.

Photo Advise on Uploading Your Pictures

Another point I would like to mention is upload size. At one time Etsy advised members to upload a picture at least 570 pixels wide. Since then they increased this number to 750 and recently upped the number to 1500. The plus side to using these higher numbers is to take full advantage of the Etsy Zoom feature in your store.

I’m sure if you have browsed Etsy before you have come across a product you would like a closer look at. But when you clicked the zoom button in the lower corner it displayed another picture of the product in the same size. this is because the vendor uploaded a smaller picture, probably 570px wide. I’m guilty of this myself in the past.

Speaking with our members I found they are uploading at least 1000px wide photos with Moonbeam uploading full-size 3648×2736. Yet after viewing their items on Etsy using the zoom, it appears anything uploaded 1000px or more seems to give a good image. So if you use Etsy’s new recommendation of 1500px you will be fine.

And finally one last word. One thing I have learned from speaking with our members about their photo advice, there seems to be more than one method to photograph exceptional pictures. If you have a trick you use please let us know in the comment section below. We would love to hear from you.

Photo Advise from VJT Members for Crisp Detailed Jewelry Photography - VJTBlog: We've all looked for photo advice and been lost trying to read the jargon experts spew. What's an "F-stop", and shouldn't I avoid "Circles of Confusion"?
Bruce Barnwell
Owner of Estates in Time on Etsy

5 thoughts on “Photo Advise from VJT Members for Crisp Detailed Jewelry Photography

  1. carol says:

    Great blog, it will take time to meditate on all the advise given. Thank you so much for posting this, I am sure it is going to help a lot of shop owners.

  2. Margie Homan says:

    Very good, in-depth article, Bruce. Is there going to be a part two? I find most photos, even well-taken ones, need some photo enhancement and adjustment in a photo software program. Also, when you are new in learning how to photograph jewelry your photos need more editing. Is there any plans to address this is a future article?

    • Bruce Barnwell says:

      Thanks Margie, the subject of editing pictures with software was actually one of the questions I ask. Most of the members I spoke with do very little adjusting. Only minor Lightening or darkening or possibly slight contrast adjustments. Since the members that I spoke with used software so little I decided not to add that to the article. But that does bring up an interesting point

  3. Greg says:

    Great article Bruce and thank you for including me.
    Even though I am fairly happy with my photos there is always room for improvement and I did pick up a few tricks here from the experts that I will be trying in the future.

  4. Darlene says:

    Such a helpful article! thanks everyone for all the great tips!
    My first digital camera was purchased back in ’98, a Sony Mavica. It took a floppy disc and cost $800 back then, I loved that camera! Now I use a Canon Power Shot and what I have found to be extremely helpful is the use of a photo cube/box. I made one from a u-tube video, it really was kind of easy and quick.

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