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Photographing Jewelry on a White Background?

Ishan Seneviratne , May 28, 2003; 01:46 p.m.

I am having endless difficulty in shooting silver jewelry on a white background. I only seem to get a grey background dispite my set up and camera settings. I am currently using an Olympus 3020Z with a Macro lens, 4 250W SV flood lights and a Cocoon, in which I place a seemless white sheet of paper on top of which I place the item of jewelry. My current set up is with the floods surrounding the Cocoon. I have experimented with my camera set at different f stops, though f/11 brings out the best detail and pre set WB for tungsten (which has always brought a blue tinge and grey background)Self set WB (which has been a little better but still grey backgrouns), set the camera on metering mode(that has made the background darker grey) and even sometimes overexposed to try and get the white background - but that just kills the piece of jewelry as it is silver. I have even placed one of the floods under the Cocoon to make the background even whiter, but still it results in a greyish hue. Any help is very much appreciated, as it will save endless hours of cutting around links and chains in photoshop. Thank you - Ishan.


Alexandre Carmel-Veilleux , May 29, 2003; 01:22 p.m.

Did you try metering off of a Kodak Grey card?

Lex Jenkins , May 29, 2003; 01:27 p.m.

Ideally you'd use an incident meter for this situation. Lacking that, meter for the white background and open up one full stop, bracketing in steps of increasing overexposure +1/3 EV at a time.

Specular highlights will still be a problem. To control that the easiest solution would be an extremely fine mist of something like water soluable hairspray (assuming this is okay with the owner of the jewelry). This will dull the highlights.

Otherwise you'll need to use polarizers on the camera lens *and* the light sources. A polarizer on the lens alone will not reduce highlights on metal objects.

Alternatively, you could digitally clone parts of the darker version that have fewer problems with specular highlights onto the better exposed version that does have blown highlights. No crime in that.

John Cook , May 29, 2003; 03:05 p.m.

There are papers (like photo print paper) which contain a dye that fluoresces when struck with the ultra-violet light from electronic flash. These dyes are also ingredients in some laundry detergents, which make it impossible to get detail in a portrait subject’s (glowing) white shirt.

Plan B is to shoot the jewelry on a light box.

However, my experience has been that when the background is bright enough to photograph white, you will have soft, diffuse sides on the product. The light, bouncing back at the lens, wraps around the edges of the product, blurring the outline.

As much of a bother as it is, you will get a much better shot on a light gray background. In the old days (before digital) I used to have the lithographer make a “knock-out” with lith film. This was a common technique when the layout was impossible to photograph, like a cobalt blue teacup on a canary yellow background.

The A/D sometimes then put in artificial drop shadows to give the product “dimension”.

Steve Tout - Seattle, Wa , May 29, 2003; 03:39 p.m.

Your 4 250 watt lamps is not enough light. Try 2 1000W lamps. Or try shooting it early in the morning in direct sunlight when the light is very bright and cool. (scrim optional).

You may want to look at this FREE lesson at Web photo school, that shows what materials and steps to take to get a pure white background.

The amount of light and white balancing are also key to getting it right.


Here are some samples of stuff I do using a similar technique, but mostly I do mine shots early morning to use natural "white" light from the sun. Camilee Designs Jewelry

In addition to ensuring your white balance settings are perfect (I adjust manually) I overexpose +1 1/3 stops in using daylight, and the shots come out nearly perfect everytime! I then use Photoshop to unsharp mask, and any other touchups before using them to sell jewelry.

Good luck!

John Parkerk , May 29, 2003; 04:35 p.m.

Why don't you photograph on black velvet background ? It seems more appropriate for silver.

As for white being gray - just manipulate the brightness curve, to get it white. problem is that highlights on jewelry pieces can be brighter than background - try to backlit intensively or use lightbox.

C J , May 29, 2003; 04:59 p.m.

I've been photographing small metal objects, usually with a very reflective gold/brass type finish and I've been doing it this way, very cheaply:

I got some 18% gray paper from a local photo store, draped it over a skeleton made from 3/4 in PVC pipes (less than $5 worth) glued together and lit it all with some daylight balanced (or so they say) flourecent lights from Home Depot that fit in to normal light sockets. Got some old used photoflod type lamps and put these new bulbs in. Four lights total.

I always shoot at ISO100, f/8, 1/8th of a second. The background does not, however, overexpose, so I select the product with the polygonal laso in photoshop and make the rest white. If required I can add a convincing drop shadow. Heres and example of a few products (link!).

Also, after getting the shot in the computer I run it though NeatImage using a custom profile I built for ISO100, 1/8th of a second shutter speed. Each combination of ISO and shutter has its own noise characteristics. The images, after they've been de-noised are greatly superior to the originals. Plus the shareware version of NeatImage, free, will do everything you need it to, unless you want to que more than 2 images at a time. I've found my Olympus 3030Z to be very noisy so this should help your picture quality.

One side note: to make things really shine I hold a piece of posterboard over the product after I hit the shutter on self timer. This reflects the light to the top so it looks really bright and beautiful.

Hope this helps and doesn't break the bank for you. As for actually overexposing the background, I haven't found a way to do that and make it look good, but luckily the client wants things with the "floating in white space" look.

Barry Thomas , May 30, 2003; 06:29 a.m.

Sounds to me like you are doing all the right things except adding some exposure. I shoot my silver at home and get pretty good results. Add around 1.5 stops exposure. Keep the wide aperture and use the WB which you find works OK. My stuff is here. If I can answer any specific q's, email me direct. Can you show us some examples of what you are not happy with?

adrian mctiernan , Oct 11, 2004; 02:15 a.m.

I know it is a bit late, (over a year), but to my mind, your easiest option is to use photoshop, and increase contrast and brightness levels so that the white comes up to a level, and the contrast is kept to where you want it. But dont use the contrast/brightness control, but use levels. the idea is to choose a level for white which just shows some detail when the picture is shown against a complete white background, and where the contrast shows the detail in the object photographed. if you email me a pix, I will adjust it for you, and send it back with the levels printed on it in black print.

Good luck, and please send me a jpeg image, at about 200 dpi if you want.

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