My photography and jewelry making journey. Please visit the Vintage Cravens blog for new product releases, outfit posts, shop updates, etc.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Photographing Jewelry: The Gem-o-licious Layer

Have you ever looked at a beautiful photograph with just the right amount of focus on a key subject and a nice, dreamy background? It took me FOREVER to finally understand what in the world the 'f-stop' setting is doing on my DSLR camera and I hope this might help you, too! Photographing jewelry can be a complete joy or can make you want to throw your camera out the window. I like to keep listing photos simple and clean on white backgrounds (see my blog post about this here), but there are times when the light is just right and I just want to capture the beauty of these miniature works of art for myself and for social media. Near the beginning of my photographic journey, I read a lot about 'f-stop' and 'depth of field,' but things never quite clicked for me. Here is what finally made me realize what depth of field really is: it's like looking through a double-decker sandwich to your jewelry and beyond. 

Image Courtesy of Way 2 Foodie

Whoa, Chris, did you just say that? YES! Imagine that sandwich on its side and your camera in front. Now, picture your jewelry as the lettuce. Changing the f-stop moves through the bread, tomato, turkey and finally to your lettuce to bring it in focus! This is the perfect 'depth of field' to bring your piece to life, right at the layer you want to highlight. Once you have the f-stop set, choose the shutter speed that brings in the right amount of light you want to expose your photograph with (I like to slightly over-expose, or make brighter, my photographs and make them darker if needed using post-processing). Or, you can totally cheat and use the setting on your camera that automatically selects it for you based on your f-stop and lighting conditions. This is typically called 'aperture priority.' 

F-stop Selects the Layer to Focus On

Hopefully this sweet vintage camera (photo courtesy of PetaPixel) and sandwich on its side will resonate with you and help you remember what f-stop/depth of field is. Now, take a look at the picture I took of three beautiful vintage rings from my Etsy shop. Notice where I have the f-stop set? That's right - right on the ring faces, or what I like to call 'the gem-o-licious layer' of jewelry. The foreground and background are blurred nicely and the gems reach out and say hello. 

Now you've seen what helped me learn about depth of field. What handy tricks do you have for understanding this concept? 

Happy shooting!

Friday, April 8, 2016

Photographing Jewelry: White Backgrounds

Have you ever wanted to capture a piece of jewelry on a beautiful white background, or nice gradient like the one above, which shows shadow and highlights your piece? There are many articles available on the web about lighting set ups and on camera tips. This blog post focuses on post processing.

As I was learning how to use my camera to photograph jewelry, I tried many different methods for lighting my set, different backgrounds such as paper ramps, light boxes, etc., but still wasn't happy with the results. Why? I kept seeing grey instead of a nice, bright white which would fit nicely with my website, Etsy and Google search results. No matter how much light I used, how perfectly my white balance was set or how I would use reflectors to bounce light back into the set, grey would still be present in my photographs. I began to play around with post processing using several free editors and learned about adjusting the brightness values in a photograph's histogram. Over time, I bought Photoshop Elements (roughly $70) as I have found their Levels tool to be the quickest for processing many photos in a session.

The writers at Cambridge in Color have done an excellent job detailing the technical aspects of what I'm about to show you in their Photoshop Levels tutorial. I'm going to keep things simple and just walk through using Levels which is Photoshop's tool to do this. At the end, I've also included an example from Photoscape, a free photo editing tool.

Step 1: Open the Levels Tool

Open your UNCROPPED photograph in 'Expert' mode. Before cropping your photo, select Enhance --> Adjust Lighting --> Levels... from the menu at the top.

Selecting the Levels Tool

Step 2: Set the White Point

Once the Levels Tool is open, the next step is to find the best white point in the photograph. To do this, select the Set White Point eyedropper in the Levels Tool (your mouse pointer will change to an eyedropper). Now, click on a spot of white in your photograph. The tool will adjust the background to the white point you've selected and will brighten the background, but leave the object in tact. Note: you may have to try several spots in your photograph to get 'just the right white point,' so don't get frustrated if your photo doesn't look right the first time. Simply select Reset in the tool and try again.

Selecting the Set White Point Option
Note: another option available to you at this point is to adjust the histogram by sliding the pointers just below the histogram image to adjust the white, midtone and black values. I like this option for fine tuning, but have found the simple Set White Point eyedropper the easiest to use in my process.

Here are a couple of examples showing different results when the white point is selected from different areas of the photograph. My light source is aimed from the right side of the photograph casting nice shadow to the left of the necklace. When selecting an area of shadow, the light in the photo blows out and will diminish the object in the foreground.

White Point Set in an Area of Shadow

Here is another example of selecting a white point that isn't in a direct shadow, but further away from the light source. This looks pretty good, but the penny and pearls are a little off color.  

White Point Set Away from Light Source

Here is the photograph I like the best. I ended up selecting a point just to the right of the pearls to capture the light without a shadow cast. It still has some grey edges, but this is okay because we're not quite finished yet.

White Point Set in Area Without Shadow Cast Near Light Source

Step 3: CROP!

Once the subject is a nice, true color and your background is mostly white, it is time to crop the photograph to select just the right area for display. Here, I've cropped out the grey corner on the upper right and zoomed in so the gold content mark on the clasp is visible.

Using Photoshop Elements Crop Tool

Step 4: Enjoy The Fruits of Your Labor

Here is the final results. A nice product photo showing true color of the pearls on a nice, bright white background. Leaving a little bit of shadow in photographs adds a touch of reality to the product being featured as well. Since customers cannot touch and feel our products online, anything we can do to provide a sense of weight and depth helps close a sale.

Final Result

I hope you've enjoyed this quick tutorial and would love to hear your tips and tricks for white backgrounds.

Happy Day!

P.S. Many photo editors have an option to adjust the histogram. To find them, look for words like 'histogram,' 'curves,' and/or 'luminosity.' For those who take photos on their phones, a reader recommended Photoshop Express and Be-Funky Photo Editor and Collage Maker. Here, I'm going to walk through how to use a free photo editor for Microsoft computers called Photoscape. In Photoscape, there are two ways to adjust values in this software: by changing the Luminance Curve or by Brightening the photograph.

To change the Luminance Curve, select the down arrow next to the Bright,Color button, then select the Luminance tab. Then, drag the top point of the histogram to the left to brighten the photograph. This option will generally keep the subject colors closer to true. Try moving it to different places to see how the effect changes.

Adjust the Luminance Curve in Photoscape

To brighten the photograph, select the Bright,Color button, then move the Brighten slider to the right. This option is very easy to use, but will often wash out the subject as shown below. Try moving some of the other sliders to see how the effect changes.

Change the Brightness in Photoscape