For a few semesters now I’ve been teaching photography classes as Ivy Tech Community College here in Indianapolis.  The night that I teach varies depending on the semester, but the questions that I get each semester end up having some similarities based on the class topics; despite the class skill levels.  One of the most asked questions in any of these classes is about photographing Jewelry strangely enough.  I used to photograph a lot of Jewelry at the Indystar for magazine ads inside of our Carmel and Fishers magazines (which are now defunct).  I really enjoy shooting jewelery actually, and over the years have developed different techniques for doing so that have made things either easier, or painfully difficult.  Either way, the punchline has always been the same.  Having a Macro lens always helps, but if you want to shoot jewelry you need to learn to manage your reflections; but not always in the way that you think.

(Nikon D4, 320ISO, Nikon 60mmF2.8 NanoMacro, 1/400th@F7.1  Nikon SB-900 shot downward from the shelf above into a white piece of paper in the rainbow bowl in the background to create the reflection on the table and fill the light using the bounce cards in the front.  SB900 triggered by a Nikon SU-800 in the camera hot shoe.)

The image above was shot in the bathroom at Hoffmeister Jewelers here in Indianapolis.  Definitely  more of a Guerrilla effort at shooting jewelry.  They were looking for something with a little extra pizaz, or a little extra pop than just shooting on white.  Of course I shot on white first to make sure that shots did actually exists before we started experimenting, but at the same time this was something a little different to get going.  Check the setup shot here:

The white pieces of paper around the front of the ring work two fold in the bathroom, as well as the white piece of paper inside of the bowl on the counter.  The paper around the Ring are used for fill, but much  more importantly (and primarily) to make sure that the gold on the ring isn’t black.  The cards don’t have any direct light shot into them making them mostly used as reflection management.  They reflect in the rings gold surface so that the ring isn’t reflecting the bathroom itself.  You always shot jewelery on white, otherwise you start to lose pieces or it appears black thanks to being a reflective object.  I’ve been known to shoot Jewelry with restaurant menu’s, napkins, or even t-shirts when necessary in order to manage the reflections in a way that allows the jewelry to be seen.  The last reflection though?  The table the ring is on.  It’s a black granite slab which is highly reflective.  Why fight the reflection when you can use it right?

(Canon 1D Mark II, 50ISO, Canon EF100mm F2.8 Macro, 1/125th@F16.  Wescott Light tent, with two Dynalite 400s outside it.  1 set to 1/4th, and the other set to 1/2.  Both lights triggered by Pocket Wizard Plus II’s from on the camera)

Years ago when I shot that photo I was very pleased with it and myself.  I felt like I had finally shot a decent jewelry photo.  Looking back at it now I notice lots of things that I’d have done differently.  Almost worth recreating it, except I’m sure by looking at the photo you understand the scale of the ring, and know that on a photographers salary I probably couldn’t afford to rent it much less buy it for a shoot.  Since then though, I’ve learned things that I now push onto my students in class about reflections and shadows.  Sometimes you work so hard to eliminate things like that, but really in the end maybe you should really just let them work for you.

(Canon 1D Mark II, 200ISO, Canon EF100mF2.8 Macro, 1/250th@F22.  Single Dynalite 400 set to 1/8th power shot hard light over the camera’s back right of the frame to create the shadows on the paper and show the color of the Gem.  Dynalite triggered by Pocket Plus II from the camera)

Managing shadows and reflections vs eliminating them can be a hard choice.  You’ll make the wrong choice quite a bit too, it’s just a fact of the job.  No Photographer knows everything going into a shoot, especially what might go wrong or how things are going to turn out.  No photographer knows everything about all their gear either; as much as many would like to tout that they do.  Shooting reflective objects can keep you guessing every time, which also makes them a lot of fun; like shooting sports.  You don’t always know what’s going to happen, you only know what you should look for and see what you can do with it.

(Canon 5D Mark II, 125ISO, Canon EF100mmF2.8Macro, 1/200th@F10.  Single canon 580EX Speedlight shot into a white piece of the back of a For Sale sign behind the watch set to 1/1 power with two pieces of white computer paper held by my left hand in various places to manage reflections of myself, the office and the camera.  Speedlight fired by Pocket Wizard Plus II from on the camera)

Shot that tabletop in an office here at the Star.  Was sort of thrown it last minute, and with no preparation I shot it using a speedlight, a for sale sign, and two pieces of 8.5″x11″ computer paper.  When you know what to look for you can start experimenting and can do things much more quickly when in a bind.  It’s far from perfect as it needed to be cleaned a little more (much like the first shot in this post), and there are still a reflection that I can see myself in, but for 5 minutes worth of setup not inside of a real studio I can’t complain.  It’s funny what you’ll resort to when put on the spot.  This is another shot from Hoffmeister that I shot after I had put most of my gear away but saw something I liked.  Single speedlight, hard light with a sheet of computer paper to bring in the diamond.

(Nikon D4, 125ISO, Nikon 60mmF2.8Nano Macro, 1/200th@f11.  Single SB-900 shot from above the back of the ring hard light, into a white piece of paper to camera right held by my left hand from underneath the lens.  Speedlight triggered by Nikon SU-800 Commander unit from on the cameras hot shoe). 

In the end, lots of failures have fostered some knowlege.  I never really had anyone to explain it to me, I’ve just had to fail a lot in order to figure shooting Jewelery out and in the end I’m really not even all that good at it now; even knowing some of the basics.  Of course the real product photography folks work over at Amazon.  Yes, The has a photo studio here in Indianapolis that shoots nothing but product. These guys are ridiculous, and a shot like the one above wouldn’t’ come close to fitting their standards.  When it comes to managing reflections they are the Bomb Diggidy.  Also goes to prove that anything is possible in camera with the right amount of effort.  Check out the shot below, where you can see a lot of the flags and scrims used to make sure the shiny metal on the part stays shiny and isn’t lost.  How about that for lighting Kung Fu?  There is always another skill, there is always another project and there is always that next tough if not seemingly impossible job.  Hopefully even this very quick jewelry/post on reflections was some food for thought To anybody has ever sat and fought with shooting something shiny (as opposed to just be distracted by it…)  More Soon.

(Photo by Mike Guio, Copyright