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  1. #1

    Default A photography guide by a newbie for newbies

    Well, I?ve learned (and continue to learn) a great deal here, so I decided I would try to contribute something useful to the forum. This is my little guide to photographing your pearls (and other jewelry). I will try use things that most of you may have around, or could pick up relatively cheaply.

    First, we make our photography studio. When taking pictures of anything reflective, it is useful to set up a ?light box.? If you have ever made a tent from a sheet as a child, you should be able to handle this. You can see my makeshift light box below.

    I have used a white sheet draped over a frame (the legs of a drafting table for me, but use your imagination), and three lights. There are two incandescent lights; one aimed at the top and one at the side. These create nicely diffused lighting inside the box. Then, I have a small gooseneck halogen desk lamp inside the box. This will create a controlled shadow, and make a nice reflection point in any reflective surface. On the bottom of the box I have a white pillow case (freshly ironed). I also have a mini tripod (a must have and I?ll explain why later). And last but not least, our subject placed in the middle of the box. For this guide I am using an abalone shell.

    Now for a crash course in photography. The three important things to know about are shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. Shutter speed refers to how long the shutter remains open, the aperture refers to how large the shutter opens, and the ISO (film speed) refers to how sensitive the film (or light sensor in a digital camera) is to light.

    Now that you know that, how should you set up your camera? Well if your camera has a little bit of manual control, I?ll tell you what I recommend. If it?s a fairly basic one, just do the best you can. Just consult your users manual as you may be surprised what your little digital camera can actually do! First the ISO. Since we are shooting in a well lit environment, and we have a tripod (Didn?t I say you would need it?), we can use the LOWEST ISO setting available. This will give us the best quality pictures.

    Okay now for aperture. I recommend using a semi-manual mode on your camera called ?aperture priority? mode. It will probably be denoted by an ?A? on the mode selection of your camera. Also, the funny thing about aperture is the bigger the shutter opens, the smaller the ?f number? or ?f stop,? which is what you actually set on the camera. What you set the aperture to really depends for the effect you are going for. A large aperture, or small f number, creates a shallow depth of field. This means that a small depth in your picture will be in sharp focus. It may be hard to understand, but I have included a picture to demonstrate.

    I have focused on the front lip of the shell, and you can see with a small f number, the rear of the shell isn?t in focus, and for a large f number it is. As I said before, you should set the aperture according to which of these effects you are going for.

    And for shutter speed? The nice thing about using aperture priority mode is that your camera will automatically figure out which shutter speed to use! The one thing I want to mention is that if you are using a low ISO (as I recommend) and a large f number, the shutter speed will probably be too long to hand hold your camera (unless you have SUPER steady hands). So I want to reiterate: USE A TRIPOD! Also, if your camera has a self portrait timer, set it for a second or two. That will make sure that you don?t shake the camera in the tripod when you push the button.

    Now take your pictures! Experiment with different positioning of the light inside the box to get different shadow effects and light reflections. Also, experiment with different positioning of your pearls. Remember, don?t worry too much about what you are catching in the frame of your picture because you can always crop it down later.

  2. #2


    As for post-processing? You don?t need an expensive photo editing program. If you?ve got one that has a paintbrush, a cropping feature, and brightness and contrast control, you will probably be able to get by. Below is a picture I took as it came from the camera.

    Then, I used a paintbrush tool to make a pure white background. The more time you spend on this step, the better results you will get. Also, when we adjust the brightness later it will make the leftover off-white background less noticeable. At this point you would also crop the picture as needed.

    Finally, I tweak the brightness and contrast of the photo a little to get my finished product. It?s not the best picture I?ve ever taken, but I did better on some of the pictures on my website. It was easier to capture the darker colored pearls than the light colored abalone.

    Well, that was my attempt at writing a guide! If you have any other tips or suggestions please feel free to add them. Otherwise, go out there and take some pictures of your beautiful jewelry so you can make us all DROOL!

    Happy photographing!

  3. #3


    Quick question about the post-processing part: do you feel that the colors in the picture are realistic? I am asking because the background in the photo has a distinct shift towards red/purple, on my screen. Removing it manually down to near-zero saturation to fit the known white background used for the picture, changes everything, of course. But without the shell right here to look at, I couldn't know whether the camera just distorted the color of the background, or everything.

    With said color correction, the image looks like this:

    The one turned white by adding contrast and lighting tone looks a bit 'over-exposed' to me, it is there mostly to demonstrate the lack of saturation achieved by turning the background a neutral gray (by color overlay) to begin with.
    Last edited by Valeria101; 12-11-2006 at 09:47 AM.

  4. #4


    I know what you mean about the background, however, I don't think it was a color balance issue. Because there is so much white in the picture, it is messing with the camera's white balance. It has attempted to shift the exposure of the picture to a more neutral gray, but I don't think it has shifted the color balance.

    In my oppinion, one shouldn't play with the color balance, hue, or saturation when post processing a photograph of pearls, because you can end up with an unrealistic looking picture. And yes, the colors of the shell are realistic in my picture. The two that you posted have removed all of the different colors that I can see when looking at the shell. Remember, it's an Abalone shell which is known for having many different colors.

    With darker pearls, I was able to shift the background to pure white by adjusting the brightness and contrast, but with this lighter colored shell, I could not do it without making the shell over exposed. That is why I "painted" most of the background out.

    However, to answer your question again. The colors appear to be very realistic... at least on my monitor which is a laptop LCD panel. Thanks for your input!

  5. #5


    Thanks! That is good to know... the tintend (or hand-bleached) backgrounds made me more than once wonder whether pictures were tampered with in a clumsy way.

  6. #6
    Cam Hatch


    Thanks for the basics Peter! Though I do have a question for you (or anyone for that matter)....

    I'm lucky enough to have an ImageDOME, a great piece of equipment that diffuses the light and holds your camera in a bracket above the piece. I know pearls are the most difficult things to shoot and when you have a great pearl with unbelievable luster the camera just doesn't know what to focus on....but, without the aid of post-processing, is there any way to not reflect the image of the camera and the imagedome in every pearl?

    Thanks again!

  7. #7


    I don't see it possible without post-processing. However, if you use a single light inside of the image dome so that you get one point reflection of direct light, it may make the camera's reflection less noticable.

    However, I'm not really sure...

  8. #8
    Super Moderator Senior Pearl Expert jshepherd's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2004
    Marina del Rey, CA


    In order to rid yourself of the camera reflection you need one more piece to that puzzle. The secret is a macro telephoto lens. If you are seeing the reflection you are likely shooting with only the macro setting. It works well, and is much less expensive, but you will have the lens reflection.
    The freshwater picture below was shot with this type of lens from 5 feet away.
    Attached Images Attached Images  
    Last edited by jshepherd; 12-18-2006 at 04:33 PM.

  9. #9
    Cam Hatch


    Hi Everyone

    Thanks for your replies.

    Zeide I agree to a point, while I limit my post-processing to maybe changing a shadow or lightening the background colour, I would never touch the surface of the pearl. But on the other hand, I don't want everyone to be able to see the brand of my camera!

    I'll look into the telephoto lens, thanks Jeremy!


  10. #10
    First-graft Pearl Senior Guide Member Cathybear's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Australia's Top End


    Thank you very much for that guide. I photograph in my living room on the coffee table, it is a narrow room with two windows opposite each other. Before 10am and after 3pm it seems to be brightest but no sun falls upon it, I'm in the tropics and the light can be quite harsh. I've only used Automatic and Natural on my camera (I found colours are more true using automatic) but I haven't tried other settings (I will now! LOL). White pearls often come out grey, they are very difficult!
    I will play around and see what happens