Land of Odds - Jewelry Design Center

Photographing Your Work
Ellen Sutherland

Photographying Your Work
by Ellen Sutherland

An introduction to the basics of taking photographs and slides of jewelry and small scale art. The points below are based on the resources listed in the right-hand column, as well as my personal experience as a professional art-photo photographer.


...A 35mm, (SLR) 'Single Lens Reflex' camera with through the lens metering system (TTL)

...The SLR camera allows you to see through the viewfinder the object (beadwork or jewelry) that will be recorded on the film and to make reflected light meter readings.

...A manual camera is a must!...if you are buying an automatic camera make sure it has a manual need to manually control f-stop, exposure time and film speed rating.



...You are strongly urged to buy and use a shutter release cable and to use the timer on your camera to avoid vibration or camera shake from advancing the film and pressing the shutter button.

...With the use of these two precautions, the vibration from handling the camera has time to stop and you get a sharp shot of your beadwork.


...You will need a macro lens (a 50mm macro lens -- fifty millimeter macro lens is one choice).

...A macro lens allows you to get really close shots to isolate and get the details of your beadwork.

...In most cases, other lenses dictate that the camera must be about three fee away from the object...this is really not worth the trouble...invest in a macro lens!


...A gray card is used to determine a reflective light meater reading. These help you get the average meter reading. For example, if your piece of jewelry has some parts that are very shiny and glitzy, and other parts that are shadowy, matte or recessed, you want to get a reading of reflected light that is average, and not scewed in either direction.

...Gray cards are available at photo stores.

...COLOR-AID 18 percent gray paper can be used.

...NOTE: The palm of your hand is about the same tonal range as a gray card, and will give you a reasonable meter reading if you don't have a gray card around.


...Now that you have a decent camera, you need a tripod!

...Be prepared to spend some money!

...The tripod should be sturdy, heavy and easy to use.

...Should be designed so that when released the legs drop under their own weight...ELIMINATE THE FIDDLE FACTOR!



...An alternate set up for shooting down on flat bead work is a copystand.


...Use daylight balanced photofloods ('blue bulbs' --- $2.00 to $10.00 dollars per bulb)... You will need light stands with clamp-on lights with diffusion screening such as Mylar when using daylight film types. (Example: FUJICHROME: PROVIA 100 -- a daylight film, and my film of choice)... Be sure to have spare bulbs on hand for the inevitable burn outs! -- these burn out quickly... Plug all lights into an extension cord with an on/off switch? -- saves time and money and sanity!

...Clamp-on lights from the hardware store are possible alternative to professional equipment. Spun silver clamp on lights with ceramic sockets would be a cheaper alternative to the photo floods setup.

...If you are using tungsten lighting with daylight film, you need to use a blue filter (80A or 80B) on the camera lens. Otherwise, the colors would end up too yellow.

...Remember to turn off any other sources of light in the room when you are shooting... Incandescent or fluorescent lighting nearby can affect the colors in your shots. Don't let any stray light come in.

...The drop shadow system uses three main light sources: two 250 watt photofloods (above and on the sides) and one 500 watt photoflood above... In the illustrations above, note the angles of the lights -- 2 at 45 degrees, and 1 at 90 degrees.


...It is best to choose a neutral background... The point of taking these shots is to emphasize the beadwork or piece of jewelry.

...Leave out velvets, props, rocks, the cat, the dog, your adorable child, textured cloth and the like.

...Keep it simple: white, gray or black backgrounds. Some pieces will not look good on white; some won't look good on black; gray works well with most pieces. You do not want background to distract from the piece.

...Use fadeless paper -- white, black or gray -- and overlay with tracing paper if you need to knock down the shine.

... Invest in a can of pressured air. Use this to get rid of stray cat hairs, dog hairs, your own hairs, dust and the like.



...Use 100 or slower ASA.

...COLOR NEGATIVE FILM: (DAYLIGHT) -- FUJICOLOR (rich red, blue and green base)


...KODACHROME... has to be sent to KODAK to be processed which is a 7-10 day turnaround at best.

...When entering shows and sending slides/photographs to galleries, shoot extras or have duplicates made of the original ... Don't send your original.

...Have slides mounted in plastic.

...Have the processor number the slides....Can also have name and phone #, etc. imprinted on the mount. When submitting, be sure it is clear which side is UP, and which side is FORWARD.

...Take at least 3 shots of each piece. ...Bracket your shots -- one at meter reading, one under, one over. ... Some people take 5 shots of each piece -- one at meter reading, one at 1/2 under, one at 1 under, one at 1/2 above, one at 1 above meter reading.

...PICK EQUIPMENT, A SHOOTING SYSTEM AND A FILM-- THEN STICK WITH IT! -- BECOME VERY COMFORTABLE WITH IT! This cuts down on your expense and your insane time.


This is very important for shots of beadwork and jewelry. You want everything in focus. No fuzzy areas.

...For jewelry shots, you need deep depth of field... You want to get everything in focus.

...Remember the higher the number (example: f22) for the f-stop, the smaller the aperture...Consequently, less light.

...The smaller the f-stop, the longer your exposure time. Example, for F22, you might expose for 8 seconds.

...Sharpness is determined by the f-stop... you need for the entire piece of beadwork or jewelry to be in focus .. this is not a glamour shot!



...Shutter speed is measured in seconds. The f-stop and the shutter speed work together to give you an exposure.

...Remember, use a slower shutter speed (example 8 seconds) for higher f-stops (example f-22).

...My set up (35mm Canon A1 -- 50mm macro lends with an 80B blue filter -- copystand -- 4 GE REALA 100 watt bulbs -- FUJICHROME PROVIA 100) set at f-22 for 8 seconds.




...Composition is an essential part of taking photographs and slides of beadwork...The principles are very similar to composing a drawing or a painting....Use an empty slide mount or a piece of paper with a viewfinder window cut in it to look at shapes, experiment with relationships of line, harmony, balance and weight. Use a rectangular shaped view finder because the slide image comes back as a rectangle.

Empty Slide Mount

...Look at bead and jewelry magazine photos and try to determine what kinds of decisions were made by the photographer.

...The more neutral the background for beadwork shots the better...Keep the emphasis on the beadwork!

...Remember that the beadwork is a three dimensional object and that the slide is a flat plane in which the beadwork must be composed and sit pleasingly to the eye.

...Leave a small margin of space around all sides of the beadwork...Remember that the slide mount will take up some of this space, so don't crop too tight.




...Find a porch with a white wall, white ceiling and cement floor.

...Use a neutral background (white, gray or black -- whatever works with the piece of beadwork or jewelry)

...Use a manual camera with a macro lends, timer mode and cable release for the shutter button.

...Use a very sturdy tripod...high f-stop...slow shutter speed...meter off the palm of your hand for neutral gray reading.

...Bracket your shots. (Take at least 3 shots of the piece -- at the meter reading, 1 below and 1 above)

...Use large pieces of white cardboard or foam core to bounce light.

...Use daylight film w/slow ASA rating. The slower the film, the better your color saturation.



...Keep a record of your, date, name or description of the piece of beadwork, film, film speed, frame number, f-stop, shutter speed, etc. ..Believe me, you wont' remember! ...Write it down!





Collins, Sheldon, HOW TO PHOTOGRAPH WORKS OF ART. New York: Amphoto/Watson-Guptill, 1992

Lewton-Brain, Charles, SMALL SCALE PHOTOGRAPHY: HOW TO TAKE GREAT SHOTS OF YOUR WORK . Calgary, Alberta: Brain Press LTD, 1996

Meltzer, Steve, PHOTOGRAPHING YOUR CRAFTWORK: A HANDS-ON GUIDE FOR CRAFTSPEOPLE: Seattle: Madrona: Crafts Report Books, 1986

Rosen, Wendy, CRAFTING AS A BUSINESS, Baltimore, MD: The Rosen Group, inc., 1998

Saddington, Roger, THE QUICK & EASY GUIDE TO PHOTOGRAPHING YOUR ARTWORK. Cincinnati, OH: NorthLight Books, 2003

Meltzer, Steve, What Do Jurors Want? The Crafts Report, April 2001.

Winter, John. Low Budget Photography: Part I & Part II: Affordable Suggestions for Designing Your Own Studio. Lapidary Journal, Sept 2002 & October 2002.




Tips on Purchasing a Used Camera
(from The Tennessean, Monday, July 14, 2003, based on information from National Camera Exchange and Video,

1. Check shutter speeds - does the shutter fire at all shutter speeds? Look particularly for a slowing of shutter speeds, which will be most noticeable at the higher settings
2. Check meter accuracy -- Use another camera for comparison. Keep in mind that few cameras will be exactly the same.
3. Check lens aperture -- Make sure it stops down all the way. It should be lightning quick. There should be no oil on the blades. If there is an aperture coupling pin, it should move smoothly and quickly.
4. Check focus -- Make sure camera focuses at both the minimum focus distance at at infinity. The focus ring should move smoothly, but not be loose.
5. Check the cosmetics --- Look for dings, dents, scratches and ID numbers that have been engraved into the equipment (they reduce value)
6. Check for water damage -- Look for rust, corrosion, and water spots in the lends. Smell the equipment for mold or mildew.
7. Check the battery compartment -- look for cracks and corrosion
8. Check the flash sync
9. Check the lens -- look for scratches, fungus, mildew, and internal dust
10. Check the self-timer
11. Check the ISO dial (ASA in older models) -- Make sure that it turns easily and that it actually affects the light meter.
12. Check the film counter - does it reset?
13. Check on battery availability -- Some of the older-style batteries are no longer manufactured or have been banned because of their contents.

East model of camera and each individual camera, will have things that are not on the list, which need to be checked. Consult the camera manufacturer for specifics for their product.


What Do Jurors Want?
(From article by Steve Meltzer, listed above under RESOURCES) 

"When you present jurors a coherent body of work focused on the work you do best, you maximize your chances of getting into shows."

"10 Jury Slide Do's and Don'ts"
1. Always have the work presented as large as possible
2. Use simple backgrounds
3. Limit each slide to showing one object
4. Light for impact
5. Select colors for impact. Dark colors do not show up on screens in most jurying settings.
6. Make sure that at least three-fourths of the work is in very sharp focus
7. Don't fill the picture with extraneous items
8. Never submit a slide that is dirty or scratched
9. Don't submit images of work that is blemished
10. Present work as dramatically as you can without getting hokey.


How About Scans and Digital Images?

Slides are the preferred medium of presenting your work, because these give the best representations. However, some galleries, craft shows and other venues that typically have requested only slides, are now accepting digitized images as well.

For digitized images, you will want to scan or shoot them at 300dpi or greater, and save them as a .jpg or .tif file.


As always, Warren & James wish you the best success in your business, and jewelry-making endeavors.



If you have any other questions about photographing your work, please email us or call.

We'd be happy to answer your questions.

Warren Feld or James Jones

Land of Odds