My wife and I spent a big chunk of last year struggling with an overhaul of our Etsy shop's photography. Though we were satisfied with what we had, we felt that we could kick it up a notch. Unfortunately, neither of us is a photographer. Also unfortunately, jewelry photography is tricky! The tiny scale, the glare, the dust... the frustration. So we spent many months reading articles, asking opinions, experimenting with materials and techniques and, finally, settling on a whole new system that we are reasonably happy with. So I thought I'd share what we learned. Hopefully these tips will save someone from having to go through their own year of photography frustration.
THE SETUP: I use an inexpensive light tent and a white background. After using colorful papers, wood, and various types of stone and slate, I just use simple printer paper these days. Above the light tent I have a small LED light which gives off a white light that leans towards the bluer end of the spectrum, for a bright, clear light. To the left, I’ve got an incandescent white bulb (which gives off a somewhat yellower light) with a cloth filter over it (softening your light source is so important for cutting down glare on shiny metals and stones). This combination of light sources works well, keeping the piece from looking washed out and giving it a warmth that you might see in real life. You can certainly experiment with more indirect light, bouncing it off of reflectors, but I've found that to be too cumbersome for the tiny area I have allotted for photography.
You can find lots of options for tents and lights online (like this one, with a few fun extras), but I suggest asking around first. Most jewelers' photography setups go through several iterations before they finally settle on one that works for them, so you may get lucky and find that someone you know has just what you're looking for in the back of their closet.
CAMERA SETTINGS: Your camera doesn't have to be fancy (I use a secondhand Fuji S5100 with a broken battery door), but if your camera has no other bells and whistles it must have a good super-macro feature. I couldn't do without it. Beyond a good macro, even the simplest cameras today have lots of settings to fiddle with. Don’t be afraid to experiment with them to find the combination that gives you the best effect. Use the white balance if your camera has one. If your camera has an exposure compensation button (the little +/- button), use it to cut down glare on shiny pieces and compensate for a very dark or very light background. I have mine turned way up. It makes a big difference.
EDITING: Don’t feel you need to invest in a pricey Photoshop setup for your photo editing. There are lots of simple apps and free, open source editing software that will do everything you need. Even if you are just using the camera on your phone or tablet, plenty of apps will freshen up your photos for more professional results.
I use a photo editing app on my iPad called Photo Editor- (it's free!) It handles all the essentials: cropping, brightness, contrast, sharpness, etc. It can add filters and text, and its Blemish feature makes the dust and fibers you inevitably missed during your photo shoot disappear by simply touching the screen.
Next time I'll get into a few of the specifics we've learned about things like photographing stones, dealing with dust, and describing scale. Stay tuned!