How To: Photograph Jewelry For Catalogs

As a commercial photographer, I specialize in product, food, and architecture. One of the products we've been shooting a lot of lately is jewelry, specifically jewelry for catalog use. In my opinion, jewelry is one of the hardest things to photograph, and many photographers don't know where to start. Whenever we're tasked with photographing shiny,reflective, spherical objects, our studio sounds like a group of sailors on leave with all the profanity flying around (often times strung together to make complete sentences). We push on, moving through a series of techniques that yield the results we're after and we make mental notes for the next time we're presented with a similar challenge. It's how we better ourselves as photographers, and it's that challenge that gets me out of bed in the morning. In this video, I wanted to share some of the techniques we use to photograph those shiny, reflective, spherical objects for catalog use.

We approach catalog photography a bit differently than "hero" or advertising photography. The images are generally going to be much smaller and need to be consistent with work either from the same batch, or previous shoots. When it comes to catalog photography, the goal is to be efficient. We want to present a clean, uniform look that allows the client to use any of the images interchangeably. We also want to show as much of the product as possible to give the viewer a solid idea of what they're potentially buying. With catalog photography, the attention to detail is typically not as critical as advertising imagery, nor is the retouching as refined (efficiency is key), therefore the budgets are typically smaller per image. Another thing that keeps the cost down is the limited usage, typically licensed for just catalog use, whereas a hero image could be licensed for magazine ads, website, billboards, etc.

We don't use light tents, instead we prefer to build our own sets based on the specific characteristics of the pieces we're photographing. I find that by customizing the set, I get a lot more control and can create a better looking image for my client. We generally shoot like-items in series so we don't have to change the set around as often between pieces (efficiency is key). Working with very shallow DOF, we often use a technique called "focus stacking" to blend multiple expsosures into a single image using Helicon Focus, specialized software designed to find the sharpest portions of a group of images and blend them together.

In this video I'll walk you through the gear we use (who doesn't love a good BTS), some of our easiest techniques to capture simple jewelry images for catalog use, and show you how to fashion some of your own props to assist in those captures.