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Lighting for Small Product Photography

Lighting for Photographing Jewelry and Small Products

Jewelry can make for a great-looking subject, but it can also be one of the toughest for beginning photographers to photograph. The process can be frustrating and time-consuming; but the better you are at applying proper techniques and the more experience you gain with the subject, the easier the process becomes.

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Adding lowlights to jewelry

Just like it reveals light sources as highlights, a reflective surface also reveals dark areas. You can use this effect to add aesthetic interest to a photograph.

Positioning a piece of black foam core so it appears in the subject’s surface lets you add contrast to the highlights. You can use this technique to help separate your subject from the background or simply to create a more dramatic depiction of your subject.

Check out this example; notice how adding the black lowlight causes the piece of jewelry to pop. Experiment with adding lowlights by looking through the camera’s viewfinder as you move the black foam core around the subject. Position it in a way that adds to revealing the form of the subject.

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100mm, 1/160, f/14, 200    100mm, 1/160, f/14, 200

Consider placing the black card so it’s visible at your subject’s edges to help create an outline of the subject’s form or shape. The idea here is to produce crisp, sharp lines that emphasize the natural lines that exist in the subject already. To create the most contrast, position the black cards right next to the white cards you use to create your highlights.

If you want to add contrast but don’t want the subject to appear too dramatic, then use a dark grey piece of foam core rather than a black one.

Creating a sparkle in reflective items

A hard light source (such as an un-accessorized flash or strobe) doesn’t do much for creating smooth highlights on a reflective subject, but it can be helpful in creating a sparkle.

If you position the light so that its reflection appears in the subject’s surface, it will look like a small spot of light similar to a sparkle. The farther you place the light from the subject, the smaller its reflection appears.

Photographers often incorporate hard light sources into their lighting setups to add a shine to diamonds or to create a spot of interest.

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Casting a shadow

You can add a hard light source to your lighting setup in order to cast a shadow from your subject onto the background surface. Doing so can add drama or a sense of place to an image.

Because they provide soft lighting, the techniques that you use to create highlights in reflective subjects don’t offer much in the way of shadows. You need a harder type of light to create a well-defined shadow.

By positioning your hard light source so it casts a shadow from the subject, you may be able to create sparkle and cast a shadow at the same time. This photograph shows an example of this technique.

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