Plain Backgrounds for Jewelry Photography - dummies

By Thomas Clark

A plain background is ideal for photographing reflective and detailed products like jewelry. It minimizes distraction and maximizes the attention drawn to your subject. Plain backgrounds reveal finer details in subjects like pieces of jewelry, which tend to be works of art themselves and don’t require supporting elements to add interest in a photograph.

You have various options for surface materials, and each offers different qualities. Some of the things you need to consider when choosing a surface material include:

  • Shadow or no shadow: You can cast your subject’s shadow on a matte surface but not on a reflective surface.

  • Reflection or no reflection: If you want to include a reflection of your subject, you need to make sure your shooting surface is reflective.

  • Tone and color: Having a variety of surfaces for tone and color enables you to accommodate more subjects properly. A white shooting surface works well for many subjects, but sometimes a darker surface works better to reveal the detail you’d like to emphasize. Colored surfaces can create a mood or feeling or add visual contrast.

    Colors that exist at opposite ends of the color spectrum create contrast when used in combination with one another. You can make a blue gemstone stand out vibrantly by photographing it against a yellow background. To create contrast for a green subject, choose a purple background. Choose color combinations that are closer to each other in the color spectrum to create a more subtle image with less color contrast.

Here is a list of different shooting surface options and the qualities they contain:

  • Paper: An affordable matte surface material, paper enables you to cast your subject’s shadow or not (depending on your lighting style). You can easily form it into a seamless background, and if a spot gets dirty, you can cut it off and roll out a clean section to work with. Paper doesn’t produce a reflection of your subject.

  • Acrylic glass (commonly referred to by one of its trademark names, Plexiglas): Acrylic glass is a reflective material and so eliminates the shadow of your subject, providing its reflection instead. Acrylic glass is more affordable than glass, and it’s more flexible.

  • Glass: Quality glass is not as cheap, light, or flexible as acrylic, but it can provide much cleaner reflections. Glass is ideal if you’re serious about optimizing the quality of your images. You can either paint the bottom side of your glass to achieve a specific tone or color, or simply position the glass on a surface with the tone or color of your choice.

  • Cloth: Cloth is similar to paper in that it can provide shadows (or not) and it doesn’t provide a reflection of the subject. Cloth has to be cleaned if it gets dirty and must remain taut in order to avoid creases and wrinkles (which can create distractions or cause a photograph to appear flawed).

  • Combining surface materials: To create the most versatility in your studio, purchase rolls of paper in multiple tones and colors. You can then purchase one clear piece of glass or acrylic. If you first set up a seamless background with the paper material, you can add the reflective material or take it away depending on whether you want to include your subject’s reflection in your composition.

    This image shows a subject photographed with its reflection (by adding glass to the set).