Last month, I was sadly interrupted in the middle of a photography session by the untimely death of my Canon G10 camera. It's been my trusty go-to camera for over six years, having taken tens of thousands of beady pictures as well as photos from four continents. While it's served me quite well, I took the opportunity to upgrade to the new G16 model. I have to say that I'm quite happy with it!
I took this shot using my usual setup and camera settings. Other than the watermark, this photo wasn't subjected to any additional post-processing.
I love how clear and crisp this photo is! For reference, I took this photo with my phone of what my photography setup looked like when I took this shot:
Nowadays I use a light tent from Table Top Studio, as well as four lamps with daylight-spectrum bulbs from the hardware store. I've seen good beadwork photography results with natural lighting and open set photography setups, but my schedule doesn't always permit me to take photos during the daytime, so the light tent/light box setup is the setup that's worked for me. A bright white sheet of paper serves as the backdrop, and in this photo I used a simple white gravy boat as a prop.
I learned long ago that my beadwork photos look best under custom camera settings, which required me to learn about many of the more advanced features on the G10. There was a learning curve and it took lots of tinkering, but once I settled on the optimal settings I programmed them into the camera. Since then I've usually used the same settings ever since. Fortunately, the camera menus on the G16 are very similar to those of the G10, so I was able to program it relatively easily.
(For those who are curious about the nitty gritty camera details, I usually shoot in aperture priority mode with the aperture closed all the way down (f/8.0 on the G16), which keeps as much of the beadwork as possible in focus. To keep the noise down I use an ISO of 80-200, and since I shoot about six inches to a foot away from the beadwork, I use the macro focus mode (I had to set this manually on the G10, but the G16 does this automatically). For photos with white backgrounds, I usually have to adjust the exposure bias to +1 1/3 or + 1 2/3. I use the camera's custom white balance setting with the background as a reference to get the backgrounds as clean as possible, though this usually requires some additional adjustment in post-processing. I shoot at the maximum possible resolution to get as much detail as possible (and because storage media is inexpensive, so why not?). Finally, since these settings result in relatively long exposure times (1/5-1/20 of a second), I use a tripod and a manual shutter release (i.e. a remote control) to avoid any "camera shake" from holding the camera while taking the shot)
The detail with this new camera is just amazing! Check out this shot of a PRAW-5 beaded tube:
When you zoom in, you can see every speck of detail on the matte metallic fire polish beads, as well as the braids in the Fireline thread that I used to stitch this sample. I don't think that I'll ever see Fireline quite the same way again...
Since my light tent sits on a metal surface, I can get some interesting shots of pieces that use magnetic clasps. You might remember this "bracelet gymnastics" shot of this QuadraTile Sweet Bun bracelet:
I tried taking the same shot with a Poinsettia bracelet, which uses the same magnetic clasp, but the beadwork has much more drape (i.e. less stiffness) than the QuadraTile Sweet Bun bracelet.
The result was not quite as impressive... It turns out that, oddly enough, flexible bracelets are not as good at bracelet gymnastics ;)
Finally, while I currently use a Table Top Studio light tent, my first two light boxes were handmade. I made the first one in 2008 out of a cardboard box and tissue paper. Here's a picture of it with Zero the cat:
Unfortunately, one day Zero decided to re-model this light box into a ball of torn-up tissue and cardboard, so I had to build another one. I built the second one out of PVC piping and wedding dress fabric, which ended up being much sturdier and just as effective. Zero approved of it too.
I splurged on the light tent when I decided to upgrade to a larger setup. So far, I've kept Zero from exploring it.
What kind of setup do you prefer for jewelry photography? Have you explored all the features of your camera? Drop me a line in the comments :)