Selling Handmade Jewelry Online: Tips for Great Photography

16 Nov 2011

It doesn't matter how long you've been making jewelry and getting compliments on it from friends and strangers--it's still scary to sell your jewelry, to put your work out there for the world to see! I'll never forget the last few days before I opened my shop on Etsy. I'd been making jewelry to sell in it for weeks; I'd enlisted all my friends on Facebook to help me pick a "cute Southern name" (thanks for Southern Baubelles, Dawn!); and I'd been collecting unique props to use in the pictures. The fear and anticipation were intense!

 
This sparkly gem with large flat facets was nearly impossible to photograph in sunlight, as you can see!
After taking measurements and writing copy filled with important details and keywords to help searchers find my handmade jewelry, I set up a little photo studio at home and snapped away for hours. I'd spent the previous few years working in the e-commerce division of a jewelry company, so I knew the importance of getting good photos from multiple angles to give potential customers as much information about each piece as possible. I also knew that I needed to show the jewelry on a model as well as off.

 
I love the bright red in my apple shots in the park.
Literally hundreds of photos later, I spent hours upon hours sorting, cropping, and tweaking photos. All that I thought I knew about photographing jewelry was true and helpful--but there was plenty I didn't know, such as how harshly bright sunlight glares on faceted gemstones and tanned skin (my beautiful mother served as my model) and how many little things show up that you don't want to see (such as lint and fingerprints--and whatever might be in the background that you forgot was there) when you're zooming in to show the little details that you do want to see (such as the luster of a pearl or the intricate details of a clasp). I ended up having to retake the photos for several pieces--sometimes more than once--learning by trial and error what worked and what didn't.

I learned which times of day provide the best light (early evening was bright enough for good photos but not so bright that reflections and glare were an issue--plus since it was summer in the South, we didn't have to suffer through the hottest part of the day!) and to shield my model with an umbrella when the light was still too bright (which also provided shade to keep her cool). I discovered that hanging earrings on a glass just caused too many reflections and finally found props I liked for earrings--peaches in spring and summer, apples in fall and winter. They kept with my Southern theme and were readily available for little expense.

     
Before I got a photo of my signature piece to look like this . . . I had to go through all of this! Mother-of-pearl has such pretty iridescence, I worked hard to capture it along with the carving in the flower.

 
I loved the pretty sunset-like colors and Southern feel created by using a peach in my photos.

I also found the perfect outdoor place for taking photos; it was a picnic area in a national park near my house, with tall trees to diffuse the sunlight but still allow plenty of natural light on my jewelry. It has picnic tables made out of a neutrally colored material that was just dull enough not to reflect too much but shiny and textured enough to be interesting. The simple and neutral surface was the perfect contrast to shiny metals and colorful gemstones. The picnic tables provided seating for me and a photography tabletop surface all in one that were just the right height and size for me. It was also peaceful, pleasant, and breezy there, even in July, which allowed me to take photos for hours without getting tired or tired of it. The background was no longer an issue, either; I had tree bark, forest, and a creek to choose from.

 
After photo editing and lighting practice, this one turned out just right--nice light, pretty skin, just enough shine, and gorgeous pops of color.
At times when hard light still created too much glare (such as on large shiny stones with large facets or flat surfaces), I employed a photography trick I learned from a gemstone photographer I had worked with: a simple piece of paper held over the jewelry blocks just enough light to prevent the glare.

 
For more tips and instructions for taking perfect photos of your jewelry (and other crafts), check out our new book The Crafter's Guide to Taking Great Photos by Heidi Adnum. It's packed full of information on photography basics such as light, camera settings (shutter speed, aperture, and more), styling and props, backgrounds and composition, and photography equipment such as light boxes and diffusers--but it also has chapters devoted to specifically taking photos of various crafty subjects (which I know my cross-crafting friends among you will love), such as knitting and needlecrafts, purses and accessories, fabric and fashion, pottery, toys and dolls, home decor--and of course, jewelry! The Crafter's Guide to Taking Great Photos ends with several chapters on photo editing, finishing, and storage, as well as the business of selling: branding, marketing, and social networking. Best of all, it includes information and tips from dozens of successful crafters who share our specific experiences in photographing and selling jewelry online.

How about you, have you learned any smart tips and tricks for photographing your jewelry? I'd love to hear in the comments below!


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Comments

on 16 Nov 2011 9:02 AM

Hi Tammy,

Excellent reminder........

You know, many of us seem to forget the simple things.  Your piece on photography was a wonderful reminder of the things I already know & forget to use.   I have a beautiful regional park about 5 miles from home & will go there today to re-shoot some of my pieces for sale.  

Thank you so much for your thoughts and time to share them with all of us!

susan@mris.com

on 16 Nov 2011 10:41 AM

OH my gosh, can I relate to the multiple photo taking! I've taken literally thousands of photos of my jewelry and thrown most away.

I can't wait to see the book. :)

KathyK330 wrote
on 16 Nov 2011 11:35 AM

Would you please elaborate on : "a simple piece of paper held over the jewelry blocks just enough light to prevent the glare."....uh...doesn't that just photo the paper?? Sorry, don't get it....

TammyJones wrote
on 16 Nov 2011 11:38 AM

Susan, you're welcome! And thanks for your kind comments. Enjoy the park! :o)

Chris, it's such a great book. I'm hooked on looking at the awesome work on Etsy--this book is full of such great work like that along with fabulous tips to help you make yours look just as great in photos! Enjoy it!

TammyJones wrote
on 16 Nov 2011 11:43 AM

Kathy, I'd be happy to! You're basically just using the piece of paper to make shade. It's smaller and easier to hold up and move around than an umbrella. You'll hold it (with your arm outstretched) over the piece but not between you and the camera; hold it up and in front of you and above your piece, or over your side/shoulder, depending on where the bright light is coming from. A piece of paper is lightweight and small enough to shade just the right spots without casting darkness on your whole piece. Does that help? I'm sorry I wasn't more clear.

KathyK330 wrote
on 16 Nov 2011 1:50 PM

Yes, very clear, just what I needed - thanks!

TammyJones wrote
on 16 Nov 2011 1:55 PM

Excellent! You're welcome :o) Thanks for reading JMD!

golden1 wrote
on 18 Nov 2011 12:18 PM

Hey Tammy,

Thank you so much...I so appreciated this article!  This is the "work part" of jewelry design for me...trying to capture what I see in photos!!!  

Thanks again for sharing this,

Marion

TammyJones wrote
on 18 Nov 2011 4:50 PM

My pleasure, Marion! I hope it proves helpful for you. Thanks for reading JMD!

:o)

on 19 Nov 2011 8:50 AM

This is a great article. I'm really looking forward to the book.

A friend and I are starting a business on Etsy soon and we both are complete dorks when it comes to photographing our pieces.

My husband has been using a grey t-shirt to use as a background-LOL! The pics come out good enough for me to post on my facebook photos but not to sell.

Thanks again!

~Renee

on 19 Nov 2011 9:40 AM

I would like to see someone tackle the square limitation format artist are stuck with with Etsy and Artfire.  Necklaces are normally long and need a portrait format. Breaking up photos for close up shots to show the work is fine but to see the actual beauty of the item in its entirety  a portrait shot is needed.

Discussing this with Etsy and Artfire has proven to fall on deaf ears. They both need to offer website page options that allow for portrait and landscape photos. I have yet to meet a camera that has a square view finder which is the criteria for the photos on both sites.

I believe Jewelry Artist are at a disadvantage with square formats and it hurts the integrity of the product and our sales. Both Etsy and Artfire needs to hear from us all to get the message across to the importance of changing the square requirements.

Anna_Gray wrote
on 19 Nov 2011 4:24 PM

@gilliansellman - I have 4 online stores, and 3 of them require square format. Why do you torture yourself fighting with the equipment? Frames were always used to compensate for an incorrect shape. Leave the photo rectangular as it is, and just fill in the missing space with the website background color. Any photo editing program will allow you to do that. I have hundreds of products in my stores. Do you think all my photos are square? :)

@Tammy - I envy your dedication. I would never in million years stretch myself so as to go to a park to photograph! :) I do it all at home. You all would probably laugh your heads off if you saw my photo studio; still, it produces good results. Tammy, try to take pictures of your earrings on a white (or black) glazed flower pot or cup, rather than on glass. You will see :).

Thanks for sharing interesting story and I think your Mother looks awesome.

Best,

Anna

on 20 Nov 2011 11:53 AM

Thank you for your wonderful articile. The picture taking part of my business is the part I dread the most. I been reading every photo tip I can find. I think my pictures are finally getting better. I bought a photo box but was using it in the house. And still pictures weren't very good. Finally figured out after taking hundreds of photos, I was using to much light. Once I set it in front of a window and quit using the lights that came with photo box, and just turn on a lamp a few feet away they got a lot better. Never thought about going to the park. Have one just a couple blocks away. Think I will go there and take some pictures.

Thanks

SandraJ@20 wrote
on 28 Nov 2011 9:43 AM

Tammy,  Great post.  You have several off-center focal pieces and I've had problems keeping this type of piece in  its place.  Do you have any tips about this problem?

TammyJones wrote
on 28 Nov 2011 11:16 AM

Thank you all for your great tips and comments! I'm so glad you've found this article helpful.

Sandra, sometimes using a counterweight on the other side of the necklace or near the clasp will help keep an off-center piece in place. When that doesn't work, I sometimes "cheat" and use just the tiniest dab of super glue or jeweler's adhesive on the cord before I slide a heavy or off-center focal piece into place, so that the glue ends up inside the bead. That has worked well for me so far! Hope it's helpful. There are also some tips for balancing jewelry and making pieces that wear well in this article:

www.jewelrymakingdaily.com/.../the-mechanics-of-jewelry-design-from-ancient-modern-polymer-clay-and-wire-jewelry.aspx

Good luck and thanks for reading JMD!

MimiDesign wrote
on 6 Jan 2012 9:31 AM

Hello!  Thank you very much for the article Tammy!

What I find most useful, is a tripod & the self timer for no shake. My cam has auto/manual functions. I use the highest dept of field (f8) to get as much sharpness for the back of a necklace when it is laid down or, sharpen only the front and blur the back with lower setting.

Also, 2 years ago, I invested in a lighting box (at Henry's, Canada under $200.), that has really helped control lighting. I bought 2-3 matte colored card-boards (artist store $4-$6) that fit inside & curl up the back of the box to shoot dark to light jewelry.

The most satisfying result was when a client came to see a piece (shiny & matte sterling with doming and a dark blue stone) and said "It is exactly as the photo on your site!". She bought it. I knew I had improved my photography and confirm how important good photography of my pieces was.

Hope this helps someone. Have fun!