Photographing Jewellery and Handmade Crafts

Guest post by Rossi Ignatova – SilverSense - Become a fan of Silversense on Facebook for more great tips like these on all aspects of making jewellery and setting up a jewellery making and design business. The photographs used in this post are taken by Rossi, the beads are available at Rossi's online UK Jewellery supplies shop.

Photographing Desire

Is taking pictures of your lovingly created products the least enjoyable task for you? Are you at loss as to how to make your lovely handmade crafts and jewellery visually attractive in photos? Read on to find out how emotions can help you shape your product photography concept.

There are so many product photography tutorials on the internet. You can find it all – from the most detailed technical explanation to the tip sheets with best practices – with a single web search. You read the recommendations, acquire (according to budget) lights and props and set about to take pictures of your handmade crafts.

And here you may hit a hurdle. As, no matter how hard you try, no matter how many times you read the online advice and no matter how beautiful your creations are, the pictures come out boring and flat.

Don’t get frustrated and certainly don’t toss the camera away, as I once almost did. Just for a moment forget the technical side of things. Now sit and relax – grab (if you want) a cup of tea! Then look at your product – isn’t it simply stunning? The gleaming beads, the rough cut gemstones, the rugged surface of the hammered copper sheet? 

If you had seen it in an online shop, wouldn’t you have wanted to reach out and touch it through the screen, wouldn’t you have imagined it draped round your neck or wrists, wouldn’t you have desired to wear it to a special event? To put it quickly in your shopping basket, pay for it and be happy in the knowledge that this special handmade product is just yours?

Let me take you out of your reverie here! To put it bluntly – you have hit the nail on the head. You have made a desirable product and you need to communicate this desire to your potential clients. Your main tool to achieve this is your product photography.

So, before you get overwhelmed by all the technical photo taking details, start thinking in terms of emotions. What is the most salient emotion you associate with your handmakes? Are they playful pieces to set their wearer apart? Are they high value pieces giving their wearer that exclusive touch? What is the setting you imagine your product being worn in?

Get clear and specific in your head. Jot down emotive keywords. For example, when I worked on the pictures of our findings and beads, my list contained: irresistible, high quality, difficult to find, sexy, different and crisp.
According to your product, you may come up with lists such as:

  • mystery, allure, feminine, exquisite; dreamy; or
  • raw, powerful, rugged, precious; unique; or
  • fun, everyday, light, unusual; funky and so on.

Once you have come up with your own list of keywords, start your photography session by setting the scene.  Decide on your background. For example a simple white infinite background works well for us, as it sets out the beads, highlights their lovely colours and helps us produce crisps and detailed pictures. You may want to pick a different colour for your background so as to complement your emotive keywords list and the style of your handmakes. For example, I love the look of handforged metal jewellery on a natural surface, like slate or wood.  Think about your props – both visible and invisible. I try to shoot without visible props as they detract the attention from the beads, but I use a lot of props that stay out of the picture, but help me hang things from or straighten strands with.

Think about the layout

Think about the layout of the product. Are you draping it, hanging it, layering it or simply leaving it to lie flat? Would you stretch the chain or curve it slightly? Would you position the two earrings parallel to each other or would one of them be turned to the side? Play around with the different options. See which positions fit best with your emotive keywords and make a mental note of them.  For example, I love to layer the strands of beads, so that they look three-dimensional in photos and I love to take an extra picture with the strands slightly curved so as to give jewellery makers an idea how the beads would look strung in a gorgeous necklace.

Experiment with different angles

Once you are clear about your layout, get your camera in hand and experiment with different angles.  An angle in a photograph is like a point of view in a conversation. The topic is the same, but how you approach it makes all the difference in communication. You may come across as charming or you may bore her to death. So, start thinking of your photos as a visual conversation you have with your potential clients and try to capture their attention in the best possible way. Basic angles you may wish to explore are from above, straight on, from the left, from the right, profile. Then start to move the camera slightly up and down and sideways. Keep looking at the viewer.  For example, I love the slightly from the right and slightly from the left angles, as they add a visual interest and make the eye of the viewer follow the lines of the photographed product.

Emphasise the detail

Don’t forget to emphasise the detail.  Get closer to your piece and take pictures of what really makes it stand apart – a beautiful clasp, a neatly woven wirework, a hammered surface, an irregularly shaped stone. These add value to your piece and make the potential client appreciate your skills. As the viewer can’t touch your creation, close-up photos help her gain a better understanding of the piece and how it would look on her, thus increasing her desire to actually own it.  Sometimes I place the camera so close to our beads, that they almost touch the lens. This helps me create slightly exaggerated but clear close ups, which show detail in a pure and crisp way.

Once you have a clear idea on the four topics above, get snapping away. Take several pictures from all possible angles that you thought of. Then leave the camera aside for at least a day. Busy yourself with something else. This will give you time to disassociate yourself from the pictures and to look at them objectively. When you are ready to look through them, keep in mind the list with emotive keywords you created at the start of our exercise and for each picture ask yourself: Is it in line with the keywords’ list? Does it communicate desire to the viewer? 

Make a note of the layouts and angles that work (delete ruthlessly all the rest!) and in future focus on them in your photo taking time. This will speed up the process and will create a consistent approach. It will also ensure that photo taking won’t be yet another boring task, but an opportunity to creatively emphasise your handmade products and how irresistible and desirable they are.

We'd love to hear your feedback about this post - are you inspired to improve your own product shots?

You can follow more of Rossi's excellent tips over at her facebook page - where Jewellery makers are encouraged to post images of their latest creations too!