Studio Musings

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Photographing my Bead Work

Macro photo from Freeform Peyote Beading
While I won't claim to be a photography expert, I have learned a fair bit about successfully photographing my beaded jewelry over the course of my book project and thought I'd share some of what I've learned.

First, all of my photos are taken with digital point-and-shoot cameras.  I like the simplicity of the point-and-shoot, and get great results because I know my cameras' eccentricities and strengths.

A good macro setting is absolutely essential to focus clearly on the detail that makes each piece unique.  The standard focal length doesn't allow for these closeup shots.  A warning: not all camera's macros are created equal.

Macro focuses at center of photo - yuck!

After destroying my first camera in a photo shoot (knocking it off a table will do that), I worked with a borrowed camera for several months.  While truly grateful for the loan, the camera and I went numerous rounds because its macros focus was fixed at the center of the field of view.  This pretty much limited me to straight on shots, though I learned to work around it.  Frustrating!  This is not what you want!

When I finally bought a new camera, I made sure its macro focused on the closest object to the lens.  This gives so much more flexibility in photo layout!  After researching Olympus' Stylus Tough online, I visited a local store to give it a test drive, even bring a couple of pieces of jewelry along for the test.  Its dual image stabilization also helps keep my macros in focus, since I often work without a tripod.

Macro's focus is at the front of the field, on the beaded bead.  Much better!

I like the focus here, but the background is too detailed, and distracts from the piece.  Which brings me neatly to my next topic:

Backgrounds and Lighting

Solid white, multi-colored & soft stone backgrounds
I tried to separate these two, but they're heavily intertwined.  Like most photographers, I prefer bright natural, indirect lighting for my work.  The key here is to illuminate the work (bright), minimize shadows (indirect lighting) and maintain the true color palette (natural lighting).

In my studio, this generally translates to a well-lit table near, but not directly next to the windows.  Early morning light, right around sunrise, is my favorite if I'm working outdoors.  The air is bright, but the light is still difused and shadows are almost nonexistent.  I take any pictures where I want a stone background then, and will even set my alarm if necessary so that I don't miss my chance.

With point and shoot cameras, I've learned to avoid solid white backgrounds like the plague.  The cameras simply can't adjust to the brightness and contrast.  Most often the background takes on a yellow tint and the work is too dark to make out details.  Using the exact same lighting conditions, I get far better results with darker, more light absorbent backgrounds.  My favorites include my grey beading cloth, black felt, the rough wood of my studio floor and the patio stones just outside my front door. 

Same piece, two different backgrounds
With the darker backgrounds, both colors and details tend to show up more clearly.  But by darker,  I don't necessarily mean black - simply not white.

This also works well with color theory - lighter, brighter objects will appear to advance (into the foreground) in relations to darker, duller objects which recede into the background. 

Take Lots of Photos
Take lots of photos, from lots of angles, on multiple backgrounds.  If one picture is good, three or four are likely better - its digital, so you don't have to worry about film.  Take multiple shots from each angle; this increases your chance of getting the perfectly focused shot.  Then think of how else you might photograph the same piece.  Take lots of detail shots, too.

Painted papers, fabric and stone backgrounds - which works best? (No editing)

Oh, and be careful with props.  Remember their purpose is to enhance and showcase your piece, not take center stage themselves.  This goes for models too - their hair style, makeup, clothing shouldn't distract from your jewelry.  If it does, fix it.   Be aware of your audience.  Blog photos can be a lot more fun, with more interesting backgrounds, than you would want to use in a photograph to be considered for a juried show. 

And remember - if you can get -close- to where you want with your camera, then photo editing software can often take you the rest of the way.  I use Acorn for the Mac and Photoshop for the PC and will review both with my most used features in another post.


  1. Thanks so much for all these tips! I will put them to use

  2. Fantastic post. Thanks so much for sharing your hard-won expertise. I was going to take a macro photography class, but I think I'll start right here!

  3. Karen, thanks so much for that post! I was going to do one on all the things I learned from this Bead Soup hop, and good photos were going to be on the topic line up. If it's ok, I'll just link back to here, since you covered everything so well!

  4. Thanks for this post, it's a lot of good reminders for me. Someday I know I will get there, a lot of trial and error and reading good blog posts like yours!

  5. Thanks for the post. I will be writing a similar post myself- I chose the Canon Powershot Sx130 IS. When I write my post, if you don't mind, I will repeat some of your words of wisdom and link back to this post.

    Which version of the Olympus Stylus Tough did you choose?

  6. I am constantly tweaking my photo skills (such as they are) and there's always something new to learn! Thanks!

  7. Thanks for such a great post - I truly need big time help in the photo department!! Your pics are great and I love that you showed the difference in shots, that's awesome!

  8. Great tips...I enjoyed this post!

  9. Fantastic post! Your tips are spot on!

  10. I've been so busy trying to visit other blogs with the Bead Soup hop that I've neglected mine! :)

    Definitely feel free to link to or refer to my post, I'm flattered! And the camera I use is an Olympus Stylus Tough 6020. Note that among other things it's 'shockproof' to 5ft - great for clumsy people like me!

  11. Karen,


    I found you on a comment you made on Jennifer's "Beading Daily" blog post on "How To Choose The Right Camera To Buy". I CANNOT POSSIBLY tell you the load you have lifted off of me! After reading this, I feel like I can think about photographing my jewelry and breath; ALL AT THE SAME TIME! I had so may questions and just felt like I had virtually nowhere to begin. Basically, I felt very trapped! You have managed, in one fell swoop, to take that burden off my shoulders! I make great jewelry and have wanted so much to sell it on line but I wasn't qilling to even try it unless I could do it right! Now, I feel like I can begin to make that happen!

    Thank you so much for a job so very well done!

    Shelly Cole
    Shelly's Attic
    Greensboro, NC