Jewellery photography is one of the most challenging of all photography. A specialty jewellery photographer is a master craftsman who understands jewellery and knows how to deal with the challenges of creating pleasing results. It requires very high levels of professional skills in photography, handling of sophisticated equipment, awesome retouching and visualization skills to achieve fabulous looking images that can drive the sales charts and create extraordinary brand image.
- Technical know how and equipment:
- The art of photography
- Importance of great jewellery photography
- Beyond photography: System work and post production
Technical know how and equipment:
The use of specialized, technical large format cameras that use movements for swing, tilt, rise and fall, at lens and image plane for controlling depth of focus, shallow or infinite. These cameras when mated with high resolution Schnieder Macro Apo-Digitar and Rodenstock Apo-Soronar optics having large image circles along with PRO quality digital back are the ultimate weapon of choice for a serious photographer to achieve great details in the diamonds to show clarity, cut and colour. The use of such cameras require study and technical know how.
These are very expensive photographic assets and only a competent photographer with years of experience can muster the courage to invest so much capital. It is very risky to venture into this exclusive club of rare photographers in an era where DSLR photographers are a dime a dozen to provide mediocre images dirt-cheap.
Below: The state of the art technical camera from Arca Swiss, (shown here front and back view) with Phase One digital back and Rodenstock digitar apo macro lens.
Below: The flexible movements at lens and film plane with precise calculations ( notice the scales and degrees on the camera) enables us to control our plane of focus for desired effect. There are times when we intend to put only certain parts of the image in focus and create out of focus effect on certain parts of the image for added visual impact. This can be achieved only by this camera type.
Lighting – The key factor:
Possession of these photographic assets alone does not ensure great images unless the photographer understands the use of correct lighting and has the patience and commitment, to create controlled highlights and shadows with sparkling diamonds. In technical terms, it is the use of different types of lighting (Soft and hard) both for metal and diamonds in proper ratio and conjunction that is required for high quality images. Fine-tuning the lighting to get glitter of diamonds with smoothness and graduating highlights on metal surfaces, for form and shape. The varying tones of shadows and highlights, on very small surfaces poses the greatest challenge to the photographer.
It is very time consuming and requires a lot of patience and dedication to execute great jewellery photography. Thus I insist once again that great jewellery photography go beyond equipment. Having visual sensibilities are the greatest assets of a professional jewellery photographer.
like in medicine, where you have a specialist doctors who have mastered in Ophthalmology, Oncologist, Ortho etc. Jewellery photographer is a specialist who has mastered the art of jewellery photography.
Jewellery Photography – The Art:
Master jewellery photographer is one who goes beyond the technical skills and creates enchanting images by intense visuals. He is an artist who understands the language of visual art.
Representation of the jeweller’s creation in full glory, creating mood, fashion and style by adding environment around the jewellery in a way that is minimalistic in nature is the challenge.
The jewellery has to be arranged in a prominent and revealing manner. Showing the clarity, cut and colour of the jewels along with the fine finish, craftsmanship and design.
Knowledge to show the most important parts of the jewellery while hiding the inappropriate parts effectively is important.
Importance of great jewellery photography
Using poor quality images in the advertising media or website will not create a compelling impression on the prospective buyers. These images can do more harm to your brand than you can imagine.
I have 25 years of experience working in the industry and I consult various advertising agencies. Many agencies try to make do with the services of in house photographers providing cheaper alternatives to their clients. During the course of my career I have also come across jewellers that have invested in light boxes and cameras to execute photography by employing the services of startup photographers.
It has to be understood that by following these routes, you will not be able to achieve high value image of the fabulous jewellery that you have invested in.
Jewellers invest heavily in designing and production of expensive jewellery pieces. The jewellery may be beautiful and precious, with high value diamonds, metals and designs but if it does not inspire the potential customer with a beautiful photograph the opportunity to make a sale is lost.
In the emerging marketplace this opportunity may be lost to your competitor with better and more compelling images.
If you are a jeweler who deals in expensive jewellery, you will require a professional jewellery photographer. There are not many to choose from even in bigger cities that are jewellery capitals like Mumbai. Jewellery photography is a very difficult and challenging subject with astronomically huge investments. Photographers abound in other areas like fashion but not in Jewellery. Of course, you WILL find a lot of guys, but not the real specialists.
The potential customer is converted into a buyer only through compelling images that appear on pages of newspaper, magazine and hoarding ads.
Jewellers are under pressure to sell the inventory before the designs become outdated and redundant. They have to reach out to the public in the most effective medium through advertising. The images used in the advertising have to be very powerful and attractive. If these images are weak, the jeweler looses on the media investment and opportunity cost. Thus from all angles, the jeweler should spend on good photography and consider it as a high return investment. It will pay back huge dividends.
I have seen this happen and my clients vouch for this reality.
There is a lot more to jewellery photography post the photography session. It is very important for the photographer to have full understanding of the steps that further enhance the image to a level for perfection.
Color profiling the images:
Colour profiling is a professional standard to interpret colour across all the operating systems, computer applications, input and output devices.
One of the biggest challenges in photography is how to achieve perfect colour of the images. Colour of the images have to be accurate and consistent and it is determined by the colour temperature of the subject, which in turn is governed by he colour temp. of the lights used. Changes between different images is influenced by the reflective colours within the environment of the setup also. Thus each and every image should be colour calibrated, using colour swatches ( QP card) and grey cards inserted within the image. This way a test shot is taken with reference colours and used as a reference for colour profiling the of the image. Once this image is taken, the grey card and colour swatches are removed for the final shot.
Below: Before shooting the final photograph, we keep the QP card for calibrating the colours under the actual lighting conditions. The actual lighting set up is not shown in this illustration for professional reasons.
The importance of a good display:
The camera, Raw processing and post production software and monitors should be colour profiled and assigned an ICC profile before you begin the photography session. This should be a practice that should be followed by every serious photographer.
One has to bear in mind that different colour monitors display images with slight difference due the differences in their setup and age. Thus all the monitors used for capture, Raw processing and post production preferably should belong to one manufacturer. Every manufacturer has their individual calibration methods and standards.
Every monitor used should have similar character in native colours and gamma. For this all the monitors should be calibrated every 15 days. The system at our studio is followed by using the cutting edge colour calibrators from SPYDER. We have all the monitors from Mac.
The new RGB standard is Adobe 1998 for all media related work. It has the maximum reproducible colour gamut unlike sRGB. For offset printing care should be taken for CMYK conversion, you may loose some brilliance in the printing.
Camera RAW images:
Digital Professional photography is executed on a CCD sensor that is housed in Digital backs, unlike CMOS sensors in DSLRS.
CCD sensors produce crisp images when compared with CMOS sensors. Images shot on either of the sensors have an option to capture images in RAW format.
All professionals must shoot in 16 bit RAW because it gives the highest quality in tonal range and colour accuracy. The down side is that it adds a very time consuming process to convert these images from RAW to Tiff on very expensive softwares. Of course there are cheap converters available and some are even free with the DSLRS.
Using cheap converters lead to average results.
RAW conversion is a process where you can tweak the image to perfection in terms of tonality, colour correction and sharpness overall or to localized areas of the image. This is a lossless process as compared to using Photoshop for these tweaks. During this stage it is important that you use professionally calibrated display.
Once the image has been converted to 8 bit RGB tiff format, it is ready for the next stage of treatment in photoshop.
Great care should be taken to handle jewellery before it is photographed. Always clean the jewellery and handle with lint free fabric to move it on the set. Fingerprints and lint stuck in the prongs can ruin the perfect shot. In spite of all the care there still is a chance to come across these disturbances. It is to get rid of these problems that photoshop is used.
Photoshop must be used to remove flaws and enhance the image, not to correct mistakes. Great care is required while retouching. Overdoing takes away the natural look and feel of the jewellery. This is why, the image originally should be shot to perfection, so that one does not later take the refuge, to painting the jewellery with a heavy hand.
Retouching of jewellery photographs is always required to fix the imperfections in production or crafting the jewellery, like poor setting of diamonds, pitting of metal, dust and scratches, that show up upon magnification once the image is blown up for full page advertisements or hoardings
The sharp and detailed image that we strive to create can also exaggerate the flaws.
Above: A professional in house team of retouching artists to manage the post production process. We use Apple computers.
Each image has to be colour corrected individually. Diamond surrounded by gold will appear to have warm colour as compared to a diamond with platinum or silver surround. This is because the surrounding colour is casting its colour on the diamond. Thus Rubies, emeralds, topaz and diamonds when fixed into a same area can play havoc. Colour from the backgrounds can very easily contaminate the colour of the product. This is the reflection of the background. Sometimes it adds environment and is very interesting, but sometimes it needs to be removed. It all depends from case to case.
At this stage sometimes you are required to produce different images of different coloured diamonds of the same piece for the library. Similarly the same piece of jewellery can represent different metal options, from gold to platinum to rose gold.
This can be done.
In photo editing, the most laborious job is to do cutouts of jewellery pcs. for putting different backgrounds below the image.
Cut outs, are mostly required for web uploading with consistent and similar backdrops with gradation and believable shadows, reflections etc. for a uniform look. It adds value, pleasantness, cohesiveness and great character to the pages. These cutouts are also used for blending with creative backgrounds and spl. fx. etc.
One requires great amount of patience, time and hundreds of clicks to do a single cutout, imagine outlining an entire necklace that has very fine intricate weave. It takes about 2 to 6 man-hours.
There are many software’s that allow you to do these cutouts, but if accuracy is the objective, then there is no shortcut, but to use a pen tool in Photoshop.
When different images are brought together in one canvas, they have to have a proper scale in relation to one another. Example, when earing, ring and pendant are shot separately and require to be shown in one canvas, they should represent proper size and dimension.
DAM ( Digital Asset Management):
Once the images have been shot, they need to be properly catalogued and stored in a secure server.
As your library of images grows, you will find it more and more difficult to track them. There is a system that needs to be followed in naming the images in a scientific and logical method so that it becomes very easy to search for the images by a designated name.
SKU – Rationalization
A technique for inventory optimization in retail sector.
Inventory is one of the most significant investments for any retailer. Thus, it is important that retailers maximize their returns on inventory investment. One way of doing this is by optimizing assortments.
SKU Rationalization is an important technique in inventory management that helps retailers optimize their assortments by decommissioning some of the non-productive merchandise. With this technique, non-performing SKUs can be phased out on the basis of an analysis of parameters like sales, gross margins, etc.