Bench Tricks

Jewelry Photography with a Blended Background

Have you ever wished that you could have slides of your jewelry made like those you see in Metalsmith or Ornament that have a blended background from light to dark. Well you can and very inexpensively. All you will need is a simple modified shadow box made from a card board box, some lights and a SLR camera with a closeup lens.
The setup is very simple and consists of the following:

  1. Selecting the Camera.
  2. Building your modified shadow box..
  3. Lighting.
  4. Setting up the equipment.
  5. Jewelry posing.
  6. Taking the pictures.

1. Selecting the Camera and film.
The camera you will need must be able to allow you to adjust the F-stop, exposure time and film speed. This type of camera is called a single lens reflex camera or SLR. The camera I use is a Nikon F2. It’s not made any more but I’m sure you can find an old one or it’s equivalent somewhere. An automatic camera with replaceable lenses that will allow you to over ride the automatic features will also work. You will also need a Macro lens or close up attachments for a normal lens (50mm). I use a 55mm Micro-Nikor lens made by Nikon. You can also use a small telephoto lens with macro capability but you will have to set up the camera a few feet back from the object to be photographed.
The film you use must be balanced for the type of lighting your using. The lighting we are going to use is Tungsten 3200K. There are several slide films balanced for this type of lighting. Kodak 64T, Fuji 64T and Kodak 160T. The 64T films are a littler finer gained than the 160T and should be used when ever possible. I use the 160T due to the fact that I can use higher F stops and shorter exposure times and the increase in grain isn’t that noticeable for my applications.

2. Building your modified shadow box.
The shadow box we are going to use is a very simple one that can be made in less than an hour. You will need the following:

  • A. card board box about 9” x 9” x 12”.
  • B. Black spray paint.
  • C. A sheet of frosted plastic 9” x 12”.
  • D. Good tape.
  • E. Cardboard sheet 12” x 9”. (use the side cut out)
  • F. Sheet of neutral gray paper 11 1/2” x 18”.

Take your box and remove the top and one side. Spray paint the inside of the box black. Now tape the frosted plastic on the top. Next tape your neutral gray paper to the top of the back side wall next to the plastic diffusion sheet and to the front of the 12” x 9” card board sheet. What you should have when your finished will look as follows:


3. Lighting.
The lighting we will use is indirect. The best of all worlds would be to have a unit called a “Soft Box.” This unit produces a very soft but strong light on the subject and the shadow box. The commercial “Soft Box” is quite expensive so we will get our diffused light in a indirect way. Our lighting will consist of three inexpensive light stands and three light reflectors. Each light reflector will house a 250 watt tungsten bulb. We will get our reflected light by directing the reflectors up towards the ceiling right above our shadow box. Obviously this implies that you have a white ceiling somewhere in your home and that it is not to high. If your ceiling is not white you can tack some white poster board up to reflect the light. Remember that the 250 watt bulbs do produce heat so don’t put the lights to close to the reflecting surface.

4. Setting up the equipment.
Now that we have our camera, shadow box, and lights lets set them all up. You will need a small table to set up your shadow box on. You can place books under the shadow box to arrive at a comfortable height for taking pictures. Two of the three lights will be placed in front of the table and one will be placed behind. Your camera needs to be placed on a tripod in front of the shadow box. The whole mess should look something like the following:


5. Jewelry posing.
Objects to be photographed are placed on the gray paper near the opening of the shadow box. Also, as you can see in order to get the blended background you have to take the picture with a slight angle from the horizontal. This means you can’t just lay your jewelry flat on the surface of the neutral gray paper, you must prop it up. For items like pins and earrings you can use Plastacene modeling clay and some wire or paper clips cut in half to make a ‘U.’ The wire ‘U’ is embedded into the clay which is then pressed onto the back of the object. The two ends of the wire then support the object on the paper. For pendants on a necklace you can hang them from two sticks taped to the diffused plastic top. The propping up of the object also produces a better quality of light on shinny surfaces such as silver and gold. You can further add light, shadow and color onto your objects by holding black, white or colored flats next to the camera so that their reflections are picked up in the object.
If the object is large or does not lend itself to the blended background you can remove the shadow box and place the object directly on the paper and take the picture from above. The diffused light is great for this type of shot. I also replace the paper with a sheet gray slate.

6. Taking the pictures.
Once you have set up your jewelry and composed it in the camera’s view finder you must determine the proper exposure. I have found the best way, at least for me, is to use a 18% neutral gray card that can be found in many of the Darkroom reference books put out by Kodak. The gray card is held next to the object and at an angle that is the same as the camera film plane. Also, make sure the card is large enough to fill the view finder window. Try to adjust the F stop as high as possible then adjust the exposure time to arrive at the proper exposure. Your best bet is to bracket your first roll or two by exposing two shots of the object 1/2 stop on either side of the gray card exposure. When taking the picture use a cable release or the time release mechanism built into your camera. I prefer the time release.


Small Scale Photography
Brain Press
Box 1624 Ste M
Calgary, Alberta, T2P 2L7, Canada
(403) 263-3955 Email:


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