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14 Tips on How to Photograph Jewelry for Etsy

Rose is a full-time freelance writer who frequently writes about education, special education, DIY projects, food, Milwaukee, and more.

Pretty shot of a beaded bracelet.

Pretty shot of a beaded bracelet.

Photographing Jewelry

I am a self-taught photographer. I am not an expert on this subject. However, over the last few years, I have learned a lot about taking pictures of my jewelry for my Etsy listings that are clear, detailed, and professional. For those of you shooting other relatively small items that you're planning to list online, many of these tips will also apply to you.

1. Learn How to Use Your Camera Properly

The point of this article is not to convince you to buy a new camera. You do not need to have a high-end SLR camera to take good photos. The most important thing to take away from this post about your camera is that you should learn how to use the camera you have to maximize its potential for your purpose. I did upgrade my digital camera a year and a half ago, but at this point, I'm still using a point-and-shoot. I've shot most of the pictures that you see in my articles (including the photo above) with my current camera: the Canon PowerShot SD1200IS.

One aspect of learning how to use your camera is shooting in program mode. Today, many digital cameras do a good job guessing what settings will work best for given shots in auto mode. But shooting in program mode will give you control over the specific aspects of your photo that will ensure a clear, balanced photo. I will give more information about these specific settings further down in this post.

2. Buy a Tripod

Using a tripod is essential for sharp photos. If you don't already own one, I highly recommend purchasing one. It does not need to be expensive, especially if you are only planning to use it for indoor or limited outdoor, fairly short jewelry photo shoots.

Create your own tripod if you are shooting close-up shots or are at difficult angles for using a tripod. Lean your elbows against something, or tuck your arms against your body.

3. Use Self-timer

Using the self-timer is also essential for sharp photos. I always use my self-timer, even when I'm using a tripod. My camera has a 2-second self-timer, which is the perfect length for photography shooting. If your camera doesn't have a short self-timer (5 seconds or less), see if there is a custom timer so you aren't stuck waiting 10 seconds for every shot.

4. Buy a Lightbox

I started using a lightbox in July 2010 and haven't looked back since. I made my lightbox using this DIY tutorial on digital photography. It is essential that you use Ott light bulbs or other natural light bulbs. You can purchase a lightbox, but it's a lot cheaper to make your own. I bought my supplies and put the box together one afternoon and evening. You can also use Ott bulbs in regular light fixtures if you're shooting pieces that are too big to fit in a lightbox.

Lighting is essential to successful pictures.

Lighting is essential to successful pictures.

5. Make Sure You Have Natural Light

Living in the midwest and working during the day means that your time at home for photographing in natural light during the week is pretty limited for about half of the year. While you can take advantage of your weekend time, it never fails that when you're finally set up to shoot, the day turns overcast.

Hence, the lightbox can be extremely useful. But this doesn't take away from the fact that shooting in natural light is amazing. You can use your lightbox with natural light instead of bulbs, either inside or outside. If you aren't interested in making a lightbox, search for ideal naturally lit spots in your home or outside on your porch or in your yard.

6. Use the Correct Light Setting

When you're shooting with natural bulbs, use the fluorescent light setting on your camera. When you're shooting in natural light, select the daylight setting or leave it on auto.

7. Check the Light balance/exposure

You may need to adjust the light balance/exposure depending on your background's color and/or texture. I shoot most of my jewelry on light gray, sheet music, or white backgrounds. I adjust slightly below 0 for light gray, on or right above 0 for sheet music, and almost to +1 for white. I'll discuss backgrounds a little more later in this article.

8. Use the Macro Setting

When you shoot in auto, the camera will frequently set the camera in macro mode for you to take close-up shots. When you switch to program mode, you have to switch on the macro setting yourself.

9. Check the ISO

If you want to learn more about ISO, you should check out the photography guide. The basic rule of thumb is that the lower your ISO setting is, the sharper the photo will be. There are situations where it's worth sacrificing clarity (such as outside nighttime shooting or other low light settings), but clarity is key for you. Typically I keep my ISO setting at 100 or 200.

The flash can be a good and bad thing for pictures.

The flash can be a good and bad thing for pictures.

10. Turn Off the Flash

You do not ever need to use the flash when you're taking close-up product shots. If your shots are turning out dark, you may need to adjust one of your other settings or consider a different background for your item.

11. Utilize Backgrounds

There is not a magic background that will make everything look amazing. If you are planning to sell the items you are photographing, consider what image or look you want for your inventory and your shop as a whole. It's important to have a consistent look without making all your photos identical.

Browse on Etsy for inspiration. There are numerous possibilities for backdrops and props. Don't be afraid to experiment with this or change your background if you aren't happy with what you're currently using.

12. Consider Editing Pictures

You do not need high-end photo software such as Photoshop to do quality photo editing. If you are interested in pursuing serious photo editing, you're welcome to purchase the software. There are also some free programs online that you could look into, like Fotor.

Even with appropriate light and camera settings, you will still need to edit your photos. At the very least, you should an auto light adjust (and/or manually adjust the levels) and crop your photos. Typically I: 1) auto adjust, 2) crop, and 3) further tweak the light levels slightly.

13. Use Techniques Specifically for Etsy

There are a couple of photo editing strategies that are particularly important to keep in mind for Etsy. All of the listing photos are automatically cropped as squares. Your item will be more centered, especially in the thumbnails, if your original photos are squares or as close to squares as you can make them. This will greatly improve the quality of your thumbnail photos.

Your thumbnails are a large portion of the photos that people will see from your shop when doing general searches or browsing. It's important that the thumbnail shows the entire item in the picture and doesn't crop out anything important. If you aren't satisfied with your thumbnails, consider how you can re-crop your photos so that they will better portray your items.

14. Practice!

Like many things in life, taking quality photos of your items takes practice. During the last few years, I have taken over 6,000 photos of approximately 350 pieces of jewelry. Typically I take 3-5 pictures of every angle/pose that I will include in my Etsy listing and then choose the pictures that I like the best.

Don't be afraid to experiment with different light settings, backgrounds, and angles/poses for your pieces, and take many pictures. It takes time to take lots of pictures, but in the age of digital photography, it doesn't cost you anything else. And the reward is well worth it.


Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on November 22, 2013:

I highly recommend anything in the Canon PowerShot line. I shot exclusively with one for the better part of three years and could not have been more pleased with it. Best of luck!

Lydia on November 22, 2013:

I bought a light box and the ights and they work well in the winter when it is difficult to find natural light. Any recommendations for a point and shoot camera? I need to buy one and many times I am traveling something under $500 for jewelry silver and gold and stones? Thank you! High polish silver is the most difficult and I don't like adobe photoshop making it look too dull either.

Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on March 28, 2012:

Thanks vespa! Good luck with your light box. If you have any questions about it, let me know.

Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on March 28, 2012:

These are excellent tips and your jewelry photos are beautiful. I'm going to look into making a light box as you've recommended. Voted up and useful!

Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on March 18, 2012:

You're welcome! The light box has made all the difference for me. I highly recommend that anyone who is serious about product photography uses one.

Rachel McVearry from DC Metro on March 18, 2012:

Thanks for confirming my suspicions about the light box. The images I've seen online are truly amazing -- and you wonder, can it really do that? Amazing.

Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on December 19, 2011:

The light box may definitely be the answer to that! Good luck!

Sheila Brown from Southern Oklahoma on December 19, 2011:

Very useful information. Am going to see if I can get hubby to help me build a light box. I have been trying to get a solid white background for product photography, I think the lightbox may be my answer. Voted up and useful!

Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on October 25, 2011:

Dawn, I used a white cotton fabric quarter. I hope that this helps!

Dawn Nelson on October 25, 2011:

What fabric did you use on your light box? I tried making a box and I could never get enough light through the fabric.

Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on October 21, 2011:

I'm glad that this is helpful! Taking pictures for Etsy and my blog for a couple years before I started writing on HubPages definitely helped my hub photos learning curve!

Holle Abee from Georgia on October 21, 2011:

I so need these tips! I take a lot of pics for my cooking site. sometimes they turn out well, and sometimes they're pretty bad. voted up!

Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on May 25, 2011:

You're welcome! I hope that goes well!

Emma from UK on May 25, 2011:

I bought a photo box from Amazon for £10. Haven't used it yet. Great advice for us starters. Thank you.

Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on May 04, 2011:

You're welcome! I'm so glad that this is helpful for you.

Stephanie Henkel from USA on May 04, 2011:

These are really super tips on photographing small objects! I try to use natural light whenever possible, but a lightbox would be so convenient. Thanks for a great hub!

Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on April 17, 2011:

You're welcome! At some point, I would like to upgrade my camera to an SLR, but the one I have now will get me through the next few years. Do you have the right kind of bulbs for your light box? The natural light can still work well. I'm looking forward to experimenting with natural light for my light box more this summer.

storybeader on April 16, 2011:

thanks for the tips. I'm needing to buy a new camera, and feel a little better at not upgrading from my old camera. DH made a lightbox for me, but I never really liked it. I shoot on a table in a sunny room, and try not to get TOO much light! {:-D

Rose Clearfield (author) from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on April 15, 2011:

You're welcome! Thanks for your feedback!

sue on April 15, 2011:

Wow---this is really good. I expected it to be same-old/same-old, but it is chock-full of pertinent, easy to absorb info. with great links.

Thank you!!