3 Simple Steps to Better Beadwork Photos

How much difference does a good photo make? 

Fair or not, it can be the deciding factor in making a sale, winning a contest, or gaining entry to a show.  I'm not just saying that–my own experience is proof.

Years ago I submitted a design to a magazine that accepted photos rather than finished pieces.  I had a lot of trouble taking a good photo and ultimately sent them a photo that wasn't great, but was the best I could do with an old borrowed camera.  A swift rejection email followed.  I was disappointed (okay, I was crushed), but what kept nagging at the back of my mind was the bad photo.  Did the bad photo kill my chances?  Was it possible that my project wasn't even seriously considered? 

Eventually I decided to make a huge step (and investment) and buy a digital camera.  With the new camera, I was able to learn how to do a proper close-up without taking a blurry photo.  I learned to control the lighting so my photos didn't look like I shot them in the closet.  The very next project photo I sent to that same magazine was accepted.  I'm sure there were many factors that went into that decision and it's certainly possible that if I had sent a blurry, dark photo of the project they still would have accepted it.  But that day marked a turning point for me.  It didn't mean that everything I submitted was accepted from that point on, but it did mean that my photos were not holding me back.

What can you do?

Photography is a huge topic–just take a look in any book store at all the photography books on the shelves.  Rather than try to write a comprehensive guide to photography, I asked photographer and beader Kirsten Creighton to identify just three simple changes that a beginning photographer could make and have the biggest impact.  She chose:

1.  Set a simple stage.

2.  Control the lighting (and flash). 

3.  Focus to see details.

Free Article:  3 Simple Steps to Better Beadwork Photos by Kirsten Creighton

Kirsten's article explains these steps in greater detail, as well as shows "before" and "after" photos.  I'd love to hear any additional tips or photo horror/success stories.  How has bad/good photography affected you?  As a viewer, has the quality of photography ever influenced your votes in a contest like Bead StarShare your ideas on the website.  If you have other questions about photography, feel free to discuss this topic with Kirsten in the forums.

Coming This Week:  On Wednesday, Jean Campbell will walk you through one of her own recent at-home photo shoots for a class catalog and show you just how big a difference photostyling can make. 

There will be no Beading Daily on Friday because of the July 4th holiday.  (The forums will be open, of course, so please come by and get your beading fix!)

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Beading Daily Blog
Michelle M.

About Michelle M.

I was the founding editor of Beading Daily (2007-2009) and my now a freelance designer/writer/editor.  My designs have been published in Stringing, Step by Step Beads, Jewelry Gifts for the Holidays, Creative Jewelry, Beadwork, and other magazines. I enjoy stringing, bead embroidery, wirework, metal work, mixed media, beadweaving—pretty much anything that involves beads or jewelry.  I also enjoy exploring new crafts like pottery and felting.  I write a personal blog if you want to see more of my work. 16+ Free Beading Projects: A list of the free projects I created for Beading Daily. Contact Info If you have a question regarding Beading Daily, please contact customer service at beadingdaily@interweave.com or the current editor, Kristal Wick. If you'd like to contact me, you'll find my info on my website:  www.michellemach.com.  You can also follow me on Twitter at:  http://twitter.com/beadsandbooks Pictured here is a pair of earrings I made for the Spring 2010 issue of Stringing in an attempt to get over my fear of designing with the color orange!

11 thoughts on “3 Simple Steps to Better Beadwork Photos

  1. I see so many photos in Flickr and on blogs (even some websites) that must make the artist cringe. Your three points are excellent suggestions for improving photography.

    Here’s another tip: I try to wait for an overcast day to do my photos… slightly overcast is better than dark and dreary, but both are better than direct sunlight, which like the flash will cause reflections and overexposed highlights. Also, I don’t polish my silver, as it photographs better when it’s slightly brushed or tarnished.

    One last comment, and you said it too… Know when to turn it over to a professional. I take pretty good photos, but paying a professional to photograph my sculpture, “Rosie, The Uncaged Hen,” resulted in her being chosen for the cover of “500 Beaded Objects.” I’m fairly certain that any picture I took would not have made the cut for the cover.

    Robin Atkins

  2. Some photo background surfaces I’ve had great success with include raw marble, raw wood (driftwood is great), raw leather, scrapbooking papers, berber and other neutral carpet samples, and cloth napkins (sometimes draped over rocks, small boxes, or other items to add dimension). Avoid anything that reflects light.

  3. Hi Robin!
    Thanks for the comments…I can see we have even more in common after seeing your blog on chocolate addiction…I may try my hand at one of those dolls myself!
    Yes, your success story is a testimony to the power of a good picture.
    We have a lovely lady who works in our bead store whose entry into the FireMountain Catalog Contest made it through the second draft largely due to the photograph she had me take to submit with the entry form. She was thrilled, and of course that made me feel great as well! We can’t wait to see if her piece makes the final cut.

  4. Re: 3 Simple Steps to Better Beadwork Photos
    I find that a plain, non-glare background makes for a richer photo. I use a plain black cloth (or white cloth for dark objects). This way, there is less competition with the subject matter. BTW, I iron the cloth first as the wrinkles will show and again take away from the photo. On occasion, I’ve use a textured background in the past and and find that my eye wanders around the entire photo.
    Victoria P.

  5. Just a ‘bit’ sexist, ehh”?

    “A majority of women who take up beading as a hobby end up selling their work … . ”

    I don’t mind selling some of mine, too.

    I know, I know, the vast majority of beaders are female, but Justin Westkind and I are but two of the exceptions, there are many more. .. . Some days I just get irritated.

    Stan B.

  6. Hi Stan…sorry you feel so jaded! Have to say I’m confused, however. The quote is not part of my article and I don’t see it in the above comments. But, I’m new to the forums, so it’s very possible I missed something.
    No matter, really, where it came from, just thought I’d raise your spirits by adding that my first response to the article (a hit on my website) was from a bead-guy like yourself who makes some amazing PMC and polymer clay pendants and jewelry designs.
    I can only hope he lets me photograph some of them!…
    Keep your head up.

  7. I am still trying to get my photos just right, but I have had some sucess with a few inexpensive props. A small light table from the craft store, $30 reg price, but they usually have 40%-50% off coupons. I shoot with the light off because the the metal items look dark on top when the light is on, but the frosted plexiglass surface lets some of the other lighting come back through it and makes the gem colors come out. I tried fabric backgrounds, but my 7.2 MP camera overfocuses on the weave of the fabric and it is distracting. A small tabletop tripod from Dollar Tree. It allows me to get my camera closer than my big tripod. A white frosted plastic toy bucket from Ikea. I lay it on it’s side and put the light table inside. Then I take it outside in the sunlight or light it from outside with lamps.

    The pieces I am still playing with are the lamps and how to get the backgound behind the camera and the camera to not reflect in the jewelry. I use macro mode on my camera, but I find that it will focus on the pendant, but the other parts like the clasp are out of focus. Any suggestions?

  8. I googled jewelry photo tips and came up with an interesting idea. I had tried my digital camera with all the lighting tips etc. but could not get very good pictures of the jewelry I made for the bridal party of my daughters wedding. They are all made from Crystal AB crystals. So the light reflected or was too bright.

    The tip was to use a scanner with a dark cloth covering the jewelry. Oh my goodness, what gorgeous pictures and all detail is extremely clear and focused. I was very pleasantly surprised. I laid the pieces on the scanner with a navy blue piece of cloth on top and then scanned at a fairly high resolution. They are amazing pictures.

    I hope this helps someone else who is having the trouble I had!

  9. In reply to Cloudhaledesign….
    Reflections…if you are photographing highly reflective jewelry (large sterling silver beads or shiny cabachons, for instance), the only way to eliminate getting caught in the photo is to make yourself invisible. Since I haven’t figured out how to do this yet, you can reduce the amount of reflections by concealing the opening of your Ikea bucket with a white sheet and cutting a slit to slip your camera lens through.
    Focus…I shoot most of my pieces on a copystand, which is basically a tripod, but holds the camera directly above the object, with the lens facing straight down, so the entire piece is the same distance from the camera lens, so everything is focused the same. (the cover photo for my article was photographed this way).
    If you are shooting from an angle, you now have multiple distances to focus on. Some cameras allow you to set the focus to “spot: or “full-view”, so setting it to full-view may help. If not, try this tip…instead of focusing the camera on the front of your jewelry, use the shutter button to focus on the clasp or mid-view of your jewelry, and then, while still holding down the shutter button halfway, aim your camera back towards the front of the piece before snapping the photo. The camera will “remember” to focus further back into the photo and get clearer focus on the clasp. This takes a lot of trial and error and practice to get it right, but can have a big payoff for such a small adjustment.

  10. For DawnN…
    Yes, scanners can take wonderful pictures of jewelry. Depending on whether your scanner cover has floating or fixed hinges, you can get away with getting images of some fairly large pieces. Some scanners even have advanced options that allow you to crop, adjust the color and brightness, sharpen and resize all in one! Great tip!
    The key item in your setup is actually the navy blue cloth. It gives the crystal something to reflect and adds back some definition to the cuts/facets…something that is lost when shooting on an all white background. Placing a sheet of black paper nearby, but not in the actual photo, will do just the same when shooting with a camera.
    Reducing the exposure value on your camera can help eliminate “washout” also.
    Tough topic…thanks for sharing.

  11. I wish I had read this article before I spent hours trying to get great photos! I just launched a new web site and I could have used this advice!