Taking photographs of jewelry is probably one of the hardest things we do as online sellers. A lightbox is the easiest answer. This post is by no means a tutorial as we are fairly new to this ourselves. Instead it will be a guide showing what we have learned over the years, and are still learning. I will also cover the materials and cost of the materials we have used, and are using, as our methods have evolved. Before I continue I would like to add that we use the pics we shoot straight off the camera, we do not enhance or alter them with any kind of software.
We have a very small amount of money in the setup we currently use. The lightbox is home made out of foam board, the light is just an old halogen shop light, and the camera is a cheaper Nikon Coolpix L22 point and shoot that is 5-6 years old. Our newest additions to the setup are reflective acrylic and holding wax.
You do Not need an expensive DSLR camera to take pics for your online business. I can take these same photographs using the little Nikon point and shoot, my iPhone, my daughters Samsung Galaxy, or her Nikon D3200 DSLR. I prefer the little point and shoot because it is lightweight, easy to set up, and fastest to work with. We freehand shoot all pics, small tripod is recommended.
Before I go any further here is a cost breakdown for equipment and materials. The camera, light, and tape are things we already had:
- Camera: Nikon Coolpix L22 Newest model of this camera is less than $60
- Light: 500 watt halogen work light new is only around $12
- Reflective Acrylic: Black and white 12×12 inch Around $17
- Large Semi Transparent Acrylic: 24″x38″ came out of old fluorescent ceiling light
- Holding Wax: 2 bars $10
- Loupe: Cheap 27mm 15x plastic around $5, magnifying glass will also work fine
- Metal Ruler: Inches and mm $6
- Ring Sizer: Plastic $2
- Foam Board: Office Depot Brand 30″x40″ 5 pcs. $30
- Tape: Used my clear packing tape
So I guess you’re wondering why such large pieces of foam board? When we first started selling online we not only sold antique and vintage jewelry, we also sold a wide variety of large antique/vintage glass, metal, and porcelain items. So when we originally built the lightbox it had to be big enough to handle these larger objects. It has worked very well for all the objects we have sold, and still is working for us. Also the box had to be large to use the halogen shop light which gets very hot rather quickly.
I am not going to spend a whole lot of time discussing building the lightbox, there are plenty of tutorials out there already. The dimensions after building the box we use are: 30″ tall, 40″ wide, and 30″ deep, a simple rectangle that consists of a bottom, two sides, back, and top, the front was left completely open. Since we used foam board we were able to pull all seams down very tightly on the outside with the packing tape to create an almost seamless effect inside. We found out quick that you can’t set anything with weight to it directly on the foam board as it will sink and dent the board, an example of dented foam board:
We found the transparent white acrylic by accident, and it was a perfect fit for the box, so the base of the box is the acrylic on top of the foam board. The acrylic came from an old fluorescent light in an elevator that was being replaced. It can probably be found at just about any place that sells lighting. It is smooth, solid, and just about indestructible.
We do not make a lot of adjustments to the camera, most settings are left on auto. We turn on the macro setting(looks like a flower) which allows the camera to focus on items close to the lens of the camera, and have adjusted the white balance to the white of inside of the box. All point and shoots I have used have the macro setting, but most don’t allow you to adjust the white balance. It is fine to leave the white balance on automatic, in our box there is so much light it is hard to tell the difference between auto and manual white balance settings.
Inside the box the light is all the way to the left with the light pointing up and at the left wall. Since the entire inside is white the light bounces to all corners of the box. The 12×12 black acrylic is in the center. All other accessories are to the right(ring sizer, loupe or magnifying glass, holding wax, bag of items that are cleaned and ready to be shot, and ruler). We keep a sheet on top of box to put over the front when the box is not in use. Here are a few pics of the box and all materials:
All items are laid out or stood up in the center of the black acrylic about 3 inches back from the side we are taking pictures from(the front). Usually rings, small brooches and pins, charms, and pendants are stood up using a very small amount of the holding wax(about the size of a pen tip, make sure to clean the wax completely off the item after shooting photos, if left on it can damage some surfaces). Necklaces, cufflinks and tie clips, and larger pins/brooches are usually laid flat.
There is a disadvantage when using reflective acrylic…photos can not be shot from straight above the items because of the reflection. This can be overcome with reflective boards and backdrops, but we are comfortable with the way we have adapted and saw no reason to make things harder. Our goal has always been to keep this simple as possible. Here are a couple examples of what happens when you get too far above or to either side of the item:
All of our photos are shot straight on and only slightly above the item(camera is held about 2 inches high, and 1.5-2 inches from item). The first pic is shot straight on and will be the main photo for the listing. The second and third pics are shot straight on one of each side of the item. The fourth pic is usually the measurement, either beside a ruler laying on the acrylic, or if a ring on the ring sizer sitting on the acrylic. The fifth and final pic is of any makers and purity marks that are on the item. Here is an example of the 5 pics, have used a 2 tone gold over sterling cubic zirconia ring for example:
These 6 pics were taken in just a few minutes. All were shot with only the materials listed and shown earlier in this post, set up exactly as they were shown above. Also, there were no modifications made to the pictures with any software, they were uploaded to this post straight from the camera. Included a pic of the very small amount of holding wax that was used to hold ring in a standing position(this pic would not be used in listing, only the 5 pics of the ring standing, on sizer, and markings). The pics of the side of the ring have a small reflection of the camera and my hand in them. This could have been avoided by just taking a few extra minutes to get my angle right, I purposely left it this way as an example of what happens when in a hurry. Even though there is a reflection you can still see the condition of the item, so I would probably go ahead and use these pics in the listing.
As you can see this set up works very well for small jewelry items. The exact same set up works equally well for any items that will fit inside the light box. All of this accomplished with a small amount of money, that taking into consideration we utilized some items we already had. After building the light box there is very little time needed to shoot very nice photos, each item only takes a few minutes, and we can shoot photos any time we want. We have used this same lightbox and set up for over 3 years now, the only new materials being the reflective acrylic and holding wax. Personally I have only 2 complaints with the set up: First is the size of the box, it takes up a lot of room and is a permanent structure, and second the light gets very hot, especially in a closed area such as this, so I usually limit myself to only shooting 50-60 photos at a time, but that’s 10-12 items at a time so it works out fine. Check out our Store to see some examples of the pictures taken inside this lightbox. In closing I will say that in the last few months, as we’ve had the money, I have been purchasing smaller pre-fab light boxes starting with the cheapest I could find. Have only tested 2 so far, 3rd one should be here soon, so expect a review on those in the near future. Happy shooting!