I can produce jewelry images for you on any kind of background you prefer. However, there are three kinds of backgrounds that are most commonly in use with jewelry artists, and the great bulk of the work I do for jewelers involves creating images with one of the following three types.
Traditional Light-to-Dark Graduated Background
This is the kind of jewelry image which has been used for applications to juried shows, exhibitions and galleries for at least the last three decades. It has been considered the gold-standard for images of artisan jewelry. It has evolved and improved over recent years thanks to digital photography, and many people still consider it the very best way to present high-end jewelry for juried competitions.
Process: For these images I place the piece of jewelry on a plate of black reflective glass. I light the piece of jewelry then capture the image, including the reflection of the piece. I then digitally remove the background, retaining the jewelry and its reflection, and replace that background with a digitally-generated graduated background. In this way I can produce a series of images on identical backgrounds, and also have the flexibility to alter or adjust the background in a way that enhances the image.
Advantages: The neutrality of the background doesn’t compete with the colors and tonalities of the work itself. The fact that the jewelry is the brightest object in the frame takes the viewer’s eye right to the jewelry. The fact that the background is nondescript means that it doesn’t compete in any way with the jewelry or confuse or distract the viewer. Finally a dark grad background lends a sense of drama to the photograph, and to the piece itself. Properly executed, a photograph of a piece of fine jewelry on a dark grad background is powerful and evocative and enhances the beauty of the piece.
Disadvantages: These days some artists, including younger artists, rightly or wrongly, are coming to see these images as old-fashioned. These images are also expensive to produce, usually requiring substantial Photoshop work. These images are beyond the capability of anyone who doesn’t have a substantial photographic set up, proper lenses and lights, and significant knowledge of Photoshop. Because they are designed for use in juried competitions and are very specialized for that single purpose, they can have limited utility for other purposes.
Uses: This kind of image has been the predominant type of image used for show applications for at least the last three decades. They are still considered by many the best and most dependable type of image for jury submissions.
My Thoughts: I still consider these images to be the very best images of high-end jewelry and the best images for jury submissions. I feel like they give the very best presentation of the work and the workmanship, and evoke a feeling of elegance other types of images often can’t reach. Moreover, when properly created the artist has substantial flexibility to adjust the image, including altering or changing the background, moving pieces within the image to alter the composition, even combining pieces from different shots to create groupings.
There are two types of white background, one I call Natural White and the other Pure White. They are very different and require very different photographic processes.
Natural White Background
Process: To create an image with a natural white background, the piece of jewelry is placed on a white surface, lit, and photographed. The background on which the piece is shot is the background.
Advantages: This is a fairly simple process, and it is not necessarily beyond the reach of the amateur photographer. It gives the feeling of a piece of jewelry sitting on a natural surface, and preserves the natural shadows and reflections on the surface. It is the least expensive type of jewelry photography I produce.
Disadvantages: It is still important to have good lighting units and a knowledge of how to use them, and a good macro lens. One disadvantage with this type of images is that what you see is what you get. There is not a lot of room for adjustment other than basic Photoshop techniques for adjusting highlights and shadows and some color adjustments.
Uses: These images are generally considered acceptable for use on artist’s websites, since it is a kind of image artists can sometimes produce themselves. They are also useful for artists who produce a high-volume of less-expensive work and need a lot of images at an affordable cost. Additionally, some web-based services such as Artful Home prefer well-executed images on natural white backgrounds. I personally do not generally consider these images to be of a high enough caliber to be used for show applications.
My Thoughts: One significant issue with these images, at least for some artists and for some uses, is that the background is not truly white. No matter what white surface on which the work is shot, that surface will never appear as true, pure white in the photograph. This is a simple fact of photography. The background may have a slight color tone to it, although this can usually be removed, but it will always be something less than bright, pure white. Moreover, it cannot be easily made into pure white without getting into some substantial Photoshop work, which increases the cost of the otherwise less-expensive image.
Pure White Background
Process: The process of creating an image of a piece of jewelry on a pure white background is similar to that used for producing an image on a dark grad background. The piece of jewelry is either placed on or suspended in front of a white background, lit, and photographed. In the resulting image the piece is then digitally ‘cut out’ and placed on a pure white background. A pure white background is a background that digital absolute white, with no color tone and as bright a white as the digital color system can produce.
Advantages: Images on pure white all share identical backgrounds. The background is clean and completely neutral. When they are placed on a further white background, such as on a white web page or in a white composition for printing, their background merges with the surrounding surrounding background and vanishes. The process of creating the images also results in the piece being available for use as a floating element on a transparent background, allowing it to be easily composited with other images for group compositions, even those by other artists. This is common in advertising, in particular for high-end shows, which will often combine work from several artists in their promotional material.
Disadvantages: To produce these images the photographer requires the same kinds of skill and equipment used to produce images on the dark grad background, because the process is very similar. Thus they are as expensive. They can also look artificial, since all reflections and shadows must be created digitally.
Uses: These images are susceptible to a wide range of uses. As I indicated above, by nature they allow themselves to be easily composited with other images and are thus very useful for various types of advertising. They look clean and sharp, and many people think they look ‘modern’. Undoubtedly they are a very popular style of image at this time. When properly executed, these images are having good success at getting artists into top shows, while retaining the flexibility for many other uses.
My Thoughts: While these images are expensive to produce, they give the most bang for the busk in that they are useful in many ways other images are not. For those artists mostly or solely concerned with images for juried competition, I still recommend considering the dark grad background, although the pure white is a great alternative. For artists who want the most flexibility from their high-end images I have to recommend pure white.
Each of these backgrounds is different. Each has its own look, its own feel, and each will present the same piece of jewelry differently. The artist must keep in mind that the presentation of a piece of jewelry in a photograph is as important as the piece of jewelry itself. The style of the photograph reflects on the piece of jewelry, and on the artist, in both out-front and subliminal ways. A glamorous image reflects a feeling of glamour onto the piece of jewelry. Likewise, a pedestrian image reflects less well on the work.
In addition, each of these types of images requires a different kind of photographic and lighting set-up, and a different kind of photographic process. It is important for the artist to know in advance of their shoot which kind they prefer. It is rare that an image shot and produced on one kind of background can be successfully altered after the fact to place the piece of jewelry on a very different kind of background.