Light, White, or Pure White? What Constitutes “White?”
What do we mean when we talk about producing images on a white background? As usual, it’s not as simple as it might seem. There are several possibilities. Here are the three main ones: a light graduated background, a white surface and background, and a pure white background.
A light graduated background is just what it says, a graduated background that is very light in tone, as opposed to the more traditional dark grad. I produce this type of image in the same manner in which I produce traditional images on a dark graduated background, with the jewelry cut out and placed on a layer separate from the background The graduated background is created digitally and placed behind the jewelry. The advantage is the ability to try different backgrounds, and also to be exactly consistent shot to shot. Here is an example:
The image above is what I consider a traditional dark graduated background. This is the style I have been using for the last decade to get artists into top shows.
This is the same image with the dark grad replaced with a much lighter graduated background. It still preserves much of the “drama” of the original but presents with a lighter feel.
By this I mean placing a piece of jewelry physically on a white surface and photographing it in place. In the finished photo the jewelry rests on the surface on which it was shot, which becomes the background of the piece, preserving any shadows and reflections that might appear on the surface. It also preserves any slight variation in color that the background may have, since most surfaces which our eye reads as “white” actually have some slight color cast. The advantage here is that by preserving the actual background the piece is presented on a real surface with proper reflections and shadows, giving it a feeling of actually being somewhere as opposed to floating in space.
Pure White Background
What I consider a pure white background is a digitally-produced white background, which is absolutely neutral (without color cast) and fully bright, not gray. The piece of jewelry is photographed on a light or white background, then digitally cut out and placed on a digital pure white background. Any shadows and reflections have to be digitally re-created, which can sometimes look artificial unless done very carefully. However, when done well, the finished look is very clean, bright and modern. The advantage with this process is that it is much easier to use an image produced in such a manner in conjunction with other images for advertising purposes. It’s not uncommon for shows to want to use in their promotional materials images of work from artists attending the show, and often they specify images on white for this reason.
Takeaway: Concerning these three types of images, here is my recommendation. For images used for jurying into competitive shows, I believe any of these styles will work well currently. I personally prefer either of the first two, either the light grad digital background or the piece shot on a white surface, retaining the shadows and reflections of the piece on that surface. Both, in my opinion, have their merits, and which to choose over the other depends to a degree on artist preference, and also on the piece of jewelry. I also think images of these two styles are similar enough that they may be mixed in a portfolio.
I am slightly less inclined to recommend images produced with a pure white background for jurying. I feel that the there is a risk of the image looking “clinical” or “artificial,” although this might simply be a personal preference.
I do not recommend mixing these types in a single jury submission.
So is the white background the future of jewelry photography for juried competitions, or is it just a fad? Will it supplant the traditional images completely, or live alongside them as part of a general broadening of what is considered acceptable for juried submissions? I think the jury is still out at this point (so to speak!) There are a lot of traditional images being used to get into a lot of top shows. But it is undeniable that there is an ever-increasing number of images being submitted which have lighter backgrounds, and are being successful. I think it behooves the artist who wants to continue to get into top shows to be aware of this trend.