Tutorial: Photographing Sterling Silver

Recently I got a tutorial request on how to photograph sterling silver from the Etsy community:

Shazzabeth Creations said…

My biggest problem is finding the right background for my silver pieces, some chainmaillers, for example, have great black backgrounds on reflective surfaces that really make the silver pop, but my silver just glares!

So I decided that it was time to figure out how to photograph sterling!

Things you will need for this tutorial:

-Your camera
-Your manual (just in case)
-Jewelry (or handmade product of your choice)
-Background (again of your choice – it’s nice to begin with grey!)
-Something to distract your children or pets (my kitten desperately needed the distraction…)

The first thing that I would suggest is to sit down with your camera and your manual and find the section in manual called “photometry,” which refers to the science of the measurement of light, in terms of its perceived brightness to the human eye – or in this case your camera’s light metering mechanism. Follow me? If not, that’s ok. It basically just refers to how your camera is deciding on the correct exposure. There are different ways your camera can meter: Matrix, Partial, Spot, and Center-Evaluative.

canon eos metering types
Matrix (Evaluative) Metering: On a number of cameras this is the default metering setting. Here the camera measures the light intensity in several points in the scene, and then combines the results to find the settings for the best exposure. How they are combined/calculated deviates from camera to camera. The actual number of zonesused varies, from several to over a thousand.

Partial metering: Partial metering is found mostly on Canon cameras, so if you don’t own a Canon then just ignore this section! This mode meters a larger area than spot metering (around 10-15% of the entire frame), and is generally used when very bright or very dark areas on the edges of the frame would otherwise influence the metering unduly. Like spot metering, some cameras can use variable points to take readings from, (in general the auto focus points), or have a fixed point in the center of the viewfinder.

Spot Metering: Your camera will only measure a very small area of the scene (between 1-5% of the viewfinder area). This will typically be the very center of the scene – although some cameras allow for multiple spots. In general this is probably the setting you want to use for product photography!

Center-weighted average Metering: In this system, the meter concentrates 60 to 80 percent of the light sensitivity around the central part of the viewfinder. The balance is then “feathered” out towards the edges. One advantage of this method is that it is less influenced by small areas that vary greatly in brightness at the edges of the viewfinder.

Ok so here is where you manual comes in. Find out how to change the photometry; again unless you own a Canon, your best bet is to switch to Spot Metering.

Next set up your scene with the type of lighting that you prefer. My suggestion is that natural light on an overcast day is going to be your best bet for even lighting. For this tutorial I used my window and a sheer white curtain to diffuse the strongish sunlight.

So here is image number one. Basically this is a straight shot with the camera on Macro setting and the white balance set for “Sunny.” I wasn’t using anything to diffuse the light, so first notice how strong the shadows are in this image. It may be a personal aesthetic kind of thing, but I don’t like that. It makes the image more of a study or a still life than an image advertising a product.

So from here I did a couple of things. The first thing I did was to change the photometry. In my camera I hit “Menu” while in shooting mode and the option to change photometry was readily available.
This is where I changed to spot metering – refer to the image with the metering icons to see what that should look like in your camera.

These steps yielded the very next image:

Note how much brighter everything is. Basically what happened was the camera said “Oh, there is less light being reflected than before.” Thus the camera compensated (I was shooting in *aperture priority mode* by the by) and slowed my shutter speed down to take in more of the available light .

So the yield is a brighter image overall. You experience may differ if you started out with a dark background or a black background. But if you were using a white or a lighter toned background then you should have a similar experience in terms of overall image brightness when you change the way the camera meters.

Ok so last step here is just to throw that sheer curtain up to diffuse the light a bit. Depending on how thick your material is it may mean that your image will be a bit darker – play a little bit and see what you like and what you don’t like. Obviously if you are shooting on a nice cloudy day (I know, seems like an oxymoron) then you can forgo the whole curtain deal.

Here is a quick idea of what a difference that curtain makes with the shadows and the distribution of light on the silver itself:

Also, note the color change! By throwing a white curtain up it changed the temperature of the light. It made the temperature cooler, which makes for warmer tones. Don’t worry, I will have a in depth tutorial on all of that later! But if you don’t like what has happened to your color, check and see if changing to “Cloudy” helps at all.

Ok so now we’re going to move onto a black background, which can be one of the most difficult backgrounds to shoot on if you don’t know how to change your camera’s metering settings. As soon as you know, it should be almost as easy as pie…depending on the kind of pie.

Now this picture was taken with default metering and a curtain to diffuse the light. It is very washed out and we are getting a lot of glare from our silver. Take a look at that locket. You can barely see the details on it.

The reason this is happening is that your camera takes one look at the black background and says “Oh no, there isn’t enough light here! Must compensate!” So if you are, like me, shooting in aperture priority then it is going to slow your shutter speed WAY down. In my case to about a 30th of a second to let enough light in. Unless you have a really steady hand and brace yourself, your image will be slightly blurry.

Essentially your camera likes to look at the world as though everything were in black and white – and it tries to turn everything to medium grey.
So this image is the camera’s best estimation of a “medium grey” world.

Alright so here is our final image.

Photographing Sterling Silver Tutorial

We have changed the metering to spot metering and have diffused our light. Overall this is a much better image and our silver really stands out.

If you don’t like the glare you are getting – for example the top of the locket – then try diffusing that light a little more.

Maybe try a thicker white material.

Or try a white canvas or mat board on the other side to create more even light.

You camera will take that into account and will adjust accordingly.

The best way to photograph sterling would be in a light box, (which you can DIY you know!) that way you will get very even distribution and diffusion of your light. It will help a ton with glare management.

But this is where we had to end this week’s tutorial because my darling kitten decided it was time to go mad on the jewelry and scatter it to the nether most regions of my house. I am still on the hunt. Wish me luck!

Any questions or comments? Suggestions for a future tutorial? Let me know in the comments below!

Let’s Learn About Your Camera’s Settings!

Let’s Learn About Your Camera’s Settings!

And then forget about them.

(No, really. I mean it!)

Camera commandment: Know thy camera

If you are interested in photography for any reason, whether it be a personal or business pursuit, one of the best things you can do for yourself is get to know your camera.

Even better is to know your camera on an intimate level.

If you still have lingering questions along the lines of “ooh what does this button do?” then I suggest snuggling up with a cup of tea (or a beer – your choice), your camera, and the dreaded manual!!

After a couple of sessions you will be feeling much more confident about this little machine in your hands.

This is especially handy when working with live models.

Your confidence will inspire confidence in them. You will get better pictures. Everybody wins.

Those Little Icons – What Do They Mean?

Ever asked yourself that question? I know I did for a while.

The silly running man icon confounded me for longer than I’d like to admit.

Now that I know what my little running man buddy does to the camera, I can duplicate the same effect manually.

Does that mean that I do it all of the time? No, not really.

But it’s good to know that if there is one out of five of the components associated with a particular setting that isn’t working for me, then I know how to change it and make it work!

Most of the camera on the market today have a dial with the little icons that I have been talking about. They represent a range of settings – from full auto to full manual mode.

Unless you are working in a controlled environment where the lighting will never change, then manual mode may not be for you. This is why we’re going to focus on the other settings a little more in depth.

This setting can be identified as either a small icon of a camera (it’s a red camera on my point and shoot, and P mode on my DSLR) or just the word Auto.
Most people are familiar with their auto setting and, unless you’re in a photography class, it’s probably the setting that you used when first learning about your camera.

Auto can great for snapshots, but it is a double edged sword. Because the Auto setting doesn’t require any input from the photographer at all, the camera will arbitrarily decide on a shutter speed, an aperture opening and a film speed (ISO).

If you have nice, even light in your setting then Auto may work great. But it won’t, for example, give you the control to throw your background out of focus on demand.

My advice is use auto until you are comfortable shooting with the camera and then move on.

The icon of the person’s head is for Portrait mode; this is used when you’re photographing a person in fairly close proximity.

Basically this setting automatically creates a large aperture opening which blurs the background behind your subject.

Depending on your camera there can be 2 modes for this setting- portrait and night portrait. As I’m sure you can tell, the portrait mode is for photographing people in the normal daylight hours.

Night portrait allows you to photograph a person when in a dark night-time ambiance and still retain detail.

Basically it will slow down your shutter speed, letting more light into the camera. This may require a steadier hand if you are not using a fill flash as well.


That’s the little mountain icon. Basically what this setting does is tells your camera that you want a lot of crisp detail, even of things far away.

This setting will automatically set up the camera with a smaller aperture, which in turn creates a larger depth of which (this lets the camera capture more detail).

The result is a crisp image of subjects both close to the camera and a great distance away.

Yes, it’s our running man friend again!

The setting is for capturing movement; so if you are attending a fast paced soccer game, this is probably going to be your go-to setting.

With the little running man icon you can either stop motion completely or you can give your background a fun motion-blur effect.

Each has its advantages and you will have to decide when to use which. A blurred background shows that your subject is, indeed, moving.

In fact they’re moving really fast (or at least it will look that way!).

It is likely that your camera’s settings will automatically be prepped to stop motion completely with this setting.
Your camera will adjust to use the fastest shutter speed and the smallest aperture possible, which will stop motion and create a large depth of field.

In order to do this, your camera will also take control of the ISO (film speed) and use the highest it can get away with.

Ifyou’re outdoors, this should be no problem. If you’re trying to photograph in a dimly lit gym you may find that your images will come out looking rather grainy.

This is why learning these settings in depth and knowing how to replicate them manually is great. Then you can take control of the ISO or the film speed as needed.

So let’s say you want to blur everything but your subject in sports mode? Not too difficult.

Imagine an image of a race car with a blurred background. I would simply follow the car’s movement as best I could when taking the photo.

This would produce a blurred background while keeping the car relatively in focus.

That’s little icon of a flower.

If you are shooting products like jewelry or enjoy close up nature shots, then the macro setting can be your best friend.

Any time you want to photograph something like an earring or a cool looking spider at a close distance, place your camera in Macro.

The focus will adjust and the camera open to a wide aperture to produce a shallow depth of field.

Some cameras have 2 modes of macro: macro and super macro.

Macro will allow you to get close up photos of your subject, where you can be within inches of your subject. Super macro will let you get even closer, practically right on top of it with a clear focus.

The distance ranges will differ depending on your camera – so break out that manual (again) and double check to see what the best distance is for your camera to shoot at.

“A” or “Av”
This is probably my favorite mode and one that I tend to shoot in the most. The “A” or “Av” stands for Aperture Priority and is a semi automatic mode that lets you choose the aperture you want to shoot with.

The camera will then compensate with a shutter speed that lets in the correct amount of light. So in my case, I enjoy shooting with a relatively open aperture.

If I want to shoot with an aperture of 2.0 (really open!) on a bright sunny day, then my camera will compensate with a super fast shutter speed to make sure that I’m not letting in way more light than needed.

This is also a great setting for a novice photographer who still wants control over things like depth of field. I love it because it gives me that control that I want and I don’t have to worry about much else.

“S” or “Tv”
Shutter Priority is just like aperture priority except this setting allows you to increase or decrease the shutter speed while the camera chooses the right aperture.

This is great while you are learning about how different shutter speeds can affect your photo- they will each produce different effects (remember our race car image?).

Each has their use. Using this setting will help guide you in producing these different types of shots and observing the effects without having to revert to a full manual setting.

Both this and aperture priority will help guide you as you learn how to handle the full manual settings of your camera.

Manual (Dun dun duuuuun!)
The manual settings of your camera will allow you to have full control over each aspect of your photograph.
This setting gives you control over aperture, shutter speed, ISO, flash, white balance and more.

Once you have mastered all of the automatic and semi-automatic settings, I suggest going over to the dark side of Manual.

You will become more connected with your images as a result of thinking ahead and planning which settings you want to use in order to achieve a certain effect.

Manual gives you more latitude in which to play and experiment, which can be a very satisfying experience. If you want to create a certain mood, then you can do it!

So that concludes our Crash Course in Camera Settings. Of course, some cameras have many more settings and some have specialized modes. I will talk more about the individual settings in further detail in further posts.

But now you have an idea as to what your settings are and what you can do with them.

Now you can take your camera out and play while becoming familiar with each setting. Remember, while practice may not make perfect, it certainly makes a lot better!

Have fun. =)