Here's five lighting setups from simple to complex.
Photo By Antfarm Photography
For Jewelry, It’s All About Sparkle
Reflective objects are often the hardest to light and, of these, jewelry is the most time-consuming. The challenge is to make inanimate objects shimmer and glow with vibrancy and life.
It’s a challenge that David Barowsky and Steven Devilbiss of Antfarm Photography (antfarmphotography.com) meet on a daily basis in their studio located in the heart of New York’s photo district.
“We give a lot of attention to every facet, especially with diamonds, since they are so expensive,” says Barowsky. The 18-karat gold Faraone Mennella bracelets shown here are studded with very high-quality white, brown, and champagne pavé diamonds.
“For this shot, it’s all in the lighting, and we did very little imageediting after. Of course, we also needed a very sharp macro lens to capture the diamonds’ facets and subtle variations in color.”
Lighting jewelry is done one light at a time, and one facet or surface at a time. Some pieces can require up to a dozen lights and reflecting cards. “You keep working the lights on one surface until you get them right. When it looks good, you move on to the next light and surface,” Barowsky explains. “Make your set tight, and don’t allow ambient light to spill onto the piece and affect color temperature.”
Reflections from the background can reproduce as black dead zones. To prevent them, build a de facto light tent around your subject by completely surrounding it with lights, diffusers, and reflectors.
The main lights used here were 3200 watt-second Broncolor Unilite strobe heads diffused through large Plexiglas panels placed to the left and right of the bracelets. The subjects sat on a reflective sheet of brushed sterling silver. Because the light heads are gridded, their output fell off across the Plexiglas (hot in the center, and dimmer toward the edges) which, in turn, created subtle gradations of tone in the gold.
A highly focused Broncolor Picolite at the camera position added shine and sparkle to the diamonds, while the box light behind assured a clean white background and helped create the reflection on the silver sheet.
Absolute exposure control is crucial, and to get it, the photographers relied on exposure histograms. While many shooters use histograms to ensure that they preserve detail in either highlights or shadows (or both), jewelry photographers also use them to monitor flare and keep the sparkly highlights from blowing out. “One of the main challenges with shooting bright, shiny jewelry on white is flare,” says Barowsky.
“One trick for reducing it is to slowly bring up the background light until it reads 255 on the historgram. If it pushes past 255, it will add unnecessary flare.”
Antfarm Photography’s team lit these two gold and diamond bracelets with a snooted and gridded Broncolor picolite ($720 street) and two Broncolor 3200 Ws unilite strobe heads ($1,510, street, each). Both were powered by Broncolor grafit powerpacks. The camera was a Sinar P2 4x5 view camera outfitted with a Sinar 54h digital back, and Schneider Digitar 120mm f/5.6 macro lens set to f/32.