Photographing Concho Belts.

FulkersonConchoBelt_(1_of_2) FulkersonConchoBelt_(2_of_2)

Recently Jeff Fulkerson  sent me these two concho belts to be photographed. He said, “I don’t know what to do with these”. When I got them and opened up the package, I went  “Wow!”  They were very impressive both visually and physically. I am basically set up for doing very small things these days. I immediately began missing my big softbox from my studio back in Cleveland, Ohio. But fortunately I had just watched a video about the new panorama/HDR feature in the latest version of Lightroom. I started problem-solving with those features in mind and I realized I could create a panorama of each belt but I wouldn’t move the camera, I would move the table that the belt was sitting on. So that’s what I did and it worked perfectly. I think I needed about four captures per belt and Lightroom put everything together giving me one large raw file and I finished the rest of the work in Photoshop.


This is a question that has been coming up more and more frequently, and it is a question that I have avoided answering since I started doing workshops on photographing jewelry. My audience is geared towards the jewelry artist and not so much the photographer. And I’ve made a point of saying in my workshops that you can use any camera you want. You don’t have to have an expensive camera like the one I use for doing my magazine work.

1. Some artists only need a documentary photograph of finished work.

2. Some artists do works in progress photos for Facebook and or their blog or Pinterest

3. Images for websites

4. Jury slides

5. Online commerce, like Etzy and Amazon

6. Posters and banners for display booths

When I first started teaching workshops, one of my prime motivations, was making a body of knowledge available to the jewelry artists who couldn’t afford to send their work out to be photographed for jury submissions and their websites. Initially the emphasis was on getting people to a point where they could shoot their jewelry on a gradated neutral gray background for jury submissions because that’s generally what the rules require and that’s what had been done through the years during the days of film and then into digital. So now while there is still definitely the need for “jury slides” which then get used on the artist’s website there are new venues that require digital photography. Etsy, and Amazon are two new venues which are becoming increasingly important. So photography is becoming more important every day for the jewelry artist. And I think it is very important that the artist creates a visual look for his or her work that will separate their work from the crowd so to speak. We are constantly looking at large numbers of images and they need to stand out in order to be noticed. And they also need to work well on small handheld portable devices like smart phones.

In addition to the above, then one has to consider the various reasons and needs of the jewelry artist for buying a camera. If you’re using the camera solely to photograph jewelry I think the decision is somewhat easier, but if you are also someone who likes to travel with your camera or take family photos or you are also a nature photographer, as an example, the choice might not be quite so simple.

When I first made the transition to digital approximately 15 years ago there were very few choices and everything was very expensive, even the point and shoots. My first personal digital camera was an Olympus 5050 which I paid $600 for, because it shot raw files. It shot 5 megapixel files. I payed another $200 for a 500 MB memory card. My how things have changed. The professional Nikon, Canon, and Kodak cameras were extremely expensive.

But the landscape has changed dramatically and there are some suggestions that I would make now that I hope will make it easier for you to make a decision about buying a new camera if you are at that point. When I first started doing workshops it was unusual for someone to have DSLR. So I would always teach and demonstrate part of my workshop with a small inexpensive Panasonic point-and-shoot camera. Some students only wanted to make good documentary photographs of their jewelry for inventory and some were interested in making jury slides and I showed them how that was possible with a point-and-shoot camera. And DSLRs were still relatively expensive and that is no longer the case.

Assuming for the moment that you’re only interest is in photographing your jewelry I would encourage you to consider a DSLR, and I will talk mostly about Nikon cameras because that is what I use and what I am most familiar with, but Canon and now Sony are making some very excellent DSLRs all within the same price range. I would also interject at this point, that Sony along with Olympus and Panasonic, are making some excellent cameras that are DSLR-like but they are mirrorless and use an interior LCD screen to look at. There are some others such as Pentax,Samsung and Fuji, but there have gotten to be so many new cameras out there now I can’t begin to talk about all of them.

There are several reasons why I would suggest considering a Nikon or a Canon DSLR. First there is image quality, the ability to shoot raw files, interchangeable lenses, and the ability to shoot tethered in Lightroom. I think being able to shoot tethered in Lightroom can be a significant advantage because it allows you to capture an image and see it instantly available on your nearby computer which is something that I stress in all of my workshops. If at all possible I feel it is very important that you have a computer of some kind near your shooting set up so that you can transfer your images immediately from your camera to your computer via a USB cable. More cameras are making Wi-Fi possible but it’s a relatively new technology and in many cases is an accessory item. I think in the case of Nikon and Canon, the kit lens that comes with their entry level DSLR’s is adequate for most jewelry photography which means that for approximately $550 you can get a camera with the kit lens and, given the quality of the images that you can create it’s quite remarkable now. There is one caveat here with the base entry level DSLR, it may not work in the tethered mode with Lightroom. In the case of Nikon, as a for instance, their 3000 series DSLR’s don’t shoot tethered with Lightroom, you have to upgrade to the 5000 series cameras and above. If you go to the Adobe Lightroom website they have a list of all the cameras that are capable of shooting tethered with Lightroom. That means you’ll have to spend a little more money but if you’re doing any volume but it all, and you’re trying to teach yourself new lighting techniques I think that being able to shoot tethered is a real timesaver. And I think having better tools in general saves you time which I think is an important consideration.

More cameras are being made with built-in Wi-Fi so shooting tethered will become much easier. Even if your camera doesn’t shoot tethered you can get a USB extension cable to add to the one that comes with your camera so that you will be able to move your image from your camera to the computer relatively quickly without having to move your camera or remove the memory card from your camera. Here again depending on the level of complexity that you are incorporating into your photography some of these things may not be as important to you as they are to me. In my case, many times I take several exposures of a piece of jewelry in which I change the lighting. I then merge these images together in Photoshop. My chances of success are much greater if I don’t have to touch my camera in any way for those exposures. Photoshop has the ability to align images that are in perfect alignment but it does have its limitations. If you’re using a point-and-shoot this may be more difficult because you will have to touch the camera more often. And there are other little things about using a point-and-shoot that can be very distracting. If the battery goes dead you may have to remove the camera and the quick release plate in order to get at the battery and in some cases the memory card. And in many cases when you turn the camera off you have to redo all of the settings which may not be a big deal if you’re only shooting two or three pieces of jewelry that if you’re doing larger numbers to time you waste starts to add up.

After ease-of-use, image quality is important and while you can shoot some very good images with point and shoots I think because of the smaller chips that point and shoots use you have to be more exacting with your exposure and cropping in order to get good results. Not all of the point and shoots give you the option of shooting raw. But even so raw files from the point and shoots which have smaller sensors won’t have the same latitude and quality that their larger cousins, the DSLRs with the APC  size sensors have.

And just a word on sensor size. There are more and more cameras available now with what are called full frame sensors. These sensors are physically the same size as the window in a 35mm slide. On a full frame camera it is slightly wide-angle. Consumer level cameras offered by Canon and Nikon and other manufacturers have what are called AP–C sensors which are physically smaller and have a crop factor of approximately 1.5x so that the 35mm lens as a viewing angle of a normal or 50 mm lens on a full frame camera. The advantages are cost and at any given aperture slightly more depth of field. We won’t get into downsides. There are also 4/3 cameras, made mostly by Panasonic and Olympus which have a 2X crop factor. And now some of the point-and-shoot cameras are putting slightly bigger sensors in their cameras as are some of the new smartphones.

So, if your prime consideration is shooting jewelry and keeping your camera costs down, and you want to be able to shoot tethered in Lightroom I would certainly consider Nikon or Canon if any or all of these reasons are important.   There are many other excellent cameras to choose from, just bear in mind that there is no one camera that does everything perfectly.

Individual Workshops

For the present I am no longer doing group workshops at my studio in Marshalton, PA. I’m only doing one on one workshops, but I will be able to schedule them for any day of the week. You can get the details and cost on my workshop page. You can call or email me if you would like to schedule a workshop.

Rio Grande Workshops

I recently finished doing two workshops at Rio Grande in Albuquerque. These were the first full day  sessions that I’ve done away from my studio in  Marshalton, PA. Both groups were very enthusiastic and I had a great time. I have created new tutorials in both PDF and video form which I’ve made available to everyone in those workshops and I will make available to anyone who has done a full-day workshop at my home studio. One of the more important changes that I’ve  in my teaching, is that now I am advocating that everyone learn to use Lightroom and Photoshop. And part of my rationale for doing that is because Adobe no longer sells their software. It’s based on a subscription model now and they have a special offer for photographers.  You can subscribe to a package of Lightroom and Photoshop CC for $10 a month.  You can buy Lightroom and Photoshop Elements  out right but I just don’t think this is the way to go now. I have done several webinars which you can find on the Interweave store where I have discussed using Photoshop Elements. My only real reason for doing that was because Elements is so much cheaper than a full version of Photoshop.  That is no longer the case and Elements has a few key features missing, but it is usable.

Also if you are a Mac user and you use Aperture you’re going to find that Apple is no longer going to support it and it will just go away eventually. They have something new that they will be introducing this  Fall but who knows what that’s going to be. And I don’t think it’s going to have all of the features that Aperture had. It would be a good time to think about switching to Lightroom anyway.

For those of you  who have gotten  Lightroom here is a link to some very good instructional videos on the Adobe website:  http://tv.adobe.com/show/getting-started-with-adobe-photoshop-lightroom-5/    .

My next workshop will be on Sat. Feb 15th at my Marshalton studio. The details are on my Upcoming Workshop page.

Occasionally someone has difficulty with the PDF equipment lists supplied with my DVDs that are purchased from the Interweave Store. The link provided here will download  a list of all the equipment that I speak of in my three DVDs and where to buy them. I have added a new diffusion material, ripstop nylon, and an updated a source for the dura-lar diffusion material. These aren’t the only sources for many of the items, but the lightbox that I recommend is only available from Adorama. There are other florescent light sources that can be substituted, but most are considerably more expensive. If you have any further questions please don’t hesitate to ask.


I am doing a new one-day workshop on jewelry photography on Saturday, October 26, 2013. The cost will be $200 and is limited to three people so make your reservations early. You can email me for details, at jiml1948@mac.com.

Occasionally, I get an email from someone who has bought one of my three DVDs on jewelry photography, with a question about where to buy an item that I talk  about or  is on the downloadable PDF. Two of the questions that come up frequently are,  where to purchase the diffusion material for the light frame and where to buy the silver foil board that I use for fill. If you have an art supply store nearby they should have both items. Also, your local frame shop should be able to order the foil board.  It’s made by Crescent and the # is 1020. It comes in 30inx40in sheets.

A good online source for the silver foil board is: http://www.artsupplywarehouse.com/prodDetail.php?id=31636

And for the Dura-Lar diffusion material: http://www.artsupplywarehouse.com/prodDetail.php?id=9272

Another option for a diffusion material which I just discovered is carried by B&H Photo and is a package of nylon ripstop diffusion material. Here’s the link:  http://bhpho.to/18jefUW.   It’s a little more expensive than the Dura-Lar  but I think it will be more durable and you can staple it to the frame. It should be very easy to trim out a piece with scissors and if you want to make bigger frames it will be easy to do with this material.