Sunday, July 11, 2010

What I've learned about macro and jewelry photography.

I’m always trying to make my jewelry photos better for showing on the internet. Not being a professional photographer, this has been a struggle and a frustrating learning experience. Most of my jewelry is glass, which is shiny and hard to photograph. I recently purchased a couple of books on digital photography, but found there was not a lot of information about point and shoot cameras. Well, really, how could someone write 600 pages about that. If you have a SLR camera you might need it tho. Also, out of 600 pages in the one book, there was less than one page about macro photography. Here’s what I’ve learned, mostly by experimentation. (My camera is about 3 years old, a Canon Powershot SD800, with 7.1 mp and 3.8 X optical zoom.)
1. Read the camera manual. As you read it, experiment with all the different settings. Mine has more capability than I thought. In manual mode I can adjust the white balance, chose the type of light I’m using, etc.
2. Turn off the digital zoom and only use the optical zoom. This was the best tip that I got out of the books I bought. The digital zoom degrades the picture quality. My photos really improved when I did this. This would apply to any photos, but especially to macro. (Which means I would like to have a new camera with more optical zoom. I see they are now available with up to 20 X and more. )

3. A high ISO (800-1200, etc.) means the camera shutter is faster. This is good for motion shots, but may create 'noise' in the photo. I was once told in a photo class that the National Geographic photographers always shoot at ISO 200. Of course they are using high end cameras. Anyway it seems that 200 ISO or below works best.
4. Always use a tripod of some sort. I got an inexpensive table top one at Target for under $10. If I want to shoot from a higher angle, I turn a plastic box over and rest it on the bottom. I also have a longer tripod, but it seems to get in my way when I’m trying to arrange items.
5. Shooting next to a window for natural light did not work for me. Our windows are ‘low E’. So check your windows if you are having trouble getting the right color cast to your pics. A low-e coating works like an invisible mirror to reflect selected portions of the light spectrum back out. (Bob Vila tells about them here: )
6. Since it is 110 degrees here I do not shoot photos outside. I use light bulbs that are ‘daylight’ or have over 5000 Kelvin rating. The higher the number the closer to daylight. I use 3 lights, one on each side and one on top.
7. A light tent has turned out to be the best bet for me to keep the harsh glare of the light bulbs off of the shiny jewelry. I made a couple of them with a box. I cut the sides and top out and covered the holes with tissue paper. This helped but I was still getting a grey cast through the tissue. I just purchased one at BHphotovideo, which is working better. It has thin fabric all the way around.
8. Take photos at the highest Resolution possible. Mine is ‘L’, which is 3072 x 2304. I use Paint Shop Pro or Photoshop Elements to crop and resize. They seem to come out of my camera at 180 dpi. After cropping, I then resize by changing the dpi to 72. This automatically changes the size to about 500 to 600 mp, which is the ideal size in my opinion. I dislike making them too large because a pendant that is 2” across is not going to look good at 6” in a photo.

9. Make as few adjustments on your photos as possible. Every time you change something the quality goes down. The best tip I’ve seen that works for me is here: This is instructions for changing the contrast and brightness by using the graph sliders which is under ‘levels’. This seems to do very little damage to the quality of the photo.

10. Be sure that your background is not too busy. After all you want your item to show up and really pop.

Here is a photo taken several months ago:

And a more recent one:

I hope this info is helpful.

Glass fusing in molds.

Fusing glass in molds for jewelry: This is not an easy subject to get information about, so I'm sharing what I've learned. (This only applies to small jewelry size pieces and molds as larger sizes may differ.)
First you will need: a mold of the appropriate size for jewelry, some glass frit (crushed glass) and, of course, a electionically controlled kiln. Oh yes, and you MUST have some kiln wash - and the only one I have found to work is Primo Primer by Hotline. The stuff that came with the kiln for use on shelves just doesn't work on molds.Glass frit comes in 4 different sizes: powder, fine, medium, and coarse. I do not use powder as it is too easy to breathe into your lungs (respirator required). Also, the size will vary from one company to the next. One medium may equal someone else's coarse. You will have to experiment. Try to buy only 2 or 4 ounces the first time as a one lb. jar is going to last a long time; and if you are like me, you will want several different colors. The Warm Glass website has small jars in all sizes and colors. Also note that frit comes in both transparent and opaque. They have a very different look when fired. I usually mix the 2 together, as I did in the above photo.
Molds are available several places, it's just a matter of finding the shape you desire. Check the overall measurement to make sure it will fit in your kiln (if it's small like mine). Then get the inside size of the mold itself to be sure that it is the right size or what you had in mind. I bought some that were for pendants and if filled to the top with frit are very heavy. Above is the photo of a group of the large sized ones.
A note about molds. On some of them -especially ones with designs - the bottom of the mold is the top of the piece when you take it out. This means that the top (really the bottom) is rounded and will not be very flat. This can be a problem. I have refired the pieces without the mold to a tack fuse to get the bottom to flatten out a little for gluing. This can also flatten out the top where the design is if you fire it too hot.
The process: Brush off any dust from the mold. Mix the primer according to the instructions. (Don't breathe the dust.) This is usually 1 part dry mix and 4-5 parts water. Put in a jar that can be sealed and shaken. It tends to settle and must be stirred well each time before using. Using a soft brush, coat the inside and top of the molds with the primer. Let dry a few hours and repeat until you have at least 4 coats on. Be sure it is dry before adding glass. Adding the glass - I use a small metal measuring spoon and tweezers to put the glass in and push it around. If you're trying for a pattern of any type, I would usually put a solid color in the bottom and arrange the pattern on top of that. You can add clear to the overall top if you desire. It's fun to experiment!
The fusing: The important part is next. These molds are made of ceramic and as such must be heated slowly or they will crack. I've had a couple crack when I was using the little micro-wave oven kiln. They sell those small molds to use in it, but don't do it. The microwave heats much too fast. You must ramp up your real kiln temperature slowly - here's my schedule: (obviously your's may vary).
300 degrees per hr to 1000 - hold 20 min.
400 degrees per hr to 1250 - hold 20 min.
600 degrees per hr to 1550 - hold 30 (large molds can go to 1600, hold 40)
full to 1000, hold 40 min.
100 to 900, hold 40 min.
100 to 750, hold 20 min.
400 to 100, & off. (don't peek until cool!)
When finished - turn the mold upside down and hopefully the pieces will fall out. If not use a soft spatula or similar to pry a little. There will probably be kiln wash stuck to the bottom. Scrub it off with scouring powder and a toothbrush. Admire your new jewelry pieces.