How to Use Scanners for Photographing Jewelry
© by Rena Klingenberg; all rights reserved.
I’ve found that using scanners for photographing jewelry can be an easy way to get pretty good photos of my work.
For several years, I shot all of my jewelry photos using an ordinary desktop scanner. It’s fast, easy, and you can get beautiful results.
Below, I’ll give you some neat tips for achieving excellent results from photographing jewelry with a scanner.
I started out scanning my jewelry several years ago, because at that time I couldn’t afford a digital camera.
As I worked on developing different tricks to make my scanner shots better and better, I decided that except for the occasional 3-dimensional jewelry piece like cuff bracelets, I often preferred my scanner for photographing jewelry because I was really happy with the results.
So before you spend any money on a digital camera for taking jewelry photos, I recommend trying what I think is the simplest tool for photographing jewelry: An ordinary computer scanner.
Jewelry artists often ask me to recommend the specific scanner they should use for photographing jewelry.
I bought the scanner I used for taking my jewelry pictures in about 1998. It finally died after several years of use.
It isn’t made anymore, and the manufacturer is no longer in business.
It was the only scanner I’ve ever used for jewelry – so unfortunately, I don’t have a specific brand or model to recommend to you.
Why Photograph Jewelry with Scanners?
Using scanners to take jewelry photos is pretty straightforward, with not many technical details to mess around with.
Most jewelry is small enough and flat enough to fit on the scanner glass, and with a little practice, some creativity, and a bit of photo editing, you’ll soon be photographing jewelry quickly and getting wonderful, artistic shots.
I believe photographing jewelry with scanners is also much faster than using digital cameras – or at least it was for me!
Jewelry photos shot with scanners don’t have to be as limited as you might think.
In fact, you can accomplish some really incredible artistic effects by photographing jewelry with scanners, that I’m not sure how to duplicate using a digital camera!
The artistry and magic in jewelry photos taken with scanners are the result of three parts of the process:
- eliminating problems of scanned jewelry photos before you take the shot
- designing your shot, and
- good photo editing after the shot.
Eliminate Problems of
Photographing Jewelry with a Scanner
Before you take the shot, follow a few simple guidelines to eliminate 99% of the problems involved in using scanners for photographing jewelry:
1. Wipe the scanner glass clean. Even tiny specks of lint or dust come out looking enormous, dirty, and tacky in a jewelry photo – which devalues the viewer’s impression of the jewelry!
2. Place a clean, clear sheet of plastic (such as a page protector from an office supply store) on top of the scanner glass so the glass won’t be scratched by your jewelry. When the plastic sheet starts to get a bit scratched from use, discard it and use a new one.
3. Clean and polish the jewelry to a jewelry-store shine, and wipe the jewelry clean with a lint-free cloth such as a Sunshine cloth.
4. Arrange your jewelry and any background on the glass (which is covered by the sheet protector).
5. Place a small box on the scanner glass, out of the jewelry shot. That way, when you close the lid of the scanner, the lid won’t press against the back of the jewelry and knock it askew from the way you arranged it on the glass. (Discovering this trick saved me a huge amount of wasted time, frustration, and tears!) Close the lid of the scanner so that it rests on the small box.
6. Cover the entire scanner with a dark cloth so no outside light can seep in around the edges of the scanner lid, which is propped partly open by the small box.
Design Your Jewelry Photo for a Scanner
Okay, now the fun begins!
First, look through some clothing / jewelry catalogs to see how the most effective jewelry photos are designed.
What do designers do to make persuasive shots when photographing jewelry? What’s in the photo, and what’s not? What feeling does the photo give you about the jewelry, and why?
You can also click around some jewelry websites, enjoying the eye candy there, studying the same things.
NOTE: Don’t copy other people’s photo designs. Just learn from what you see, and get inspired so you can take off in your own direction that’s best for your own jewelry.
Now take a good look at the piece of jewelry you’re going to photograph. What mood or feel does it have? What kind of style?
Keep the piece’s personality in mind when you design the photo.
If you have a neat photo design idea but it’s not really right for that particular piece of jewelry, save the design idea for a different piece. Keep a notebook or file of image design ideas for photographing jewelry, so you can pull it out and design a shot quickly.
Place Your Jewelry on the Scanner
Set the piece of jewelry face-down on the clean scanner glass that’s covered by the clean plastic sheet protector. Turn the jewelry a bit, this way or that, till you get an appealing angle that’s appropriate for the piece.
For earrings, I’ve found that it’s a nightmare to try to make both of them perfectly vertical and perfectly parallel to each other, and anyway I think placing them at artsy angles to each other is much more visually intriguing and dynamic, and romanticizes the piece.
So don’t kill yourself trying to achieve a perfectly vertical earring shot, especially if the earrings have round beads that make them roll around.
For necklaces or chains, try different cool ways of swirling or coiling the strands or chain on the scanner glass for the photo.
Be sure the clasp shows clearly. If the necklace has an extender, that should be clearly visible too. Make sure chains don’t look angled or awkwardly kinked.
Again, don’t try for perfectly vertical shots – tilt the piece till you get a neat angle.
Arrange the Background
of Your Shot
When the jewelry is arranged to your satisfaction, it’s time for the background of the shot.
Choose a plain piece of interestingly-textured fabric, some natural or silk leaves or flowers, or a sheet of special paper to place over the back of the jewelry for the photo background.
For fabric, good choices include cheesecloth, gauze, denim, lace, linen, fur, netting, etc. For paper, consider a light, interesting pattern, gradient color, or printed scenery – and try things like wallpaper samples, scrapbook papers, etc.
Just remember, your background shouldn’t contrast too fiercely with your jewelry in terms of color or style. The jewelry – not the background – is the star of the photo.
If you have too much contrast in your jewelry scans, like pearls being invisible or onyx looking like a dark blop – try a neutral-toned background.
Experiment with medium grays, beiges and blues and see if that helps.
When photographing jewelry for a website, some jewelry artists prefer to use the same background for all shots, to prevent the assortment of backgrounds from distracting attention from the jewelry.
You don’t necessarily have to do that, though; I’ve also seen lovely, effective websites where the jewelry has a variety of photo backgrounds. It’s up to you – I think you can make it work well for your website either way.
Should You Show the Size of Your Jewelry?
Some jewelry artists like to place an object in the photo next to their jewelry, to show customers how big the piece is.
If you do this, I don’t recommend using a coin in the same photo as your jewelry as a way of showing the size of the piece.
For one thing, the glare on the coin can make for a difficult lighting contrast in the scan. But more important, it doesn’t seem like a good comparison to put a piece of well handcrafted jewelry right next to 25 cents! You don’t want people subconsciously thinking the coin represents the value of your jewelry.
If you must show the scale of the piece, I recommend using your hand or even a ruler in the photo instead.
Your hand adds the bonus of lending the jewelry a very personal touch. For scanning a shot that looks like you’re holding the piece of jewelry, simply put your palm or fingers against the back of the jewelry once you’ve arranged it on the scanner glass.
Scan Your Jewelry
When your photo design is all set up on the scanner glass, close the scanner lid against the small box (as in step 5 above) and press your pre-scan button.
When your scanner software shows you the pre-scan image, scrutinize the photo. Does the jewelry appear to its best advantage? Is a necklace clasp hidden by beads, or is one earring at too wacky of an angle? Is there a distracting wrinkle in the background fabric?
Adjust whatever needs to be fixed, if anything, and pre-scan again till you get a good photo design.
When you like the pre-scan shot, use your scanner software’s cropping feature to make a nice, tight, closeup shot of your jewelry. Bring the edges of the crop as close to the jewelry as possible without cutting out any part of the jewelry or the slight shadow it has cast against the background.
Most of the background will be cropped out, but check that what background remains looks good.
Now make your final scan at no less than 100% scale and 100% resolution. The larger your scale and resolution percentages, the more detail it will have, but the bigger and slower the photo file will be, so experiment and use your discretion!
My scanner does best with 100% scale and 300% resolution. I then make the pictures smaller in my photo editor.
Send this final scan to disk or hard drive. Don’t remove your jewelry or background from the scanner glass yet. Wait till you see the picture in your photo editing software first, because you might want to make small adjustments to the photo design and scan it again.
Artistic Ideas for Scanning Your Jewelry:
- Thread a ribbon, piece of lace, strip of velvet, or neat twig through pendant bails.
- If you’ll be using more than one shot of this piece, consider a photograph showing the back of the piece instead of a second view of the front (also with a different background), especially on items where the back showcases your craftsmanship.
- Experiment with small props such as tumbled stones, crystals, bamboo stalks, dried flowers, a lady’s fan, driftwood, a pine bough or pine cone, crocheted doily, leather or suede, autumn leaves, fake fur, seashells.
Again remember to keep the jewelry the focus of the photo, and have only a small part of the prop in the photo – for example, just the ruffled edge of a seashell.
Scanning Jewelry That Isn’t Flat
Unfortunately, the more 3-dimensional a piece of jewelry is, the harder it is to get everything in focus – because scanners are set to focus precisely at the depth of the scanner glass, and no farther.
But even though scanning jewelry works best on flatter pieces, you still may be able to wind up with a good picture of your work.
For example, recently a jewelry artist asked me,
“Do you have any solutions for scanning jewelry that has a slightly raised stone? The stone is raised just enough to make the pendant blurry around the perimeter.”
This is a good example of a piece that’s not perfectly flat – so if you’re going to scan it, you may need to change your intention for the photo.
Sometimes in your photo editing program you can do some “sharpening” or other things (you’ll have to play around with your particular photo and image editing software to see what works best) that minimize the blurriness on the more distant parts of the piece of jewelry.
But if that fails, can you use the blurriness as an advantage?
You may be able to make it look like the more distant parts of the jewelry are purposely “romantically blurry” for effect.
Sometimes a gauzy cloth backdrop or romantically-blurry paper background can help you achieve this effect quite nicely.
I encourage you to get creative and explore the capabilities of your equipment when photographing jewelry with scanners!
After Scanning Your Jewelry
So now you have a well-designed photo – but it’s not finished yet.
It’s time for photo editing to tweak your photo here and there and make it a clean, clear, final image.