Pixel Perfect

Pixel Perfect Pixel Perfect

Pendant by Ruthie Cohen

By Helen I. Driggs, Managing Editor of the Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist
Reprinted with permission from Lapidary Journal, March 2007

Photographing jewelry has always been tough. Now you've got to navigate through file management, too...

So, maybe you or your photographer finally broke down and bought a spiffy new little digital camera with all those bells and whistles. Or, the last time you asked for slide carriers at the local photomart, the 20-something clerk looked at you like you were from Mars. Perhaps you have reluctantly embraced the digital revolution--no more waiting for photo processing! No more blurry slides--even the craft world jurying system has finally jumped on the digital bandwagon. It's time for instant gratification, and immediate results--welcome to the modern world!

Because of these tiny photographic dynamos, you might have delusions of grandeur--large, high-quality booth posters, new business cards, gallery submission files and, while you're at it, amazing shots for your Web site. Hold on there! Just because you have the equipment, it doesn't automatically make you a photo pro. The best jewelry photos are sharp, well lit, have good exposure and a little sparkle. It takes a trained eye to light and shoot tiny, shiny things. Good news--even a novice can take quality shots with a decent setup--but the pros are the ones with those digital files ready to go and in the appropriate format and size for any application. The key to professional photo management is to get organized at the beginning. Digital photos are easy to work with, send, store and use if you know what you are doing.

Hap Sakwa, a leading jewelry photographer, agrees. In a recent e-mail, he told me, ''Many artists for one reason or another approach new technology with great trepidation. Slides are soon to be very old school and since artists succeed or fail on the quality of images they submit to juries, magazines, books, schools, etc., they really must come up to speed very soon. I've seen this revolution rise like a tsunami in just a couple of years, overtaking many ill-equipped to change with the times.''

Brooch by Judith Kaufman

Photo by Robert Diamante

So, maybe you have jumped into the digital tidal wave and have tried to photograph your jewelry--for a product shot, for a jury file, an advertisement, or for a Web site--and have run into problems concerning file size, resolution, or file format. All of those confusing abbreviations--tiff, gif, dpi, raw, jpeg, cmyk, rgb, high res, blah, blah--if you are like me, you'd rather go back to your bench and hand cut hundreds of jumprings instead of trying to decipher it all. Luckily, there is an easy formula for digital picture archiving. And, I've got a cheat sheet right here.

All digital photographs use pixels to record light. Pixels are the language of digital imagery. An imaging chip basically consists of a rectangular grid of light detection sensors, or pixels--kind of like a solar panel. Inside the digital camera, this grid is positioned where a frame of film would have been in a traditional camera. When you press the shutter, the camera's pixel management programming will dictate the quality of the photo. When the shutter opens, the imaging chip is powered and the pixels begin recording the level of light they are exposed to. Each pixel builds an electric charge. When the shutter closes, the camera records the charge level that was built on every single pixel as a binary number and saves them all to create a photo file. Light levels from each pixel are converted into numbers--this is what makes it digital.

Pin by Mike Kozumplik

Photos by Jerry Anthony

Jerry Anthony's equipment and techniques: Taken with a Kodak DCSn digital camera which can capture up to a 14 megapixel image and a Nikon ED AF Micro 70-180 zoom lens. Both images were shot at about F22 at 1 second and then downloaded into an Apple G5 IMac. Files were manipulated in Photoshop CS and saved as RGB TIFF files, 3000 x 4500 pixels at 300 DPI.

Tango. Blue/green tourmaline, 8.81 ct., cut by Steven Avery, Fabricated in iris gold (rich yellow gold graduated to white gold). Accented by .21 ct of VVS1 E Ideal cut diamonds. By Adam Neeley, G.G. Photo by Hap Sakwa.

The manual will tell you the dimensions for your camera's imaging chip, but here's an example: in a two megapixel camera, the chip is usually about 1200 pixels high and 1600 pixels wide. Multiply those numbers, and you get 1,920,000 total pixels. (For the math challenged, that's almost two megapixels, or 2,000,000. Megapixels are calculated by counting all the pixels on your camera's imaging chip and dividing by one million, or mega.) So, when buying a camera, the wider and taller the imaging chip, the more pixels it has. More pixels means more information gathered when taking a shot--easy, right? Here's where it gets weird. You would think that the higher the megapixel count of your camera the better the photos will be. Not true--especially if you aren't going to print those photos.

The most important thing to remember with digital photography is this: as long as you have enough pixels for the size of a print, your photos will be great. Returning to the two-megapixel camera example, if you print photos on a home printer at 200 dots per inch (DPI) you will have enough pixels for a good 6 inch by 8 inch print. To calculate print dimensions, divide 1200 and 1600 (the size of the imaging chip, remember?) by 200 (the DPI of the printer). It's as simple as that.

If you want to print gallery or jury prints, or files to submit to a magazine or book publisher, you would probably go to 360 DPI and you'd only get a 3-1/3 by 4-1/2 inch print from the same file. This is the main reason to go for more pixels when you buy a camera. If you usually make 8 by 10 inch prints at 200 DPI or smaller, a two or three-megapixel camera may be fine for your uses. But if you intend to print big and/or at a high DPI count, or if you are writing a book or a magazine article, or making a print advertisement and taking your own shots, you'll need more megapixels to handle the high DPI requirements needed for quality reproduction printing.

For the Web, you usually work with 72 DPI images for browser optimization. Using the formula above, a two megapixel camera would produce a 16-2/3 by 22-1/4 inch image. Huge for the typical computer monitor, but way too small for print (unless you like those stairstep edges when you size up, or photos the size of a postage stamp if you leave them alone).

Confused yet? If so, no worries. Just check out our reference chart and keep it near your computer. Follow the tips for organized photo file management and you'll be set. If you're still wavering or don't want to be bothered, there are many talented pros out there waiting to help. I've listed several of them here.

Many artists for one reason or another approach new technology with great trepidation.

A Workflow for Photo Success

The jewelry images you have shot need to be ready to use in many ways, especially if you sell online. For each shot you take, you'll need a master file, plus a little, middle, and big-sized file. You need to be ready for e-mails, high quality print, as well as fast, local, or home printing. Here's a good way to get organized before you push the shutter.
  1. Always shoot photos at the largest file size your camera can produce. You may only be able to shoot one or two pieces per session before you must empty the camera's storage card, but big files in the beginning will pay off with flexibility in the end.
  2. Shoot several shots of each piece, once you have arranged it in a way you like. I like to shoot five frames of every ''pose.'' This ensures that one will be perfect once I edit the take (decide on the ''keepers'' from a photo session). Do not ever edit based on what you see in the tiny camera monitor. Use your PC and your photo manipulation software for that. This is the time to delete any fuzzy, poorly exposed, or badly lit shots. Try to narrow them down to one or two shots per piece.
  3. Save these files immediately to the PC in the raw format created by the camera. Don't do anything to them except drag them into a folder and then back them up onto a CD. If you like, you can change the file name to match the name of the piece. Label the folder and disk ''Edited Raws''. Do not ever do anything to these files except copy them. That way, if you sell the piece, you have the original, camera generated, non-manipulated files you shot.
  4. Create four more folders on your PC. Label them as follows: Masters, For Print, For Home, For Web. These are the storage folders for your photo archive.
  5. Each time you shoot a piece, create a copy of the raw file at 600 DPI and save it into the Masters folder. Manipulate this file to your heart's content--play with the levels, curves, sharpness and color balance until you love what you see. Don't crop away too much of the background, especially if you intend to submit it to a publisher or printer. Once you are happy, save this file in tiff format. This is your master file. Never manipulate it again.
  6. Duplicate the Master file you made and save it into the For Print folder. When you need a ''hi-res'' file, this is the one to use--600 DPI tiff files are big, so you won't be able to e-mail it. But a book or magazine editor (like me) will love you for having a file at this resolution and in the tiff format.
  7. Go back to the Master file and ''save as'' into the For Home folder. Change the resolution of the newly saved file to 200 DPI. This is the file to use for home printouts, inventory, and general bookkeeping. It will be fine for slideshows on CD, too, and will print well on a laser printer or inkjet. This size is probably big enough for business cards or postcards but may be too big to e-mail, so test it on your friends.
  8. Once again, go back to the Master file and ''save as'' into the For Web folder. Change the resolution of the newly saved file to 72 DPI, in jpeg file format. This is the file to use for your Web site, emailing, or online use. Don't try to print it, unless you need a tiny image. On the average home printer, it will be a bit larger than a postage stamp.
  9. Don't ever jpeg a jpeg file! If you need a tightly cropped thumbnail or smaller version of an image, go back to your Master and ''save as'' rather than re-saving a file from the For Web folder. Each time you use the jpeg file format, image information is lost in order to optimize the data.
  10. Save and save often. Make regular backups of your image archive to CD. I like to shoot photos of new works two or three times a year and backup at each session. It's nice to have those files on the hard drive, but computers fry when you really need them, so don't lose your images--it's hard enough to let the pieces go when you sell them!

Digital Photo File Management:

Recommended formats and file sizes for several categories of jewelry photography:

Folder Name Master For Print For Home For Web
Resolution 600 DPI 600 DPI 300 DPI 72 DPI
File Format RAW
Minimum Camera Size 2-5 Megapixel 5+ Megapixel 2-5 Megapixel 2 Megapixel

Professional Jewelry Photographers

The following photographers graciously contributed the images for this story:
  • Jerry Anthony (614) 451-5207
  • Hap Sakwa (707) 823-5787
  • Robert Diamante (207) 874-0587

Customer Comments

We would like to share some of the customer comments we received in response to the article, "Pixel Perfect," featured in a newsletter. Please keep in mind that the comments expressed below are those of our customers and do not reflect the views of Fire Mountain Gems and Beads.

"Now, that was a good email!! Of course the others are too."
- Linda

"The article about "Pixel Perfect" was very confusing to me."
- Dan

"Your article on photographing and maintaining shots of our jewelry is outstanding! This is why I love Fire Mtn Gems website. There is so much to learn here. Thanks!"
- Deborah

"I just finished reading your article on taking pictures of jewelry and it was excellent. I could use some information on how to set up the jewelry and lighting in order to take the picture.Thanks."
- Julia

"Your article on type of camera to photograph jewelry was very helpful.My question is whether I should use color backgrounds to best complement the color of the jewels, or should I just go with white each time."
- Shirea

"GREAT ARTICLE! Please have more on photography--lighting, presenting the piece, etc."
- Jo

"The recent article on photographing artwork was fantastic. It is a mind-numbing obstacle that many of us face. The author explained the technical aspects of the photo basics very well. I've taken multiple courses on digital photography (and spent lots of money on them) and they didn't help me as much as this concise article. Thank you thank you thank you."
- Jessica

"You're right! Your Pixel Perfect article hit the n...eed on the head. Now how about an article (just as well done, please) on how to light jewelry for those digital photos. And please keep it simple, home-made, and preferably with free materials! (Tall order???)"
- Diana

"Although I am very well informed about pixel size, saving in different formats and sizes, and file management, I want to commend Ms. Driggs on a truly excellent article. I will forward it to many contributors to a small volunteer non-profit newsletter, THE BUCKETVILLE NEWS, so that I get better pictures to use in the newsletter's layout."
- Margaret

"I like the newsletters, they have a lot of information that helps me a lot. I get answers to my questions all the time."
- Eva

"So very appreciative of the Pixel and Color article, where can I get a color wheel??"
- Kathy

"This article on photographing jewelry--gets an AAA+ in my opinion! I've been working with small object photos for sale for 5+ years, and it usually is a "hit or miss" procedure. I KNOW that this is going to assist me greatly--it already has. Thank You!"
- Charlene

"I loved your article about photographs of jewellery. There is more to just "aiming, click and hope to goodness it comes out ok." What was previously clear as mud about how digital photography works, is now crystal clear and will help me take half-decent photographs in the future. Thank you so much."
- Sue

"Excellent information on the last two pages of the Pixel Perfect article.Great suggestions for creating four folders and how to save the contents for every great creation photo. Thank you!"
- Maria

"Your article was great. I have been attempting to take good digital photos for my website for three years now. Some were not bad, some OK, and most were take-overs after I saw them on my PC.Thanks Again."
- Shandee