Shoot Thru Vs Reflective Essay

You can learn just about anything through trial and error. It may take a while, but eventually you'll figure out what to do—and what not to do. The problem is, this method of learning is not very effective.

Don’t waste your time learning how not to photograph jewelry. Learn from our experience instead. 

Jewelry product photography comes with its own unique set of challenges. Products are small, reflective, and can be difficult to stage for shooting. However, these challenges can be easily overcome with a little bit of planning.

Here are ten common mistakes to avoid when photographing jewelry.

1. Smudged, Unprepared Products

Clean jewelry after touching it. Consider using gloves.

It sounds obvious, right? Of course, your jewelry should be clean and polished. The challenge comes from the level of detail captured by a DSLR camera and proper lighting setup. The final image will often be blown up several times the jewelry’s real life size. Details invisible to your naked eye will be revealed when photographed.

Wipe down your jewelry every time you touch it. Wearing cotton gloves may save you time and reshoots.

2. Inconsistent Shooting

Even slight changes can have jarring consequences.

Develop a set of guidelines for your jewelry photography and follow them. Consistency is key in product photography, and variations from product to product or shot to shot will distract your customer. Document everything: camera settings, lighting, background, and equipment position. Make sure you can resume shooting on a different day without any noticeable changes.

3. Complex Background

Some inexperienced retailers look at a white background and think “boring,” or “missed opportunity for branding.” They try to differentiate themselves with colorful, active backgrounds. That’s a mistake.

Don’t add distracting elements into the background.

There’s a reason Amazon, eBay, Rakuten, and most marketplaces require or recommend a white or neutral background. A plain white or light gray background keeps the focus where it should be: on your product. Black is also popular in jewelry photography, but be aware you may have difficulty submitting images at some marketplaces.

White backdrops are cheap and easy to create. You can use seamless white paper, create a lightbox, and even photograph white products on white backgrounds.

4. Unnecessary Props

This mistake is based on the same “keep your focus” principle we just discussed. Props are a distraction you don’t need. You may think your jewelry will look best when staged elaborately, or maybe you just want to show it in a lifelike manner using a mannequin.

Left: The mannequin obscures part of the necklace and dominates the shot.
Right: This is a branding shot. Editorial photography differs greatly from product photography.

The reality is that most props draw attention away from your product. There are times where it is appropriate to use stylish props, models, and interesting locations in shots that include your product. Those are editorial shoots, for branding purposes. Editorials belong on magazine covers, as hero images on websites, and banners in emails. They do not belong on product category pages.

Use minimal props intended to showcase jewelry that can be easily removed in post-production processing.

Jewelry photography kits are relatively inexpensive. Remember, you want your jewelry photography to be consistent and focused on your product. Most props create inconsistency and distraction.

5. Reflections Everywhere

You want your customers to be looking at your jewelry without trying to puzzle out if that’s the photographer’s reflection or a flaw in the stone.

Reflections can ruin a product image.

The presence of gemstones and metal creates a technical challenge for jewelry product photography. It’s difficult to shoot highly reflective objects without capturing distracting reflections. Follow this guide to controlling reflections, and try a double overhead light for shooting metallic jewelry.

A double overhead lighting setup can minimize reflections.

Place your jewelry on a sturdy surface, like a table or a block, and position one large studio light on either side. Diffuse both lights with umbrellas. Hang and sweep a roll of seamless white paper behind and underneath your product, and attach the paper to the bottom of your camera lens. This will block off reflections from the foreground and reflect more light back onto the subject.

The right setup prevents ugly bright spots on your product images.

Position your camera on its tripod so that you are shooting slightly down at the product. Position your lights (with diffusing umbrellas) above your product to either side, angle each down at the product, and set them to the same power. This setup should evenly fill the frame with light without creating ugly bright spots on your product.

To get professional looking results without a full photo studio, check out the Halo and Foldio: Inexpensive mini photo studios you can easily set up at home or your office to take product photos. 

6. Shaky Images

It doesn’t matter what lighting setup you use if you try to handhold your camera. Handholding your camera or smartphone will either result in camera shake, or you will have to use something less than full focus. Neither is a desirable situation.

Wven smartphones have tripods.

Always use a tripod. Tripods are cheap, effective, and improve both quality and consistency. When your camera is held steady by a tripod, you can use optimal aperture and ISO settings. Mark a spot on the floor for your tripod and it will be easy to replicate your setup even when shooting on different days.

7. Poor Focus

Don’t take artsy low aperture shots of your jewelry that focus on only one part of the product. High aperture, full focus photography will create a sharp image that your customers can trust.

Your customer wants to see every detail. Give it to them with aperture settings of f/11 or greater, and set your ISO to as low as possible—preferably ISO 100.

8. Inaccurate White Balance

If your white balance is off, a gold image can look blue or vice versa. Remember that meme about the gold/blue dress? Vision is ambiguous.

The human eye is easily deceived. This is the same dress.

Ensure your white balance is set accurately so that you capture your jewelry with the colors you intended. Either set it manually or use your camera’s automatic mode and double check the results.

Different backgrounds and white balance make the same necklace look different colors.

9. Too Few Images

It’s incredibly disappointing to click on a product on a category page and then find there are no more images. Maybe the customer liked an overhead shot of a necklace but wanted a detail shot to clarify some engraving on the side. Give it to them.

You’ve gone to all the trouble of prepping your product, lighting, and camera. Don’t stop now at one or two images. Build trust by showcasing every aspect of your jewelry. More images lead to more sales, so capture as many angles as possible of your product.

10. Bad Photoshop

Few things kill a sale as quickly as a bad Photoshop job. Poorly retouched photos feel fake and destroy a customer’s trust in the product image, and therefore in the product. Either invest the time to become skilled in software like Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, or hire a professional.

In addition to retouching, you should create templates that consistently crop, set margins, and align your product images. Remember: consistency is key.

If you don’t have the time or skillset to brush up your own images, consider hiring a post-production processing company.

Get Shooting

Now that you know what not to do, get shooting! Avoid these ten common mistakes and you'll be well on your way to creating beautiful product photography.

About The Author

Thomas Kragelund is the CEO and founder of Pixelz, a leading product image solutions partner for internet retailers, bloggers, designers, photographers and webmasters worldwide. He has been working in ecommerce for the last 15 years. Sign up today and get 3 product images edited for free.


Join 446,005 entrepreneurs who already have a head start.

Get free online marketing tips and resources delivered directly to your inbox.

Thanks for subscribing

You’ll start receiving free tips and resources soon. In the meantime, start building your store with a free 14-day trial of Shopify.

Join 446,005 entrepreneurs who already have a head start.

Get free online marketing tips and resources delivered directly to your inbox.

No charge. Unsubscribe anytime.

Thanks for subscribing

You’ll start receiving free tips and resources soon. In the meantime, start building your store with a free 14-day trial of Shopify.

Many photographers get their start by taking natural light photos, then progress into experimenting with flash photography. Maybe you’ve tried a flash on top of your DSLR, only to become frustrated and disappointed from the results. If you thought those images looked bad, don't fear. There is an easy way for you to begin using a flash and achieve great results like your photography idols. 

The first step is to move your flash off camera. You’ll probably want to buy a modifier, too. Let’s discuss one of the least-expensive and most versatile options you can buy: the common white umbrella diffuser.

First, let’s all get on the same page with some terminology. That will help you better understand the basics, and also help you to decipher some of the elaborate lighting schemes you may see detailed on Fstoppers.

When I say “off camera”, it means that the flash is off the camera in the most literal sense. This is not an indication of where the light has been placed relative to the photo subject, but to provide clarity on how the flash relates to the camera itself. In the purist sense, the flash unit is not directly attached to the camera body.

Now that we know the flash is going to be off camera, let’s talk about the idea of using an umbrella.

There are plenty of different brackets and stand attachments that you can use to mount your flash and umbrellas on the stand. Decide on a budget, and go for it.  Do the same with your umbrella purchase. A future article will discuss some of the different umbrella size options commonly available, but today’s examples come from a standard 43-inch Westcott umbrella. It’s a good product, and is very affordable. Go buy one or two. You’ll be happy with these guys.

We are going to use radio remotes to ask the flash to fire at the proper time, but that is for another post.

Since we have the flash unit off camera, let’s establish a baseline of what our light could look like. If you choose to use the flash without an umbrella, you’re going to see what is commonly described as hard light. This is especially true if you have the flash at a distance from your subject, and aimed directly at your subject.

I’m shooting these images with a Nikon d800 and a SB900 flash. The settings are 100 ISO, f/11 and 1/250th for the shutter speed. I’m using a 50mm lens.  Since we are going to be discussing the ideas of diffusion, light fall off, light spill and feathering in the future articles, I’m using a composition that will give us a good view of the background. We want to study the light on the subject, but we also need to study the light around the subject, too. Therefore, the flash is about 3 feet from the background. Our background is a standard 107-inch Savage seamless roll of paper. All in all, you are seeing what is basically the left and right edge of the roll of paper.

Obviously, the power setting of the flash unit will change to make sure we retain f/11 across the board for our examples.

So we have our background and our light, and we are trying to use our umbrella, right? We’re going to place our umbrella in front of the flash, using the umbrella as a shoot thru. Here’s what I mean what I say shoot thru: The flash is aimed so as to shoot the light through the umbrella and onto the photo subject. Here’s an example of what to do, and what not to do.

Now that we have placed the umbrella in a shoot thru position let take a look at how that changes the light produced by the flash.

Do you notice how the highlight and shadow definition are drastically different? What about the even nature of the light? With our hard, direct light, the transition from highlight to midtones to shadows can be seen and identified very clearly, right? It’s a fairly abrupt transition. Since we have diffused the light with an umbrella, you should notice now that the light is not hard or harsh, and is more even across the right of the image. Also, the transition from highlights to midtones to shadows is gradual and not as abrupt. This is what people commonly describe as soft light.

Now, still staying with our trusty white umbrella, let’s try a different position and see what that looks like. In fact, let’s just turn the umbrella around and take a look at how the light hits our background when we use the umbrella in a reflective position.

Here’s how that is set up relative to the background. Your flash is still going to be aimed at the center of your umbrella, but you won’t be aiming your flash directly at the subject. Instead, your flash will face away from the subject. Sounds a bit counterintuitive perhaps, but this will make sense, I promise. Rather than using the diffused light from the umbrella that was previously aimed right at our subject, we are going to use the diffused light that is reflecting back at our subject. Yes, even though our flash is aimed away from the subject, the umbrella is going to produce a reflected light and push that back into the frame.

OK, that’s it for this week. Check back next week and we will begin discussing positioning the umbrella relative to your subject and how that changes the light in your photos. Future articles in this series also include examples of different sized umbrellas, different positions and angles of the umbrellas, and a discussion about how the umbrella is lighting both your subject and background, among other things.  If anyone has any questions, please post them below!

0 thoughts on “Shoot Thru Vs Reflective Essay”


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *