A friend of mine recently signed a contract for photographing watches for a startup watchmaker. It's a pretty sweet deal, but the only problem is he doesn't have a lot of background in doing this kind of work. So he asked for my help and while I was at it, I thought I'd share what I told him with you.
Tip No. 1. - Keep it simple
The fancy setups you see in magazine ads are really cool, but they're also very difficult to put together and you'll most certainly have a tough time doing that in the beginning. Keep it simple and shoot on a white background. It works with just about any kind of jewelry because it will highlight bright colors and it will also wrap light around the piece.
Also, photographing on a white background will make any selection work easier in Photoshop.
Tip No 2. - Try natural light
This isn't a tip for the long haul, but rather something every product photographer should try at least once. Place your setup next to a well-lit window and shoot using available light only. Notice how you can get the job done, but also how it limits you.
Tip no.3 - Diffuse the light
Most of the light sources that are suitable for product photography need to be diffused. If you're going to use strobes, than this is an absolute must. Otherwise you're going to get a light that is much too strong for photographing jewelry. There are plenty of modifiers for softening up light and they range from small softboxes to huge octoboxes.
Tip No. 4 - Focus on detail
Jewelry photography, any kind of product photography in fact, needs to be tack sharp. The viewer must be able to see every little detail of the product, particularly when you're dealing with something full of small details like wristwatches. There are several things you need to check if you want maximum sharpness. Try to use a tripod for starters. Camera motion can occur even at higher speeds of 1/125th or faster. A tripod will make everything stable and it will also help you with framing more carefully.
A macro lens would be ideal for photographing jewelry, but some zoom lenses, pro ones at least, allow you to get pretty close to the subject, enough to get the job done anyway.
Also, depending on lens choice, you should use an aperture setting around f8-f11 to ensure maximum detail. Set the ISO speed to 100 or 200 at the most.
Tip No.4 - Get the right gear
Camera and lens might not make the difference, especially if you use everything correctly, but the lighting setup and the background will. My equipment of choice is the MS20J Tabletop Studio from ProCyc.
It is a kit that has everything you need to take professional looking jewelry photography, including a 20"x20"x12"seamless cyclorama background and a 5000k daylight balanced fluorescent light source, which is way easier to work with than strobes.
For me it's the best choice because it gives you everything in one package at a very competitive price.
Learn more about the MS20J Tabletop Studio here.