I like shiny things, but I have never really had a reason to buy or own jewelry—I’d rather buy camera gear. I have, however, always wanted to photograph beautiful diamonds and rings. Unwilling to enter the jewelry business for photographic purposes, the arrival of the new Fujifilm XF 80mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR macro lens and super-generous access from the very nice people at Ken and Dana Design in New York City combined to give me the opportunity to do some fine jewelry photography.
I found that the Internet is surprisingly light on jewelry and gemstone photography tutorials. There are some good ones, including some that highlight top-shelf Etsy artisans, but there seemed to be no middle ground between “shoot next to a window” and “you need a full-blown studio setup.”
The folks at Ken and Dana were nice enough to let me shoot in their studio, so I did not have the option of bringing a ton of gear and lighting, nor was I about to test their generosity by asking to bring merchandise off to some far-flung studio. Fujifilm sent the lens for our use for a few days and Ken and Dana gave me two days to play in their shop between customer appointments. I needed to do this in a portable, budget-minded, low-logistical-challenge manner, working out of my regular camera bag.
Before I get into the lessons learned by this rookie jewelry photographer, let me discuss the Fujifilm macro lens, my setup, and gear, and then finish with a thank you to my new friends at Ken and Dana Design.
Fujifilm XF 80mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR Macro Lens
Dear Fujifilm X Shooters… Welcome to 1:1 macro photography! The new Fujifilm XF 80mm macro lens is about to start shipping and it is fantastic. It comes packed with features including a single aspherical element, one super ED element, and three standard ED elements inside its 16 element/12 group optical formula. The OIS system is good for five stops of shake compensation, and the WR designation means that you can take this out to do macro photos of rain drops while it is raining. The lens has two focusing groups that float inside it. Like the Fujifilm XF 90mm f/2.0 R LM WR lens, this Linear Motor (LM) focus system emits an unnerving rattling sound when the unpowered lens is handled.
As far as feel, the lens is a nice size for the Fujifilm X-T2 to which I attached it. The barrel is a bit larger than the XF 90mm lens, it is a tad longer, and the new lens is heavier, but their designs are nearly identical—if you own both, be sure you grab the right lens before heading out! Based on the focusing speed of the new XF 80mm lens, I wouldn’t be surprised if Fujifilm saw sales of the XF 90 decline a bit, because the XF 80mm is a more versatile lens due to its close-focusing abilities and OIS system.
The XF 80mm has a three-position focus limiting switch to allow for flexibility and reduce “hunting time” based on the type of photos you are taking. If I have one complaint about Fujifilm X lenses, it is the drive-by-wire autofocus feel. It works, and it works well, but, when manually focusing, the tactile experience is lacking and one feels like precision focus is not possible (even though it is). On the XF 80mm, as you approach the 9.84" minimum focus distance, the electronics in the focus motor seem to change the “gearing,” allowing you to have very good control of the focus points while doing macro work.
And, the question you really wanted answered, but already probably knew: Is this lens sharp? Yes. It is amazingly sharp. Just look at the photos! I own a legendary macro lens from another manufacturer that I adapt to my Fujifilm cameras. I get super-sharp images from this lens but found that the Fujifilm XF 80mm is noticeably sharper. Now I must sleep knowing that there is something out there sharper than the very expensive macro lens I already own. Thanks, Fujifilm!
My Rookie Gear Setup
Along with the XF 80mm lens and X-T2, I was equipped with my workhorse Induro tripod and Arca-Swiss Z1 dp head. Added to the support mix was a much older version of the Kirk FR-2 Focusing Rail that I grabbed from the B&H Used Department, as well as the Fujifilm MCEX-11 and MCEX-16 extension tubes.
On the first day, I did not bring any “backdrops” because I was planning on using what I could find around the jewelry studio. After, I kid you not, using UPS mailing labels as a white “seamless” backdrop on the first day, I showed up on day two with plastic folder dividers from the nearest office supply store—a trick I learned back in my MFA days.
Specular highlights from harsh lighting are not always wanted in jewelry photography, but I wanted to create as much sparkle as I could and used the two Nitecore SRT5 (now discontinued) LED flashlights.
Did I mention that this was the first time I had attempted jewelry photography? OK, just checking. Here are some tips for those thinking about giving it a try:
Every tiny speck of dust on each ring shows up in the photos. Clean each piece and then clean it again. Got a clean room you can use? You are lucky!
With a bright backdrop and apertures stepped way down towards f/16 and f/22, you will likely get the pleasure of spending time with your healing brush tool removing sensor dust from the images.
Wear powder-free rubber gloves to keep from getting finger prints on metal and stone.
The right setup is crucial here. The wood desk on which I shot had nice texture, but provided darker images. The UPS labels and translucent folder dividers worked much better. I even tried the dull side of a sheet of aluminum foil that worked well, but had a non-silver tint to it that caused white-balance issues. Next time I might try a reflective acrylic sheet. For those dedicated to the craft, B&H sells this intricate Oterey 3D PhotoBench and the MyStudio Tabletop Photo Studio with Jewelry Kit.
Not all the rings rested perfectly level on the surface. In post-processing, you can level the ring, but then your “base” gets tilted. Try to get everything on the level before you start. Pun intended.
Depending on how you want the final image to look, give thought to your aperture selection. At 1:1 distances, when wide open, your depth of field will be razor shallow. The Fujifilm XF 80mm was sharp, even when wide open, but a lot of the subject was lost to its pleasing out-of-focus blur. Stepping down gets you a longer DOF, but then you start to battle the sensor dust and diffraction.
I thought the flashlights worked well for my purposes; however, it would have been nice to have some way to position them permanently because I either left them lying on the desk or held one while the other hand released the shutter. One thing that will become apparent is that even miniscule movements of the light can change the look and sparkle of the gemstone(s) instantly. Next time I will try something like this Impact Flex Clamp.
A huge benefit was afforded by my vintage Kirk macro focusing rails. Instead of having to move the tripod fore and aft with precision, or move the subject, all you do set your focus to its closest point and then twist a knob to adjust your focus point. If you are serious about macro work, this is a must-have accessory. In a no-monetary-limit world, I would have gone for a 4-way focusing rail setup.
Focus Stacking I
This was my first attempt at focus stacking (learned from Shawn Steiner’s article). It works well, but, if I could do it again, I would likely shoot fewer images at f/11 instead of a bunch at f/8. It looks like the deeper the depth of field, the better the computer can process the images. So, my advice is to step the lens down a bit and shoot less, not more, as you adjust focus points through the subject.
Focus Stacking II
Depending on the design of the piece, you might not have to include the rear portions of the jewelry to do it justice in the image. When photographing diamond rings with simple bands in the rear I found that doing a focus stack through the gemstone areas of the ring worked better than going all the way through the rear sections of the ring. Less photos means less time capturing images and less time post-processing.
Ken and Dana Design
As you can see from the images, Ken and Dana Design creates incredibly beautiful and unique jewelry. Not only that, their antique-filled living-room-like setting at their location in Midtown Manhattan is comfortable and welcoming; providing a unique jewelry shopping experience especially when compared to stores at the local mall or in New York City’s famous Diamond District.
Ken and Dana Design dates to 1973 and creates hand-crafted eco-friendly pieces from recycled rare metals and ethically sourced gemstones. You can create your own custom order or see their nature, vintage, modern, and other styles by appointment only.
I would like to personally thank Ken and Dana Design—especially Natalie and Ariel—for their generous time.
Help This Rookie Shooter
What jewelry photography tips and tricks do you have that could have helped me out? Or, do you have questions and comments about my images or the Fujifilm XF 80mm macro lens? Let me know in the Comments section, below!
In shooting jewelry the main problem is that AF has difficulties focusing on shiny surfaces, so I would suggest to go manual focus. ISO should be as low as possible and light must be diffused. Try not to use shiny, reflective backgrounds. Macro Rail is a must.
Thanks for the tips, Igor! All of those are great.
Thanks for reading Explora!
I do agree with you Dominique F., however, your comments are as harsh as the lighting Todd [the admited rookie] used.
Todd, Go much slower. A single well done image is worth concidering. Be curious.
A combination of soft and hard light could be used to sculpt your image. Think about your focus [not what the camera sees - but what you want the viewer to see]. Think about which distracting elements could have been eliminated. The job of the photo artist is not unlike that of a music composer making the viewer hear or see exactly what you want them to see; walking them through the image as lovers walking hand in hand.
I am curious whether the out of focus speculay highlights could be reduced or eliminated with this lens. Stay curious!
Thank you for your comments, as well.
I usually do night photography, so working slower is something I am used to. Unfortunately, for this shoot, I only had two small windows of time and had to work a bit on the fly. I would have preferred to shoot in a tent or set up diffusers, but carrying a lot of gear was not an option. The folks at Ken & Dana were nice enough to grant me access, I did not want to test the limits of their generosity or completely overtake their studio.
Well said on the point about focus. Tell me, when it comes to jewelry, where should the focus be? Ken & Dana, in their images, use shallow DOF to show the main gem or feature of the ring. Some online advice-givers stress showing the entire piece of jewelry, front to rear. I would be interested in your opinion on this.
Can you eliminate bokeh? Only if you shoot at a ridiculous depth of field, or use focus stacking, but I am sure that applies to any lens. With macro lenses operating near their minimum focus, it must be very difficult.
Thank you for the feedback and thanks for reading!
Sorry but I do not consider that they are beautiful pictures of jewelry.
The "artistic" vagueness is a difficult technique to control if we want it to be a real contribution to the image, and in these examples it seems completely out of control.
About lighting; the clearest details are burned and without relief.
This is not a good example of photography work and it does not showcase the work of jewelry ... it's the opposite.
Sorry again to be so direct but I do not know how to say it differently.
Thank you for your direct comments. No need to apologize. I appreciate the feedback.
May you explain what you mean by "artistic vagueness?"
I am also curious to know what you mean when you say the "clearest details are burned and without relief."
Thanks for the article. I like your inventiveness of using available materials for the first day shoot. I have a Post-It Easel Pad that I can use sheets of for a white backdrop. I'll try LED flashlights.
You've given me additional ideas to shoot with the Canon 20mm f/3.5 Macro Photo Lens (https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/801260257-USE/canon_20mm_f_3_5_m…). Right now, I've got the motor drive attached to my Canon New F-1 which forces portait orientation on the Canon Auto Bellows.
Paula replaced her diamond engangement ring a number of years ago (original was lost); she got a bonus from her employer. It would be interesting to photography my wedding ring that has a few notches cut into it; a 12 volt marine battery and pliers were involved, unfortunately with me still wearing the ring. She offered to replace my ring, but I now have it permanently tattooed.
I am glad you approve of the McGuyver-like solutions for my "studio" at Ken & Dana!
Tisk tisk...doing manual labor with a ring on. Dangerous stuff, says all of those Naval Aviation Safety Center posters around the maintenance department at my old squadron.
Happy Holidays, Ralph!