Family jewelry – both fine pieces and costume jewelry – are as fascinating as old photos. Unfortunately jewelry doesn’t scan well. That doesn’t mean we can’t digitize it to include in our family history projects, it just means it will take a bit more effort.
I see two types of jewelry photos. First there’s the family heirloom photo that shows the piece off in all its glory. This photo might have the item artfully arranged on a piece of silk or velvet to give it all the attention it deserves. It would make a glorious addition to a book documenting the family’s heirlooms and treasures along with the story about each piece. Then there’s the ephemera photo where the item is arranged on a flat contrasting background so we can work some Photoshop magic to isolate the item and turn it into a design element for use in any number of family history projects.
The first place I went to look for affordable ideas for photographing jewelry was eBay. I wasn’t disappointed. One user – CameraJim – has some great tips in the eBay Guides section with a link to his site for more. I agree with him that light tents are easy to build. My husband built me a PVC cube which I drape with cheap white lining material. My lights are goose neck desk lamps I found at Goodwill with high-watt light bulbs. I’ve used this successfully for photographing items for sale.
Next, I’m taking a stab at heirlooms. A fabulous source for jewelry photography help is Table Top Studio. They are using (and selling) light cubes with gorgeous results. They also demonstrate some beautiful ways to arrange pieces for best effect.
If you are photographing your heirlooms for use as ephemera, the key is to use a contrasting background. White pearls on a white background may make a gorgeous photograph, but it will be a very time-consuming effort to isolate those pearls so they can become a design element for other projects. With a contrasting background, you can use the Magic Wand tool in your photo-editing software to “pull” the piece off the background and save it as a stand-alone item. Imagine including a family brooch or wedding ring as a design element on a page in your project.