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Jewelry is a visual delight. My favorites to photograph feature colored gems or fine gold. I love the sculptural nature of the mountings, the intrigue of carved stones and intricacies of spiral mounts. One of my favorite designers is Maria Scarpa. Her wire wound creations never fail to fascinate.

Each piece presents it’s own unique challenges. This colorful brooch features seventeen sapphires in practically every color of the spectrum. The mounts are gold prongs spiraling around a web of gold and silver wire.

I examine the item then choose how to hold the piece then the lighting, lens and styling. I bent a length of piano wire into a U shape looping it around the green sapphire that hides the pin on the back. The other end passes through a Plexiglas disc atached to a rod extending from a stand with 1” “A” clamps. A smaller “A” clamp locks the piano wire in position.

I chose a Sigma 105mm f/2.8 OS macro lens mounted on the new SD1.  The image I had in mind would be enlarged to several times the brooch’s two and a half inch diameter. I needed resolution that has previously been only available in medium format cameras in order to produce the huge three and a half foot by five foot transparency.


While the photograph against the dark background works, it doesn’t compel. I studied the individual stones for color. I experimented with different colors for the background. This was easy. All it took was change the gel, take a spot reflected light reading pointing the meter from the pin back to the center of the glow on the cycwall. I adjusted the power on the pack until the reading was one stop brighter than the exposure set on the camera: f/11 at 1/125th of a second. Remember when working inside with flash, the fast shutter eliminates the ambient shining from the modeling lights. Then I made a test using Sigma Photo Professional tethering software to compare the results.


Having lots of space around the subject, allows room for lights. The 105mm kept the camera far enough in front of the jeweled pin to get place the lights. The pin is lit with a Dynalite head on a boom over a three foot square gel frame covered in Roscolux, a diffusion material from gel supplier Rosco. Another head shooting through a Chimera four foot square frame covered with full diffusion cloth provides the light on the gold and silver windings. Each panel is flagged to prevent extra light from striking the cycwall. The effect of these lights is shown in the opening photograph.

I selected a gel that matched the color of the center sapphire. I moved the gridded head with the pink gel back until almost the whole frame was filled with the color of the center stone. By the way, the pillow under the pin is there just in case it falls. Jewelry doesn’t bounce.


I rotated the final version 90º counter clockwise then used Photoshop to remove the piano wire. When I showed the huge print to Marie at the American Craft Council show last week I told her about spending two and a half hours digitally removing each of the tiny fibers caught in the spiral. She laughed. The told me the secret to manually ridding the pin of trapped strands. “Get a cigarette lighter then quickly and carefully pass the flame over the back of the pin. The fibers and threads will burn away instantly.”

2 comments so far

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  1. Till now we always use the “white wall” with 2 spots, to create a crisp, clear image, but those shots the jewelry items have shadow. Thats a really good idea, we gone give that a try, for our next jewelry collection. Thanks for the article, great sharing.

  2. Beautifully photographed. I certainly learnt a lot from this posting. The background colours certainly complimented the lovely piece of jewelry. Thank you and Sigma very much for publishing. I shall experiment myself with a cut down version of the methods demonstrated here.