Creating Soft, Diffused Light
In Basic Photographic Lighting Techniques, I talked about the importance of soft lighting to help the camera show off the shape and texture of a subject. However, shiny subjects such as jewelry, flatware or metallic objects need even more diffused light to avoid harsh, glaring highlights.
For this, you need an even, surrounding light source. A photographic light tent is one way to create the proper conditions for your camera.
Photographic Light Tents
This lighting tool is used often by professional product photographers and commercially-made light tents have become popular with eBay sellers. You'll see hundreds of these for sale if you do an eBay search for "light tent" in the Cameras and Photos category. Most of them are sold under some variation of the "Cube." These are essentially small, white, cube-shaped tents with one side open to shoot into with a camera.
I haven't used one of these small commercial light tents commonly sold on ebay mainly because I'm too cheap to pay for something that's so easy to make myself.
Any light tent is simply a way to surround your subject with a translucent material which diffuses your light. You then evenly illuminate the outside of the light tent, typically with one light on either side of it. This is almost ideal lighting for photographing shiny stuff like jewelry.
The Milk Jug Light Tent
The simplest and cheapest form of light tent I know for small objects is a milk jug with the bottom cut off (you shoot through the neck or a hole cut in the side), like this...
This will work great for small items.
Moving up in size and cost, some of the things you can use are a large white plastic bowl; a translucent storage container; styrofoam sheets (glued together into a cube shape); a white sheet suspended over and around a table; translucent diffusion panels (you can make these yourself from PVC tubing to form rectangular frames with white cloth stretched over them); or even a large white tent.
My Dollar Store Light Tent
I mostly use a large plastic bowl I bought at a dollar store. It's big enough for almost anything I shoot.
Jewelry Photography with a Light Tent
Jewelry can be beautiful, but it's also one of the most difficult subjects for photography. On one small item, you can have many different surfaces such as smooth gold or silver, faceted gems and even textured engraving or filigree. These all reflect and refract light in different ways. And, since light is what we're capturing when we take a photo, how we light each item will control how the final image looks.
Once again, a small light tent is all it takes in most cases to get jewelry to shine without glare. Here's a detail shot of a gold necklace I sold a while ago on eBay...
And, I think a blue background worked well for this watch...
A watch such as that also has special lighting needs, mainly because of the flat face of the crystal which can reflect light and obscure the dial.
In this case, I had to carefully place a small spot of black paper inside my light tent, so that would be the area reflected by the crystal.
After I got this image onto my computer, I also sharpened it a bit in order to bring out the fire and sparkle of the diamonds.