Finding the White Balance

This post is a follow-up to Jewelry on Black is Hit or Miss. Having had success working with a bracelet and medals using a white background, I decided to return to what I knew to see how the color of the background impacted my memorabilia photography.

Photographing Family Heirloom Jewelry
f/5.6 exp 1/10 sec with +1 bias, ISO 100, 55 mm Focal Length
Pattern Metering Mode, Manual White Balance (Cropped)

In a future post I'll show what this ring looks like on a black background. For now, I know that with a little level adjustment in Photoshop Elements, I can make this ring look great. I still need to play with the camera settings, but I'm heading in the right direction.

Photographing Family Heirloom Jewelry
A preview of how adjusting the levels can improve a photo. Stay tuned
I want to share some additional things I learned while playing with my camera on a white background.

Learning to focus

Photographing Personal Heirloom Jewelry
f/6.3 exp 1/10 sec with +1 bias, ISO 100, 55 mm Focal Length
Pattern Metering Mode, Manual White Balance

This letter ring is difficult to focus on because the backside of the ring shows through the metal letter. With my Aperture Priority attempting to blur out the background and keep the foreground in sharp focus, I have a problem. I can solve this by increasing my “f/#” or by rotating the ring.

Photographing Personal Heirloom Jewelry
f/6.3 exp 1/10 sec with +1 bias, ISO 100, 55 mm Focal Length
Pattern Metering Mode, Manual White Balance

Notice the blurred back of the ring?

Where you place the focusing dots

Photographing Family Heirloom Jewelry
f/7.1 exp 1/4 sec with +1.7 bias, ISO 100, 55 mm Focal Length
Pattern Metering Mode, Manual White Balance

I have increased my “f/#” but the front of the ring is blurry in this photo but the inscription is not. The reason for this is because of where I told the camera to focus. There are little red dots that flash through the manual view finder. I had placed the focusing dot on the backside of this ring and that stayed in focus while the remainder of the image became blurred. I could have increased the “f/#” again or simply placed the red focusing dot on the front of the ring.

Photographing Family Heirloom Jewelry
f/7.1 exp 1/4 sec with +1.7 bias, ISO 100, 55 mm Focal Length
Pattern Metering Mode, Manual White Balance

Notice how the settings for the camera didn't change but the clarity of the front of the ring improved when I placed the red focusing dot on the front of the ring. Maybe you know all of these things, but I'm sharing  this tip just in case you didn't.


Problem with reflective jewelry

Photographing High School Senior Rings
f/6.3 exp 1/4 sec with +1.7 bias, ISO 100, 55 mm Focal Length
Pattern Metering Mode, Manual White Balance

Remember in the post New Camera First Attempt how I said that I probably picked one of the hardest projects to start with? One of the reasons jewelry is so difficult is because it reflects things you don't necessarily want. In this ring, I'm reflecting a large dark area in the upper section of the gold near the front face of the ring.

Photographing High School Senior Rings
f/6.3 exp 1/4 sec with +1.7 bias, ISO 100, 55 mm Focal Length
Pattern Metering Mode, Manual White Balance

One way to solve this problem is to move the ring around until that reflection is less of a nuisance. There are other ways to remove all reflections but this photo looks good enough for my family history projects.

Power of reflector

Photographing High School Senior Rings
f/6.3 exp 1/4 sec with +1.7 bias, ISO 100, 55 mm Focal Length
Pattern Metering Mode, Manual White Balance

Another tip I mentioned in Jewelry on Black is Hit or Miss was to use a reflector to bounce light back onto an object, in this case a ring. Your can have a professional grade reflector, a piece of white foam board, or a tin-foil covered piece of cardboard. You'll notice this most in the lower left corner of the topaz gem stone.

Photographing High School Senior Rings
f/6.3 exp 1/4 sec with +1.7 bias, ISO 100, 55 mm Focal Length
Pattern Metering Mode, Manual White Balance

The reflector bounces just enough light back on the rings to brighten their over all looks just a touch.

Which background is better, black or white? The answer is really is that it depends. After sorting through the bad photographs and focusing on what I have, I think many photos are keepers. Could I improve the quality of my images further? Yes. Would many of these photos work nicely in family history projects, such as scrapbooks about my family members. You bet!

With a light box and learning the settings on a compact or a dSLR, you can preserve a visual image of your family treasures. Go ahead. Play with your camera's settings and record the story behind these pieces.

21st Century Family History
21st Century Family History


For more suggestions on what you can do with photographs of your family heirlooms, read the chapters about sharing your family history in my book, 21st Century Family History.


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