Confessions of a Bead Photographer

27015886 Firepolish - 4 mm Faceted Round - Crystal AB (50)I didn’t set out to be a bead photographer, or even a professional photographer at all. I just woke up one day and realized that I had been taking hundreds of photographs a week for some years, which generated our product photos for each weekly update. Which probably qualified me as a professional photographer.

Which led to some angst along the lines of “omg – I have no idea what I’m doing.” But that’s another story.

The reality is – we were small, we needed photos, I did them. You can still see the oldest photos on the site – and they are actually scans. Yes – back in the day before digital photography became affordable, and we all loaded our stuff onto the scanner and scanned it. You can still see them on the site, in the older sections – like the 4 mm Firepolish – one of our most venerable product lines. You can tell them by their lack of perspective, weird depth (or lack of), and the strange shadows. Not withstanding, they were quite serviceable so far as they went.

s38477 Firepolish - 4 mm Faceted Round - Mango (50)You can see as the equipment and my techniques got better and better – the photos got better and better (as one might hope!) – and almost took on the aspect of portraiture – where the point is to not only show you the colour and shape of the bead, but also something of it’s essence – the reason why you might fall in love with it and want to use it.

However – what made me reflect on this is a request we got by email a couple of weeks ago for a sample card of beads (which we don’t have) because “sometimes the beads don’t match the photos, no offense meant.”

Well, I’m always delighted when someone takes care not to offend, and in this particular case, as I had just been struggling with a particular bead, I was not offended anyway – because the truth should not offend. And the reality is, you just can’t accurately represent beads because there is no one, definitive, way that they look. They are designed to reflect light, they are influenced by their surroundings, they are made of glass (reflective, translucent, transparent), metal (shiny, reflective) and other items designed to reflect, or transmit, bend or just warp, light.

For instance – I had just been struggling with a new Swarovski colour – Provence Lavender/Chrysolite Blend (which will go live on the website, Jan 7, 2015). I don’t have to tell you that monitors vary from brand to brand, with age, and individual settings, plus the lighting of the environment that you are in – all these will also influence how the photos look – and you’ve heard that so many times before that you know all that anyway. This is the internet – you get that.

Swarovski Chrysolite has always been hard to photograph accurately – tending to look grey and flat and the colours of these beads are so soft and subtle it was hard to get an accurate representation. Over 50 photos later, I finally settled on a background and lighting scheme that I thought showed them to their best advantage, but let me take you on part of that little journey … .

Ok – here we go. On a matte, reflective grey background, using a flash. Pretty washed out, not a lot of contrast. Meh.

Well, let’s try it on the black background and get some contrast. Crap – that’s not going to work, all the colour disappears. 

The flash will make them sparklier, and brighter, but the colour has gone too far the other way.

Let’s try the grey background again. No flash. Better.

How about the cream background?

This is nicer – captures more of the essence of the bead.

We could add a flash and some post-processing – except, well – the beads don’t actually look like that. The blue is too bright.

This isn’t too bad – I would like to see  them pop out from the background more, but it might be a lost cause.

Ultimately, I went with the cream background for this colour – it’s a soft, romantic spring colour combination and the cream background seems more appropriate.

But the essence of this is – all I can do is try very hard to show you how the beads look in a limited situation. Put them next to something else – some other colour, and bingo – everything changes. I know that I am your eyes, in the absence of being able to make it into the store in person, but sometimes, even my best might not match your perception.

Those of you who struggle to take photos of the jewelry you make with the beads will understand. 😉


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