An ex-web designer’s dirty little secrets
I often get asked how I photograph my beads with such good results. The truth is, I don’t – I take really bad photos. I use Photoshop to make them look right. I thought I’d share how it’s done, or at least how I do it – just like there are a million different ways to work with glass, there are a million different ways to edit a photo (well, almost). So this may or may not be the official way to do it or the best way to do it, but it’s quite easy and it works well for me.
Note: Just in case this wasn’t clear (no pun intended), I use Photoshop to improve the look of my photos, not to improve the look of my beads. I always try to make the photos look as close as possible to the true colors of the beads.
So, here goes! I hope this is helpful to anyone struggling to get a good photo of their beads and/or jewelry.
Taking the photo:
I use a pretty decent camera, but I am a totally amateur photographer. So I’m not going to go into the technical details of that, I’ll just assume you are using something better than a cameraphone.
Usually, I like a white background for my beads, so I set them on a stack of paper – just regular white printer paper.
I take most of my photos outdoors, on my balcony. During the summer months I was taking them in the sun, around noon when the sun is high in the sky – to avoid long dark shadows. But now, something seems to have moved around up there and I get bad shadows at any time of day. So I’ve been taking photos in the shade when it’s relatively sunny out, and I think I like the results a bit better – the shadows are much softer and the beads look more 3-dimensional. I’ve found that opaque beads with surface detailing look better under the sun in any case, but transparent or encased beads seem to look better in shady photos.
I never use a flash for bead photos.
I don’t use a tripod, but my camera has a pretty cool “Anti-Shake” feature so my photos come out sharp enough. If your camera doesn’t have that, I’m guessing you should probably use a tripod.
If your camera has a ‘Macro’ setting, use it whenever possible!
Now comes the fun part. This method will fix just about any lighting problems in your photo.
While adjusting my photos, I like to have the beads near my computer so I can compare them to the colors on the screen.
Open your photo in Photoshop.
Most cameras take pictures that are very large on the screen, so first you will need to resize your image. (You could also skip this step and resize after you are done adjusting the photo, but I like to resize first. Why? I don’t know. It is a good idea to do it first if you are working on a slow computer, because once the image is smaller the adjustments will go faster.)
Resize your image by going to Image > Image Size in the menu and/or crop it by using the Crop Tool:
A width of 600 pixels usually works well for images that are going to be viewed on a computer screen.
So, here is my original photo, taken in the shade, cropped and resized:
(This is only 300 pixels wide.)
The first thing you can see about this photo is that it is way too dark. I told you I was an amateur photographer! So my first adjustment is lightening the photo.
To bring up the Levels box, type Ctrl+L or go to Image > Adjustments > Levels.
Slide the little grey arrow in the middle to the left, until the image looks almost washed out.
Now my image looks like this:
That looks like a bead’s ghost! And Halloween is behind us…
Next adjustment is Brightness/Contrast. Go to Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast in the menu.
Slide the arrows to the right until you like the results. Check your bead for comparison and be careful not to go too far.
If you took your photo on a white background, then the background should look white at this point. If you can’t get it to look white without the colors of the bead looking all funky, then click “Cancel” and try going back to the Levels step. Make the image even lighter before you adjust the Brightness/Contrast.
My image now looks like this:
Almost there, but not quite. The image is a bit too blue – you can see it especially in the shadow. One more adjustment:
Type Ctrl+B or go to Image > Adjustments > Color Balance
Select Highlights. (This seems to work best with shadows.)
Since my shadow is too blue, I slide the Yellow <> Blue arrow towards Yellow. Then I am left with a bit too much cyan, so I slide the Cyan <> Red arrow towards red, just a tiny bit.
In different types of lighting you could get an image that looks too yellow, too green, etc. – just play around with the arrows until the shadow looks as neutral as you can get it.
Once again, the most important thing to remember is don’t overdo it. Small touches can make a big difference. You don’t want to end up with an image that shouts “Photoshop!”
Now my shadow is grey and my bead looks just about right.
I just have to make one last adjustment – That Blue > Yellow thing fixed the shadow, but left the bead itself looking a bit yellower than it does in reality. So I open the Color Balance box again:
This time, I stay in Midtones, and I move the Yellow <> Blue arrow slightly towards blue. I check my bead again and the colors look just right. The difference is subtle, but this kind of thing is important to me.
One last finishing touch. If you’ve resized a very large image, it will probably look a bit blurry.
To fix this problem, sharpen your image by going to Filter > Sharpen > Sharpen. Sometimes the image will look too sharp – all weird and grainy. In that case, undo (Ctrl+Z) and look at the image again. If it looks like it needs sharpening anyway, try Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask for a more subtle effect. (I have no idea what an “unsharp mask” is, but sometimes it helps.)
This is my final image:
Perfect! That’s it.
If you don’t like your results, you can always go back and start over. Try playing around with the different settings and maybe you will find a different combination that works for you. Some photos are a lost cause, but most can be drastically improved.
Don’t forget to save your image!
If you have any questions, you are welcome to post them here in the comments and I’ll try to help.