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Camera+ and professional photography: How to shoot jewellery using iPhone 4 and Modahaus

by Lex McColl
July 8, 201110 comments
Note: We recently tweeted about post by Modahaus where they show how to take professional-quality jewelry photos using an iPhone and some inexpensive equipment, including our own Camera+ app. Unfortunately, their site couldn’t handle the rush of traffic. Because the post is so cool, we invited Lex McColl from Modahaus to put his post up here on our blog. Enjoy!

And is it good enough?

As a regular product photographer my usual weapon of choice is a Canon EOS 5D MkII and being a recent convert to the iPhone 4 I was curious to find out just how good or bad the iPhone’s camera was as I’d read a lot of reviews rubbishing the camera. So what better a test than to put it through its paces by shooting some Bling.

What is the answer to the ultimate question? ‘Is it good enough to present and sell jewellery online’. Let’s find out. As with any product photography a camera is only one part of the mix required to take product photos good enough to sell so, firstly let’s take you through the compact kit list.

Kit and kaboodle

  • iPhone 4 camera
  • Camera+ app
  • Glif iPhone 4 tripod mount
  • Gorillapod mini flexible tripod from local photo store
  • 2 x Angle poise lamps from local Swedish flat pack store (lamp was possibly called something like ‘Levertop’)
  • 2 x Daylight CFL screwmount bulbs from local photo kit store
  • 2 x LED light panels from Korea Studio on eBay
  • Modahaus Desktop Studio 216 (the baby in the range)

216 lit from below studio set

Tips

  • Set phone to ‘Airplane mode’ to avoid pesky interruptions. 
  • Set Auto-lock to ‘never’ to stop phone switching to standby.
  • Connect phone to mains power or ideally a laptop or desktop PC.
  • Don’t get too close to the iPhone with the CFL bulbs as this interferes with the camera display and the images captured.
  • You’re best shooting with halogen or LED lights.
  • With camera in landscape format swivel round 180º so lens is bottom right if you want to shoot from a lower level.
  • I’ve chosen to shoot all the jewellery on a white background as this is the most common method used to present jewellery photos online.

Test 1a

Here we shot an amethyst bracelet (designed by the talented Nathalie Hambro) illuminated from below and above with LED light panels and selected the Modahaus translucent white backdrop.

The iPhone 4’s camera lens is quite wide angle so you need to get in quite close or you can use Camera+ to zoom in although this is digital zoom and will degrade the image. I chose to go in as tight as possible to avoid this and let the camera have its best shot although this meant compromising the composition a bit.

Camera+ app on iPhone

Camera+ also allows you to select a focus point by tapping the screen and an exposure point by tapping the screen with a second finger. Your second tap on the screen then also displays a white balance lock icon which you also tap to lock the white balance on the position of the exposure point symbol. You can then move the exposure symbol to fine tune exposure. Another handy feature with the app is a timer that can be set to 5 secs to help avoid the shakes. It’s a simple operation you quickly get the hang of.

So almost ready to shoot the Bling – crank up Puff Daddy on the sound system and we’re off.

As I was already hooked up to the Macbook pro I decided to use Aperture 3 and Photoshop for post processing rather than Camera+ post process tools as this is more about the cameras latent quality. I’ll review the apps tools in my next blog with iPad 2.

1a

As expected the finished result 1a is a clean white background with no shadows and by illuminating from below we’ve also demonstrated the translucence of the amethysts. The stones at the front are a bit cloudier than those behind in real life.

I also did a three part focus stack on this image as I would typically do with jewellery photos. I’ll go into focus stacking another time. The only other post processing was increasing exposure and saturation a tad and a medium contrast curve and no image sharpening.

Test 1b

Here we shot the same bracelet but this time we used the opaque white backdrop that also comes with the Modahaus kit whilst using the translucent white backdrop to form a diffusing light tunnel (see TEST 2 image) with one CFL light from above.

Again, I was pleased to see the results I had hoped for. Good translucence in the front stones with pleasant soft edged shadows below and the light tunnel adding nice graduated reflections helping to show the organic shape of the stones.

1b

Post processing – increasing exposure and saturation a tad and a medium contrast curve and no image sharpening. No focus stacking used as I felt the depth of field was good although.

In both 1a and 1b the image was cropped to about 50% of the total frame so I’d love to see what results the iPhone 4 camera could achieve with a macro or tele lens attachment, if such a thing exists.

Test 2

Desktop Studio 216 workflow

This gold ring with cultivated mother of pearl, by another talented designer Hagit Goralli, was shot using the exact same set up as 1b above the only difference being I removed any trace of shadows in Photoshop as I’d underexposed the image a bit. (I’ve since discovered if you use the zoom feature and zoom in to the area you want to set your exposure to then zoom out then take your photo Camera+ seems to hold faithfully to the zoomed in exposure and focus points. Very handy for more precise focus and exposure control).

2

However with a bit of additional Photoshop work the background was gone. I’d often add a subtle shadow in Photoshop if I want to ‘ground’ the piece. In terms of the finished result, considering we are only using about 25% of the cameras frame, (due to the lenses closest focusing distance) you can almost read the gold hallmark inside the ring which I think is quite impressive.

As the camera is so close you can see its black reflection in the upper front edge of the ring. Whilst this helps show the modeling of the ring I’d prefer to add these reflections with some black card or tape pieces and position them where best.

Test 3a

Here we’ve turned things on their head a bit for the dangly bits.

The Modahaus kit is great for shooting pendants, earrings and the like.

216 upright workflow

216 desktop studio upright mode

Simply re-orientate the backdrop support to the upright position and use the translucent white backdrop and light from behind and front – using angle poise CFL lamps in this instance. Image 3a required almost no post processing and has been cropped down to show the image larger although the thin chain was well exposed and sharp over the full frame.

3a

Test 3b

Image 3b shows the reverse side of the pendant with pave set diamonds (not real unfortunately) this time shot from above on opaque white backdrop with translucent white backdrop forming a light tunnel. Camera+ did OK with this difficult exposure task although I’d like to have seen a bit more contrast in the original image. After a bit of Photoshop adjusting exposure, saturation, mid-tone contrast, colour balance and sharpening I think it is a passable result for a smaller reproduction size.

3b

Conclusion

As I mentioned earlier, the majority of online images featuring jewellery are shot against a white background which has its advantages and normally a certain level of experience is required to achieve this, however Camera+ is a simple to use app and with a bit of practice it is very easy to get the hang of regardless of your level of experience.

On this occasion I felt the app allowed me to get a lot more out of the standard iPhone 4 camera which is what the iPhone concept is all about. A well built, well designed camera and phone that can be enabled to perform a multitude of tasks by ulilising easy to use third party apps.

The answer to the ultimate question ‘Is it good enough to present and sell jewellery online’ I have to say, yes it is. There is no issue in lack of resolution for the majority of instances where jewellery is displayed online.

Essential elements in the mix are:

  • A good iPhone photo app with focus, exposure and white balance control and delayed shutter release which Camera+ has plus loads more.
  • A flexible tripod and iPhone mount.
  • A set of easily positioned lights (or even just one), each with the same colour temperature.
  • A compact versatile Table Top Studio such as the Modahaus Desktop Studio 216.

The flat pack Desktop Studio 216 and a mini tripod will easily fit in a briefcase or day backpack alongside a laptop and coupled with an iPhone 4 you have a complete highly portable product photography system and workflow.

The Modahaus range is currently available with a FREE bonus pack of 4 translucent coloured backdrops for a limited period in addition to the standard translucent white and opaque white backdrops. We’ll demonstrate some coloured translucent backdrop lighting techniques with jewellery soon so watch this space and look out for Modahaus on Facebook and Twitter.

216 studio set with red backdrop


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10 comments

  1. Anthony
    1:36pm, July 8, 2011

    I got a question. How do you set up your camera to have whatever it is showing on it to also show up on your desktop? I’ve always wanted to know that.

  2. Bruno
    5:37pm, July 8, 2011

    Same question of Anthony : How do you set up your camera\iPhone to show live on your desktop the actual picture???

  3. Lex McColl
    8:02pm, July 8, 2011

    Hi Bruno+ Anthony, I had the iPhone hooked directly to the laptop via USB and imported images directly in to Aperture 3 for detailed evaluation. Although this was very fast it was not a live tethered image displayed. I’ve also used RemoteSnap and RemoteSnapServer that allows you to import wirelessly but that means you have to disable Airplane mode. If there was an App that allowed live tethered viewing on a laptop/desktop or iPad that would be a really cool feature. Hope that helps guys, Lex

  4. john
    2:37am, July 12, 2011

    i also got a few questions, how Simply re-orientate the backdrop support to the upright position and use the translucent white backdrop and light from behind and front – using angle poise CFL lamps in this instance.

  5. Lex McColl
    8:00pm, July 14, 2011

    Hi John, It’s just a case of turning the Desktop Studio 216 upright. The iPhone and tripod on the base act as a counterweight for the pendant. If you are using CFL’s keep them a bit further away from the iPhone to avoid interference.

  6. Lex McColl
    8:14pm, July 14, 2011

    In fact John, if I were shooting this again with iPhone, Modahaus and angle poise lamps I’d opt to use standard matching incandescent lamps and have no worries with the position or distance of the lamps. Setting white balance with Camera+ is just so easy. Incandescents are much cheaper than daylight CFL’s too. ;-)

  7. enrico tedeschi
    6:48am, December 14, 2011

    hi

    could you please publish (or send to me) a picture of the table lamps you mention in you eqipment list ?

    I cannot find them with name you supplied

    thank you

    enrico

  8. Alex
    10:45am, December 30, 2011

    Is it necessary to use both lamps and LED panels?

    Which LED panels did you buy?

  9. Annette Coleman
    2:00pm, June 15, 2012

    I’ve been using Camera+ with my Nimbus Cloud Dome and I don’t have to use any lights beyond what comes through the window to shoot my jewelry.

  10. Lex McColl
    1:04pm, August 8, 2012

    Thanks for comments Enrico, Alex, Annette, The lamps I used were called TERTIAL from Ikea - they use the same name worldwide. I used either LED or one or two lamps. Never mix light sources as you’ll have colour temperature variances. As Annette says daylight, if you have it is ideal. We’ve published a good few posts since this one covering lighting options in more detail and using Camera+ with the great new focus and exposure lock features, hope that helps, Lex


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