Working with Jewelry Models

The problem: People can look at pictures of jewelry online but can’t try them on to see how they look and feel when worn.

The solution: Have pictures of the jewelry being worn.

There’s only one way to do that, and that is to take pictures of models wearing the jewelry. This means I needed

  • good camera,
  • tripod,
  • back drop curtain,
  • good lights,
  • basic (at least) skill with photo editing software, and
  • women to be the models.

I wanted several models, with several outfits each, to provide a variety of “looks” for wearing jewelry. My thinking is that women could look at sample images the various models, think “Oh, that style is most like me,” and then see all the jewelry on that model. I ended up with four different models, and I’ll probably shoot a couple more to complete this round of images. Once I have a handful of new jewelry designs, I plan to repeat the process.

I had never taken any type of portrait photographs, nor had I ever taken pictures of my jewelry being worn. The first four things (i.e., camera, tripod, curtain, lights) were easy: I only needed to order them. The fifth element (editing skill) I was certain I could learn, particularly because I have really good editing software available. The sixth element (models) I knew I could find if I asked around enough.

First: The equipment

Camera: I purchased a Cannon Rebel T6 and an 18-55 mm lens for about $450. Mine came bundled with a battery and battery re-charger. I ordered an extra battery so I could keep going when the first one ran down in about an hour of constant use. I’m very pleased with this camera. It takes very high resolution and very good images.

The internal light meter was confused by the white background and lights and lowered the brightness to set the image to 18% gray (which DSLR cameras do). This created a rather dark image on a gray, not white, background. I learned to add a brightness effect, 0.7 step increase, when taking the images, which mostly corrected this problem. Later, when photo editing, I also brightened the images somewhat. I am going to get a “real” light meter (probably this one by Sekonic).

Cannon Rebel T6 digital camera

Tripod: I picked up a rather basic tripod from Best Buy.

Studio Lights: I found a source for “studio-type” softbox lights that weren’t too expensive but seemed like they would work fine. I wanted the lights that would provide a lot of natural light with out creating glares and excessive shadows, and that wouldn’t blind the women as they stood under them for a couple of hours. There are actually 4 bulbs in each softbox, included, and they provided a lot of light.

I purchased the lighting combo set (3 lights with tripods and carrying case) sold by Fancierstudios on Amazon for just over $100. Set up was a bit tricky, but I managed to get everything together. The bag hanging from the tripod for the overhead light is for a counterbalance so the light wouldn’t tip over. I didn’t have a weight, so I put a couple bottles of maple syrup in the bag…really!

Softbox studio lighting kit

Back drop curtains and stand: I purchased a 3-color pack of backdrop curtains: white, gray, and black. It was about $30, plus around $25 for the stand. The backdrop stand goes through the top of the backdrop, which means I could only hang one at a time. This didn’t matter, because I only wanted the white curtain.

I had to iron and iron and iron the backdrops: lots of deep creases from being folded in the package. I only used the white backdrop, but I think it would be interesting to try the black. It would be a different look, and it might really help with the lighting issue.

The set-up: Here’s what it all looked like once it was set up.

My studio set up

A few things to notice: (1) I taped the backdrop sides to the stand to stretch it a bit and keep it place when the models were standing on the tail on the floor. I also taped the “tail” to the floor so it wouldn’t move around. (2) The overhead light, when in use, is raised all the way to the ceiling and moved closer to the model. It provides hair lighting and helps reduce any shadows. (3) The chair was for the models to put the towel on when we did the bare back shots so it was easily accessible. (4) I draped the other backdrops on the edge of the stand, mainly so they would hang and not get wrinkled again.

Taking the Images

I knew that finding the first model would be the most tricky. Subsequent women could look at the first set of images and see what types of pictures I would be taking. The first one, though, really had to trust me and trust that the modeling was legitimate, not a creepy come-on. Fortunately, I found a friend who was willing. I had encouraged her (and the other models) to bring a girl friend along so she would be more comfortable and feel safer. We ended up getting some great shots, and we had a lot of fun.

Once I found a willing model-to-be, we set up a date. We had to work after the sun went down, which was around 6:30 p.m. As you can see from the picture above, that room gets a lot of outside light. It has a huge front window. The window has a full set of blinds over it, but they let light through. By waiting until after dark, I could control the light using the studio lights I purchased.

Before anything else: When a model came to my house, the first thing we did is review and get a signature on a model release form. The release form basically says

  1. I have permission to take the images and publish or distribute them as I wished (which is why we were taking the images!),
  2. The models won’t expect any future compensation from my use of the images, such as receive any royalty if I sell jewelry they have modeled, and
  3. The models will hold me not responsible in case of any future dispute arising from my use of the images.

Basically, I covered my butt. I reviewed the form with each model to make sure they knew what they were signing. I’m fair like that. None objected to signing the form. (If you are curious about the exact language in the release form, you can download the release form here.)

Next: Reviewing the poses and clothing: For the first model, I had some sample images I pulled off the Internet of poses I wanted to try. As expected, she was a little uncertain about the images requiring her to be topless. She admitted that she would be uncomfortable with taking those pictures. When we finished the other shots, though, I asked again. By that time, she was more comfortable with the photo shoot and me, and she was willing.

For the next models, I used the first model’s pictures to demonstrate what I wanted. The next models looked at the images I had already taken and basically said, “Ok, no problem.”

I wanted each model to bring several changes of clothing. I knew that we would need two types of outfits: one for a more casual look for the hip and wrist poses and a more-glamorous outfit for the shoulder and neck poses. In particular, I wanted some type of off-the-shoulder outfit for those images. I also wanted to make sure the outfits would not clash with the jewelry and that the jewelry wouldn’t get lost in the clothing design.

We looked at and discussed the various options, and then made the best choice from what was available.

You’ll see that the first model wears the same outfit for all the images. She only brought one, so we used it. Some day, I would really like to re-shoot all those images and have her in different outfits. I have also learned a lot about taking the images, and I think the next set would be even better.

Same model:
three outfits

Starting the images: I created a chart of all the jewelry pieces I wanted to model, and all the poses for each piece. This would help me keep track of the jewelry that had been photographed and the poses we had done.

We did the images in three phases:

  1. All the hip poses,
  2. All the shoulder poses, and
  3. All the bare back / hip poses.

By doing them in phases, the picture-taking went smoothly and quickly. The models would learn a particular pose, and then repeat it over and over. I put a piece of jewelry on them, they did the pose, and then I made any minor adjustments to the pose or position of the jewelry.

First Phase: The Hip / Profile Poses

Jewelry on wrist, wrist on hip, hip pushed out. Face to the opposite side of the jewelry.

The fingers needed to point down: if they pointed straight to the camera, they would look unnaturally short. I wasn’t as consistent with the fingers as I should have been, and a couple of the models had a little difficulty with the hip. Also, I was never quite sure what to do with the other hand. By the time I got to the third model, though, we got it figured out: just let it hang.

Once they were in the pose, I checked for clothing wrinkles, straightened their clothes, and adjusted the placement of the jewelry.

I knew that I would crop the raw image into two images, one for a close-up of the wrist from the elbow to the fingers, and one for a profile from hips to chin.

Second Phase: The Shoulder Poses

Hand lightly on side of neck, face to the opposite side of the jewelry.

This was a hard pose for the models, mainly because they each tried too hard. I had to remind them to relax and simply bend their elbow so that their hand naturally landed on their neck. Then we moved the hand up or down a little until it was in a good, comfortable place. Also, they were turning their heads into unnatural and uncomfortable positions. Just look at this spot on the wall, I told them, then drop your chin a hair (and don’t smile!). I had to make sure the head didn’t tilt too much, because I was going to crop right between their lips and nose.

Also, we had to make sure the bracelets weren’t getting lost in their clothing and hair. I made some minor adjustments to the jewelry placement and draped their hair where it seemed to look nice.

During this phase, we also did the images with the chokers and the bracelet–choker sets.

Third Phase: Bare Torso Poses

This is actually three poses that we did at the same time so the models wouldn’t have to keep putting on and taking off jewelry while topless. With being turned away from the camera (and, thus, from me), and with a towel at their side they could use to cover up between images, it was very discreet. We used one jewelry item, did the three poses, then switched jewelry.

I wanted these poses specifically for the larger, bolder pieces of jewelry. My thinking is that these images would resonate with the type of woman who could wear these larger pieces. They also show off these larger, more complex pieces without the distracting patterns and designs of the clothing.

First, back hip images: hand on hip, fingers to their rear and down, thumb toward their front.

Second, back torso images: hands crossed behind the back, hand without jewelry holding the arm wearing jewelry, hand with jewelry relaxed and fingers pointing down.

Third, front hip images: exactly the same pose as the hip pose in the first phase.

To Finish Up: If the models and their accompanying girl friends wanted a few portraits, we did those last after the model got dressed again. I have a good photo printer at home, and I was willing to edit and print a few portraits for them. I use the HP Envy 7640 for images on HP glossy photo paper. One nice feature of this printer is that it has a tray for 5 x 7 prints (along with 4 x 6 and 8.5 x 11).

Then we talked about possibly working together again (once I have enough new pieces), and they all agreed, which is great. Paid them, said thanks, walked them to their car.

And Then, Editing

I’m not going to go into a lot of detail here. Suffice it to say, these are the basic things I did.

  1. Selected the images I wanted  from about 200 images per model
  2. Removed blemishes, scratches, scars, acne
  3. Lightened the images somewhat
  4. Cropped the images

I use Adobe Photoshop, and it’s fantastic. I learned a lot about using Photoshop while editing these images. The Spot Healing brush was particularly useful. I still have a lot to learn, but I think they came out pretty well overall. Also, the ability to pre-set cropping ratios was handy. I cropped all the images into a squares, either 18 or 12 inches tall and wide. With a square image, they would display well online in various tables and pages.

Editing took about 10 to 12 hours or so, per model.

Finally, Posting the Images

I selected some of the images from the first two models to use in product /shop pages. I also created a gallery for each model and a gallery for each piece of jewelry.

With the model galleries, as mentioned, a potential buyer can select from one of the models and then see each piece on that model.

With the jewelry galleries, each gallery shows all the model pictures for each piece of jewelry.

It Worked

The choker on “the blond girl”

I started all this because I want to sell jewelry. I want to give potential buyers a better idea of the jewelry so they can take the risk to purchase a piece.

It worked! Just a week ago, I had a woman email me about one of the pieces. She noted that she saw the choker “on the blond girl” and was interested in it, if I could make it just a bit longer. Of course I can, so we worked out the price, and she purchased it. That one purchase paid for all the models’ fees, the lights, the back drops, and the jewelry materials.

Not only was this a really fun and interesting project, with lots of new skills and experiences, but also I’m declaring it a success. I will do this again.

One side note: Since I have posted the images and shown them to quite a few people, I have had a number of women offer to be my next model. How neat is that?