December 11, 2015
December is the most popular time to get engaged. Romance is in the air with the snow and the sleigh rides and the lights---and you know you're bracing for your Facebook feed to blow up with photos of frazzled, joyous couples and flashy bling. But, let's be honest, many of those social media ring shots aren't that great. Because it's hard to get close-up jewelry photos on a whim, in the excitement of the moment with bad lighting and possibly over-zealous witnesses. So, in the spirit of engagement month, I've put together some examples of very basic ways to get great ring photos that can be applied to photographers and non-photographers alike. Below, I've shared ring photos that I adore as well as ones that didn't turn out quite right. But the important thing is that I can share with you how to avoid my mistakes. Shooting rings is one of my favorite parts of wedding photography because it can be simple but still be creative, and it's a lot of fun showing off bridal bling.
Speaking of proposals, I'm running a fun little promo where if you mention this post (or the one on my Instagram or Facebook), you can get half off proposal photos. That'll be a $25 shoot instead of a $50 one, so if you or someone you know is thinking of popping the question, get on this. You can email me at SarahArnoff@gmail.com to plan details.
So that's actually my engagement ring (made by the awesome Joe at 9th & 9th Jewelers--shop local, people!) above with an old wedding centerpiece that is amazingly still alive (thanks to the fabulous work of Kristin's Flowers--hey, might as well plug other wedding vendors that I know and love).
So let's talk about how I get shots like that. I'm going to focus on equipment, lighting and setup as well as throw in a couple of other tidbits of information you might find useful.
No. 1: equipment. This is probably the least important aspect of getting these photos, but I get asked a lot about what I use. For jewelry photography, I currently use a Fuji XT-1 with the 18-55mm kit lens and an Opteka macro filter that I got for Christmas, like, five years ago. Before I got my Fuji, I used my old Canon Rebel XSi with the same kit lens and filter and got excellent results. If you're interested in doing macro photography as your main thing, sure, go ahead and sink a chunk of change into a dedicated macro lens, but I like my filter since ring photography is pretty much the only thing I use it for, it takes up way less space than a lens, and does its job nicely. Macro is definitely not necessary, though, and even my phone does well with extreme close ups (see this shot of a baby praying mantis taken with a Galaxy S4). So there are lots of equipment options for getting great ring photos, you just have to be willing to experiment to get what you want.
Nos. 2 & 3: lighting and setup. I'll go through these interchangeably with each example I've got, but the main things you want to keep in mind are getting consistent, even lighting OR lighting that will enhance the ring and make it sparkle (often achieved with off-camera flash), as well as pairing the ring(s) with details that will complement the jewelry but not overwhelm it. So let's dive in.
Example 1: Gorgeous rock, natural light, busy background.
These two rings were in a bright, natural-light setting where the light is coming in through a window to the right. I put them on an antique album that had these great, bright flowers on the cover, and I thought they would be a nice combination but the more I looked at it in post, the more I felt the album design took away from the rings. The groom's wedding band it all but invisible on the bright pink flowers, and when I shoot wedding bands and jewel-encrusted knuckle bling together, I try to show them off equally. The photo on the left does a better job of enhancing the groom's ring, but it's practically lost in the right-hand photo.
The lighting is decently even, but the highlights (especially in the left-hand photo) wash out that spectacular jewel. Also, you can see that the pink in the flowers is reflecting in the ring. Sometimes reflections in the jewel can be interesting and add depth, but I felt that they were a distraction this time around. It is possible to color correct in post, but it's so much easier to get it right in camera.
Overall, I really like these shots for the color and brightness, but I felt that this ring could have been showcased better in a different setting.
Example 2: Color scheme, subtle reflections, heirloom details
Showcasing the ring on a detail that is an integral part of the wedding (like this family heirloom Torah) can be a great and original way to make the ring shine. The colors in the photo above go well together and there is enough texture to make it interesting. The lighting is a little less even than the previous example, but it's still nice. The only thing that bothers me is the reflection on the right side.
These two photos play with texture and lines a little more. The right-hand photo draws the eye directly to the ring and the Hebrew characters aren't distracting. As you can see, both photos have a really tight focus, and one of the more difficult things about shooting macro is that the slightest movement can throw your subject out of focus. So don't be afraid to shoot a bunch of frames at once to get a sharp shot. These two shots were the sharpest out of, oh say, 10 or 12 I shot of each scenario. Just keep tabs on your memory and you should be fine.
Example 3: Simple ring, focus issues, centerpiece details
Simple stuff can be difficult to make stand out, and this ring is about as simple as it gets. It's gorgeous and elegant, but even photographing it on the wearer's finger was making it blend in to its surroundings. So I put it on a succulent centerpiece and got up close. The contrasting color helped quite a bit and the photo in its entirety isn't over complicated. Focus, though, was an issue. Like I mentioned above, macro photography can really mess up your focus game. Always keep your lens on manual focus (especially if you are using a macro filter) and be aware that the more you open up your aperture, the greater chance you have of throwing the most important details out of focus. I try to keep mine at F8 or narrower when shooting rings. I broke that rule in the left-hand photo, which was shot way open at F3.6. The jewel is sharp, but just barely. The results in the right-hand photo are better, though not as up close and in your face. However, cropping the right-hand image can remedy that.
I love this photo. It's one of my favorite ring photos I've ever taken. Partly, this was a lucky lighting situation as well as finding the most perfect succulent ever as a backdrop. The centerpiece was in an area slightly blocked from the natural light but when I stuck the ring in the middle, it popped up into the lit area and really sparkled. The lighting difference also added much-appreciated contrast that highlighted the ring, though it did put the photo on the cool side--I had to warm it up quite a bit in post. I had to take several shots before one was perfectly centered and in focus, but the results came out fabulous.
A note on details: Succulents are really popular right now for wedding ring photos (as are books, scrabble pieces, bouquets, mason jars, basically anything on Pinterest), and you'll see several more shots with them on this page. But just because it's popular doesn't mean it's bad. Always try to be creative with your shots and experiment with different ways of showcasing jewelry, but the most important thing is delivering photos that your client (or you, if you are shooting for yourself) wants. If my client has burlap and mason jar decor, I will shoot their rings on that decor even though its been done to death, but I'll also include a few shots of something unique--either way, they get something they want.
Example 4: bright bouquets, heavy jewelry, macro sidenotes
This ring was a beast. It sagged down almost every flower I put it on, which did not make for great photos. So I shifted things around and explored the floral options I had to see what sort of support I could get for this mighty rock. This was not the bride's bouquet, but an arrangement from Costco in the entryway that had a very diverse selection of plants to play around with, which gave me a lot of great photo opportunities without having to move locations too much. The bright colors were also a hit, giving just enough contrast to the white-gold-&-diamond ring on display.
You can see the weight issue front and center in the bottom left photo. I really liked the green but there just wasn't enough support there to hold up the ring and it also threw everything out of focus. The plants in the other three photos held up pretty well, though.
If you look closely at the top-left photo, you can see something else that comes up in macro photography: unwanted details. Macro has a tendency to bring out dust, lint, hair or other tiny things that mess up pristine photos--which makes sense considering the whole point of the lens is to magnify everything. Most of these things are unavoidable, but it's good to be aware and pay extra close attention to the particles in your surroundings. The hairs that are stuck to the ring and flower in the top-left photo are easily removable in post, but I left them just for you.
Example 5: men's & women's rings
I said in Example 1 that when I shoot men's and women's rings together, I like to make sure they are on equal footing. Most of the time, the women's ring is going to be fancier, but it doesn't have to be overwhelmingly so in the photos. The two photos on the left have the women's rings directly facing the camera and are definitely the most prominent thing the photos, but the men's rings nicely framed as well. The men's ring on the right was so cool I had to showcase it by itself in one of the centerpieces. This is where macro enhancement really comes in handy, as I was able to get right up in there and get the engraved details on this band, which was ordered off of Etsy and is made from an old Mexican coin. This shot didn't come without consequences, though. The ring fell off the cactus several times and I ended up getting tiny thorns stuck in my skin trying to fish it out. Choose your details with caution.
Example 6: perfect shots in plain sight
I had the hardest time getting a nice shot of this ring. It's a beautiful and fabulous antique, don't get me wrong, but everything I tried to pair it with just didn't click. There were fun things like pearls, a vintage mirror and a locket that I tested out, but they weren't really doing it for me. But the answer was with me all along: The original box the ring came in was available and it made perfect sense to shoot them together. The final product came out great and this shot is a reminder that starting simple and working up from there is usually the best plan of action.
Example 7: more fun details
I threw these shots in to remind you to keep you eyes open for other details around you. The objects in all three of these photos were random decor items on a shelf that I spotted and decided to play around with. None were the best shots with their respected rings, but I thought they were still fun.
Some technical details: The light in the left two photos came from huge windows filling the room with afternoon light. This was mostly an issue with the egg photo on the left since it was backlit and causing all sorts of weird reflections and lens flare (backlighting can be fantastic in many cases, but this time it just wasn't working). I moved a chair behind the eggs to remedy the problem, but the chair didn't make a great backdrop. Unfortunately, I didn't have enough time to move the eggs around to different locations so this was the best shot of the lot.
Example 8: in the wild
I normally stash a few props in my car whenever I head off to do engagement photos, but a lot of the time the on-location setting provides an abundance of opportunities to get great ring photos. In the left-hand photo, the nails on the bride-to-be were outstanding, so having a simple shot of her sliding the ring on her finger worked great. The snow in the right-hand shot made for a good reflector and really helped the diamonds on the rim shine.
Hands are weird. I think they're one of the weirdest parts of the body to photograph. They always look awkward and sausage-y--unless the subject is a hand model or a pianist. Things that help with this are having your client get a manicure before a shoot, and a French tip job is usually the most flattering. It's strange but it really makes a difference. Long, polished nails help give the illusion of long, slender fingers--believe me, I have stubby crone hands but the instant I got a French tip done I had elegant princess fingers that made me feel regal as all get out.
If close-ups on the hands/fingers are a no go, posing shots where the ring is prominent but not the main focus can work as well. Poses like sitting with the hand lightly touching the face, or holding hands with the groom with the ring turned toward the camera work well.
That's pretty much the extent of this little rundown on ring photography, but here are some takeaways and a few things to think about.
-Always ask permission from the ring owner(s) before doing anything with their fancy jewelry. Even if it's a really simple shot within eyesight, it's still best to explain your intentions and your ideas, as well as get input from the bride and groom about what they would like to have.
-Don't take too long with ring shots. They're fun, but they're not the main event. I take about 15 minutes max if I'm shooting something complicated. Shooting rings at a wedding is usually best done before the ceremony while the bride and groom are getting ready or during their private couples portraits, but it is possible to shoot them during dinner if the happy couple doesn't mind. Be very mindful of your time and absolutely make sure you aren't going to miss anything important.
-Watch your reflections. A few examples above have pretty distracting highlights on the gems, which can be hard to catch when you are setting up. Shift the rings around a few times in one setting to make sure you get a handful of diverse shots--especially if you are shooting natural light. It can be sneaky that way.
-Macro distortion is real. One of the things I sometimes dislike about my macro filter is that it can distort things more than I'd prefer. It's not very noticeable in the examples above but you can see some in the corners of the cactus photo in example 5. If you are a novice macro shooter, it's definitely something to keep in mind.
-If you've got the time, setting up creative lighting can make for some really fun and original photos. Backlighting with flash can create silhouettes and shadows, or shooting flash through liquid will through all sorts of light everywhere. You can also enhance rings with reflections--a well-polished black piano works great. Or a small slab of Plexiglas or clean photo frame glass works, too.
-On post-processing: Masks are your friend. I'll draw masks over the gems on rings and turn up the clarity and sharpness to bring out all the fun sparkles. Masks can also help turn down highlights without affecting the rest of the photo too much.