How to photograph Opals

How to photograph opal stones and opal jewelry

1. Lighting

If you are photographing outside, either wait for a cloudy day or set up under a tree or a veranda or
if inside, near a window with plenty of light coming in. Don’t use direct sunlight as it will put too
much orange into the picture.

If you are inside and you don’t have much window light, use a fluorescent globe or one of the
modern white light globes.

Again if you use incandescent lights there will be too much orange in the picture. Check here to
identify the different globes available. This information is helpful later for adjusting your White
Balance if you are using an SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera

2. Background of picture

Lay out a sheet of black paper as a background. Actually black velvet is best particularly if it is real
velvet but if not, synthetic will work ok.

Place the subject on the dark background but put some strips of white paper around it so that the
camera lens is not confused by having too much contrast between black and white.

3. Depth of field

If you are photographing a ring or an item which does not sit flat on the ground you could have what
is called a ‘depth of field’ problem. (Take note of the details above showing how to make a ring
stand up on its end)

That means that if you focus on the top of the ring, it could have good detail but the base of the ring
will probably be out of focus.

Maybe this will not matter if the main point of the picture is to get a good shot of the opal. In this
case your phone camera should be fine.

However if you do need the whole item to be in focus it will mean that you will probably need to
use an SLR camera with manual features such as macro lens, f-stop, light control, ISO and light
balance. We will discuss this further down the page.

4. Using a smart phone camera

Put a heap of books (or other flat items) on either side of the subject so that you can balance the flat
smart phone between the two piles.

You can experiment with different heights so that your phone gets a good clear focus. Try to get as
close to the subject as possible so that you don’t get too much background into the shot.

Of course if you have a graphics program you can always crop out the background. Cropping just
means to remove the outer parts of an image to clear away unnecessary information and focus on the main
reason for the picture. This will reduce the amount of kb’s used in sending emails.

5. Using an SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera with a macro (close-up) lens.

Most of the popular brands of SLR cameras should be ok. At present we are using a Canon 700D
body which is by no means a top professional camera but is a good middle range device. More
important is the macro lens and we have opted for a Canon EFS 60mm 1:2.8 USM

Before attempting to change the settings, first of all make sure your camera lens is turned to MF‘
(manual focus) on the lens itself and then ‘M’ in the camera setting itself.
Next turn your attention to WB (white balance) and for this you will need to lay a piece of white
paper in front of the lens or if you want to get really professional, buy a special ‘grey card’ from
camera supplies and use this instead.

Open up your white balance. In the canon camera you have two selections. You can select a number
of white balance settings depending on white light source you are using. You have to experiment
with this.

From our experience in photographing opal and associated silver or gold metals, its best not to use
these standard white balance settings but rather go to the alternate feature called ‘bracketing’

If you bring up this gauge you will see that you can give the picture slightly more of the four major
colors. Red, blue, green and we have opted to give the white balance a little more blue which takes
the yellow out of the silver and makes it more natural.

After you have selected the white balance you want, take a picture of the white or grey card and the
camera will record this information and apply it to all your pictures. If you find there is too much
blue or other colors in your pictures, it’s easy to try different settings and experiment.

Now that you have the background sorted it’s time to come to the focus. You will need to use the
cameras pre focus facility which brings the work up very close on the monitor so that you can adjust
the lens to get the very best clarity. This button is identified by a small magnifying glass icon with a
(+) sign in the middle

Next set the ISO ( ) If you like just leave this on auto but you can experiment with 100, 200, 400,
800 ISO if you like, bearing in mind that the ISO setting has an influence over the light and shutter
speed (f-stop) settings (go here for a discussion of what ISO is all about)
If you click the ‘AV’ button on your camera it will bring up a gauge on your screen showing two small
boxes. The one on the left is the light and by turning a small wheel next to the picture button you
can increase or decrease the light.

To the right, the other box is for shutter speed which can be selected by holding down the AV button
and turning the same wheel.

Once you have these details in mind, it’s just a matter of experimenting to get the best picture. Of
course to process the shots properly you will need to load them into a computer and crop them. I
hope these suggestions will help you get better macro pictures, whether it’s for opal or something else.

Best wishes

Peter