If you want to try your hand at opal photography, you can get some pretty good results just using your smart phone camera if you balance it between two piles of books with the subject in the middle.
How to photograph opal stones and opal jewelry
To begin with we will use a ring as an example. Its not easy to get a ring to stand up unless you leave it on your finger and then you have to have someone around to take the picture. Here are some suggestions:
How to take make an opal ring stand up so that you can take a picture
1. First stick some blue tack (the material they use to stick pieces of paper to a wall) onto a piece of flat wood. Take a piece of black velvet or some sort of black cloth and place it over a piece of wood. Make a slit in the velvet so that the blue tack is just visible.
Place some strips of white paper around the area where the ring will be lodged. The white paper will help the camera to take a more controlled picture so that there is not too much contrast for the lens to cope with
2. Place the ring onto the exposed area of the tack so that it holds up firmly. In this picture you can see some of the tack holding the base of the ring showing. Of course in a graphics program you can take this out but with a bit of care you can just about hide the tack by using smaller amounts
3. Clean up the exposed areas and if the picture is too bright, reduce the light to show what the stone actually looks like. If this is too difficult for you and you dont understand how to change things in computer graphics, just leave your information at the opalmine contacts page here and Peter will send you an email so that you can send the picture to him for cleaning up.
How to photograph opal stones using the correct lighting and background
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
- Background of picture
As described above, 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 velvet or flock paper will work OK.
To make the ring stand up you will need to cut a slice in the velvet or black paper and fit the ring through this slot onto the blue tak attached to a board in the background.
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.
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.
- Using a smart phone camera with auto focus
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.
- 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.
7. Using Bracketing for better white balance
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’ (below, right)
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.
8. Focus, Timer, and ISO
Now that you have the background sorted it’s time to come to the focus. Before you do this you can turn on the timer(left). I find two seconds delay is the best. You will need to use the camera’s pre focus magnifier 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 (International Standards Organisation- the norm for sensitivity of old emulsion based film. If you wanted to change it, you would have to change the whole film cartridge but with digital cameras, you can do it at the flick of a switch)
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)
Here is a video which discusses the whole concept, in this case with moving images.
9. Light and Shutter speed
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.
10. Stabilizing devices (tripods)
One idea for a flexible tripod is available in Australia from Cameras Direct
Unset stones and Jewelry Shutter speeds
A couple of shots of a black opal taken on the finger and separately using ‘blue tack’ or whatever its called in your country. (Just ask your office supplies for the goo that holds paper onto a wall)
experiment, your results at opal photography will be well rewarded.