I don't use a lot of props in my own jewelry photos, but it's not for lack of trying. My feeling about props is like that old saying, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." I'll use a prop if it has the right mood or tone, but if I don't have anything suitable (often the case), I'll skip it.
This is one reason I've long admired Jewelry Affaire magazine. Every piece of jewelry becomes a star on the page with just the right prop. I love how my statement earrings in the Summer 2016 issue hang from the filigree edge of a white birdcage. This display shows off the earring length and subtly highlights the filigree squares. I like it better than the original photo I sent them as a submission. (My photo is the one at the top of this blog post.) This magazine made me start thinking about props for jewelry photos again.
Why Use Props in Jewelry Photos?
It's always a challenge to make jewelry look appealing in a new and fresh way. The right props can:
- set a mood
- show the scale of the finished jewelry
- help viewers visualize how this piece of jewelry fits their personality or life style
- emphasize the color or details of the jewelry (by contrast or similarity)
- draw viewers in and makes them want to spend more time looking at the jewelry
- give ideas for gift-giving or packaging (in the case of a box or ribbon as a prop)
- show how it might look when worn even if not on a model (allowing earrings to hang, for example, rather than sitting flat)
30+ Ideas for Props to Use When Photographing Jewelry
I looked through my printed copy of the Summer 2016 issue of Jewelry Affaire, online images of past issues, and blog posts by jewelry designers and made a list of all the props I saw. When I could, I added links to show you photos from the magazine so you could get a better idea of how the prop was used. Many of these types of props were used multiple times with different projects; the photos I've listed here only show one possible use. I'm hoping that this will be a starting point for your own creative use of props:
- birdcage (see photo at right)
- bird's nest
- book or book pages - Chris Kaitlyn Jewelry, Woven Amethyst Stones [blog]
- bottles - Vintage-2-Vogue, Turquoise Name Bracelet [blog]
- box (wood or tin) - Cover of Summer 2016 issue (near bottom of page)
- branch from a tree or shrub - Bohemian Spirit by Sheri Welser
- candles - Bees on Pie, Bracelets [blog]
- carton (for berries) - Filigree Flower Necklace by Linda Larsen
- clock faces, pocket watches - Nitelily Designs, Steamchic [blog]
- colander - See table of contents photo near top of this page
- cup or mug - Cover of Spring 2016 issue
- drawer (of a dresser)
- fabric (napkin, lace ribbon, apron, doily) - Scarlet Calliope, Peach Melodiam [blog]
- flowers (full flowers, leaves, or petals) - Sarah Donawerth, Metal-Stamped Library Book Bangles [blog]
- frame - Romancing the Bling, Speaking Romance [blog]
- glasses - Petite Michelle Louise, Heavenly Hinges [blog]
- hat, boot, clothing - Boot Bracelets by Jamie Skolnik
- letters or envelopes
- mannequin - Ingrid Dijkers, Steampunk jewelry [blog]
- picture frame - Cord Jewelry by Sandra Younger
- plate, saucer, shallow bowl - A Tribute to Herfy by Heather Thompson
- rocks, stones - Heather Trudeau, Slices and Simple Stones
- salt shakers
- sand dollars, shells - Pacific Sea Stars, Seashore Memories
- silverware (spoons) - Kimmy Kats, Hammered Spoon Necklaces [blog]
- teacup and saucer - Cindy Cima, Blue Fairy Necklace [blog]
- toys (a yo-yo) - Sara O. Jewelry, Once Upon a Time [blog]
- tray - Cover of Summer 2012
- twine, cord, yarn - Cover of Winter 2015
- vase, planter, or pitcher
- wheat chaff
What I find exciting about this list is how ordinary it is. You probably have some of these items around your own house or in your yard. This means that you might be able to introduce a few props in your jewelry photography sessions without buying anything new. (Hooray! More money for jewelry supplies!) Plus, a single item such as a vase can come in so many styles, shapes, and materials it would be easy to vary your photos even if you prefer certain objects over others.
Tips for Using Props When Photographing Jewelry
Here are a few additional tips for choosing and using props:
- Props can also go through trends just like jewelry itself. When I was
the editor of Beading Daily, for example, a lot of photos sent to me
featured jewelry positioned on rocks. A rock may be a natural prop for
earthy jewelry, but for awhile it felt like every jewelry designer photographed her work that way regardless whether it matched the style of her jewelry or not. That said, a trendy prop may help you get noticed by a trend-conscious shopper or editor.
- Think about placement. As you can see from some of the photos, sometimes a prop is in the background (like flowers) and sometimes it becomes a central piece (like a vase). Often props will be off to the left or right side, rather than centered. This makes good use of the old photography idea to divide your photo into thirds when thinking about composition.
- Use hooks, handles, or slots on the prop (such as the handle of a vase or basket) to help anchor, hold, or display the jewelry.
- Look for subtle colors, patterns, or textures in potential props. You don't want anything that matches your jewelry too closely; there should be some contrast so that your jewelry is what gets noticed.
- There's no need to show the entire prop such as the full lamp from the top of the lampshade to the base. It's okay if the viewer can't tell exactly what the item is. You're not selling the photo; you're selling the jewelry in the photo.
- Consider the finish of the prop. Super shiny items can be tricky to photograph well.
- Be careful with overly unusual props. You don't want the prop to be more interesting than the jewelry
itself. (You'll know you've gone too far when you have potential customers
emailing to ask how much the item is in the background of your photo and
ignoring the jewelry altogether.)
- Be sensitive to the mood the prop evokes. A filigree necklace with romantic details might look better hung on a weathered wooden washboard than on a sleek steel table because it matches the mood of the jewelry.
- Try, try again! In many cases, you won't know if the prop will work with your jewelry until you try. Sometimes I've thought I've found the perfect prop only to have it be the wrong color or size. Keep trying. Photography is like many things in life: a little bit luck, a little bit practice, and some good old-fashioned magic!