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Jewelry Photography Tips: How to Photograph Pearls

Pearl photography tips to make your jewelry products stand out
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Whoever said that diamonds are a girl’s best friend has never had the opportunity to hold a natural pearl. Unlike other gemstones sourced from minerals, pearls are produced from living organisms, most popularly oysters and other varieties like mussels and snails. While other gemstones are formed under intense heat and pressure, pearls are unique in their formation as they are the only gem to ever come from a living creature.

The amazing process of pearl formation begins when an irritant – a parasite – is embedded into the inner layer of an oyster. The oyster will react by building defenses in the form of nacre. It will continue to release (translucent) layers and layers of nacre to encapsulate the irritant until a pearl is formed.

A natural pearl is unique. It cannot be cut or shaped according to the demands, and the production is often hit-and-miss. Aside from the fact that not all oysters will produce a pearl, the production is also hindered by the depletion of pearl-producing oysters due to excessive harvesting by humans. These conditions make natural pearls a rare beauty that’s prohibitively expensive – a beauty eclipsed by cultured pearls.


Cultured pearls are produced the same way as natural pearls with a few differences. For instance, the former begins by inserting a larger nucleus to irritate the oyster leading to the release of nacre. A larger nucleus is used to expedite the process from 1 to 20 years to at least 2 to 3 years. Considering the complex yet fantastic production process, it’s no surprise that jewelers like yourself often struggle with capturing the natural allure of pearls – cultured or natural. Its reflective properties, unique iridescent, and luster are challenging qualities to work with during a jewelry photo shoot.

In this article, we’ll provide you with a few simple tips to improve your pearl photography to make your pearl jewelry products stand out and convince your customers to pay attention until they can no longer resist the urge to purchase.

Jewelry Photography Tips: How to Photograph Pearls to Make It Stand Out

Tip 1. Use as few lighting sources as possible 

Light source

When taking photos of pearls, use as few lighting sources as possible to prevent multiple reflections that can distort or exaggerate their overall appearance and shape. As mentioned above, the layers and layers of nacre are made of highly reflective, translucent properties. In fact, fine pearls, although it’s impossible to view their depth the same way you can with diamonds and other gemstones, would often appear mirror-like.

As a technique, you can position one light source directly above (1.5 to 2m) your subject. This will give the pearls a rounder and more defined shape and dimension. By minimizing your light source, you’ll get to control the reflections in the pearls without misrepresenting their appearance or producing a flat, uninspiring finish – an outcome observable when you use too many light sources.

Tip 2. Use a lightbox and do your photoshoot in a dark room

Gemlightbox lifestyle shot

The GemLightbox is a plug-and-play photography lightbox system that’s specifically designed to capture jewelry images.

While reflections can add dimension to your pearls, it’s also necessary that you have great control over what is being reflected in your subject. A lightbox or light tent can help you execute great control over reflections. Its translucent surface acts as a light diffuser which eliminates glares and produces soft shadows. Soft shadows are key to achieving stellar pearl jewelry photos because it makes the subject look more dimensional instead of producing results that appear dull and lacks depth.

Photographing pearls in a dark room is another technique you can apply for your next photo shoot. This will create dark, soft shadows that can add contrast and luster to the pearl’s finish. As you scour the market for photography equipment, you can see that some lightboxes have front covers. You can use this to control the amount of dark area reflecting on your pearls. For instance, removing the front cover altogether will generate a larger dark area, while using the cover completely will shrink the dark shadows.

There’s no rule in applying this technique, but remember that too much contrast can make your pearls look like a metallic object; thereby, ruining their natural beauty. You have to observe how the components of your subject respond to every exertion of control.  Experiment as much as you can until you find the method that fits perfectly with your subject.

Tip 3. Pearls photography need not be expensive. Be resourceful and open to other alternatives

Poster paper

Forget about expensive photography equipment. You don’t need to break the bank to produce studio-quality pearl jewelry product photos; you just have to be resourceful and open to possibilities. For instance, you can use translucent fabric or coroplast – a corrugated plastic sheet – to create a double layer of diffusion. Coroplast comes in various colors. You can use black to create shades, and translucent and pure white as reflectors.

Alternatively, you can enclose your subject within poster papers. You’d notice that by simply making this approach, you’ll get to eliminate harsh shadows while brightening the bottom area of the pearls.

Tip 4. Style your pearls like a pro to make them pleasing to the eye

Pearl strand

Like the technical aspects of pearl photography, styling your pearls for a photoshoot can draw your customers in or push them away. The way you position your pearls when photographing can communicate professionalism when appropriately done; hence, you’ll find other jewelers hiring professional photographers to assist them in coming up with the perfect layout.

A Lemniscate – two loops forming the shape of figure 8 – is one of the most common positions adopted by jewelers and photographers when taking photos of pearls; however, it doesn’t mean that you have to stick with this style. Browse popular magazines and check how other jewelry industry leaders arrange their jewelry pieces. Aim to be different and explore different styling positions and layouts to ensure that your jewelry is displayed in the most stunning visual presentation.

Do you want to photograph your pearl jewelry in a perfect circle position? While others often struggle with this, it’s very much possible with the use of props. For instance,  you can use the side of the springform round pan to arrange your pearl into a perfect circle position. Sometimes, you just have to look around your house to find suitable props or equipment.

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Tip 5. The post-production process will help perfect your pearl jewelry photos

Pearl pendant retouching

Post-production is a critical step in jewelry photography. It’s the stage where blemishes can be eliminated, and exposure, background, lighting, and contrast can be adjusted and enhanced.

As we have repeatedly established in the past, nothing comes out naturally perfect, especially in the area of jewelry photography. At times, it can be frustrating to realize that despite all the techniques and approaches you have followed religiously, the jewelry photos are still nowhere near your desired result. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Consider that post-production processes are always part of successful jewelry photography.

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Watch how we photographed a pearl bracelet using the GemLightbox and a smartphone.

What other pearl photography techniques do you recommend? Feel free to share in the comment section below!

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