I have made many gemstone holders for photography, mostly out of wire using simple loops, prong type settings, and some weird clamps. (See picture below for a few examples of my designs.) It eventually dawned on me that what I wanted was a gemstone floating in space, away from the background, but without lots of wires sticking out that would require later removal in Photoshop.
Then I hit upon the design of using two parallel wires stretched across an opening. I took a Perkybox and drilled into the lid on opposite sides and stretched two parallel wires through it. (Above right.) The gemstone is placed between the wires and appears to almost float. Next, I decided that instead of wire I should use fishing line, and this would even make the wires disappear.
After several more or less unsuccessful attempts with fishing line, it was back to the drawing board. The fishing line kinda works, but the stones tend to tumble through it at the slightest movement of the box. Nylon just doesn't have a high enough coefficient of friction to keep gemstones secure. It also tends to be more difficult to level the stones on the line, as they must be stretch very tight to provide a stable base for the gemstone. A second pair of parallel lines at right angles to the first creates a fairly stable square cross section, but it is time consumingto build and fits only a handful of stones.
Recently I took a 2" x 1" piece of artist acetate from an artist store, and cut a hole in the center with an xacto knife, then I bent the two ends down and creased them around a Plexiglas sample holder. I made a series of the acetates with different sized holes and some different shaped holes (circular and rectangular.)
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I place the stone into a hole with a slightly smaller diameter and let it "float" in the holder. For the most part this allows light to enter the stone from all sides, and looks almost invisible when shooting down at the top. It produces a "floating stone".
To the left is a CZ in a 7/16" hole. It protrudes a little way into the bottom and rests nicely on the edges of the hole. There is no need to fasten the sides of the acetate as the stone is not heavy enough to cause a collapse.
This stone holder was placed on the white cotton sheet and then covered with the "dome" (bowl) described earlier.
The two photos below were taken with "bowl-only" light and with the addition of a flash exposure. The "bowl-only" light is to the left, and the flash is on the right.
A colored background can be placed below the plastic holder if desired. The separation of the background from the stone makes it easy to throw the background out of focus and the stone may appear floating. There are some additional treatments that sometimes enhance a gemstone in this set up.
I sometimes use a light box (see picture left) to add rear illumination to the subject. By itself it is not good at enhancing a gemstone image. Look at the two pictures below. The first (below left) looks almost cartoonish as the overall contrast has been greatly reduced with the back lighting. The second although better is still a bit flat.
The light box works well in providing even and better luminance than just the outside lights, but too much comes directly through. I cut a 3" square piece of material or use a piece of paper to cover the area right below the sample.
The Picture above left shows a Gary card placed under the gem which blocks the direct light coming through the base. The remainder of the bottom light does a good job illuminating the inside of the bowl and pouring light back on to the gemstone. The set up is shown in the image to the right.
The resultant photographs are shown below these two images. The one on the left was taken with only the reflected light. It is obviously a better shot than the one directly above with the transmitted light. Images taken this way tend to still have a cartoon-like look but they show good detail as to the cut of the stone. The image to the right was taken with the same lighting plus the flash. The flash makes for a more realistic looking stone. The flash forces light to enter and return from the top of the stone making it appear more like we might expect from a faceting stone.
To get more highlights on the gemstone I tried using aluminum foil inside of the plastic bowl to increase the brightness and to provide a random pattern of highlights. The inside of the bowl was covered with the crinkled metal. The top remained uncovered so the flash could also be used when the camera was positioned.
The gemstone image below left was taken using only the reflected light from the light box against the foil. The illumination is still completely circular and there are no shadows or obvious direction to the illumination. The next image (on the right) was taken with the same set-up plus the flash. Again there are some obvious highlights and internal color is affected by the direct lighting. In this case there are more highlights on the left side of the stone. (This is the side the flash is located on.)
I decided to try one additional illumination method. I used a string of the new rope lights to provide a circular highlight field within the bowl (left image). Two small holes were drilled in the top edge of the bowl, and two nylon ties were used to secure the lights in the ceiling of he bowl. When inverted (picture on the right) the lights are near the top of the bowl.
The gemstone to the left was captured using this lighting. It was created with both reflected light from the light box and the string of rope lights around the edge. The left image was created without a flash and the right was created by adding the flash. Again the left image looks a little more line a drawing than a photograph. After the flash use, the image is once again more photo-like.
The last two images were created without any backlight from the light box. The only illumination in the left image was derived from the string of rope lights. In the second image (below right) the rope lights and the flash were used.
Both of these images show good highlights and are lively. The image on the left is the more color accurate of the two. As you can see from the variety of colors displayed on this page, all of the same CZ gemstone, there is a wide range. The color reflected by the stone is strongly influenced by the light used to illuminate it.
The stone is Champagne in color according to the name of the rough. It is a yellow- orange with some reddish pink. Since gemstones constantly change as they move within any light, there is no "one correct" image. Getting a photograph which displays both some of the cut and is generally color correct is about as good as you can do.
This series of lighting methods works well with darker stones, and is harder to control with very light colored stones. Very light to white stones often wash out with very diffuse lighting and sometimes it is necessary to individually light the important facets.
I have tried using a gray card in the background or as the entire background and then color correcting for it, but gemstones with their transparency and internal reflections often take on several colors and balancing to a gray card can make one more predominant. I prefer to hold the gem under a halogen light or in sunlight and then try to match the color manually with the CURVES command, the VARIATIONS command, or the COLOR BALANCE controls, all in Photoshop.
I will continue playing with these setups and refining my images, they are intended
to be a good starting point for you own experimentation and not necessarily and end all to the method.
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Categories: Gemstone Photography