How to take Photos that Sell, Sapphire, & Man-made Gems

This month we tell you how to take photos that sell, plus sapphire, September's gemstone, and man-made gems. Scroll down, or click one of the links below.

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How to Take Photos that Sell
Sapphire: September's Gemstone
Man-Made Gems
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How to Take Photos that Sell

If you're selling online it's essential to show a good photo of your product. The photograph influenced the decision to buy more than anything else & good pictures sell! Get in close, crop hard, enhance the contrast, and reduce image size for a fast download.

The Camera
Almost all digital cameras these days can produce good images for the web. Most focus close, recording sharp images with high contrast. However, the connoisseur looking for the best tool should favor a digital SLR, where extra manual features make life a little easier. When choosing a camera, make sure it will focus close enough to fill it's screen with your product. Below we will detail on each aspect making your final image.

Daylight Lighting
It is possible to use almost any type of lighting these days, but bright even light is important for the best results. Sometimes you can use your camera's flash, but this will produce a "flat" image with nasty distracting shadows. It's best to switch your flash off and stick to daylight lighting. Close to a large window will give lots of light, but illustrate your item un-evenly. To get around this problem cut a piece of white card about the size of your product, and prop it up facing the window to reflect the light filling in your items shadows. Alternatively use a small mirror. The picture shows a folding professional reflector. Be sure not to get these in the picture though. Your camera's flash can fill-in the shadows similarly & but you need to experiment for best results. If you photograph outside, then the light will be more even, except early or late in the day. However, you may have a problem with wind or rain!

Artificial Lighting
If you're selling a lot online, then you should consider using tungsten, florescence or external flash lighting. This will give you a more consistent image. After daylight, most people favor either tungsten or florescent lighting because their camera can't use external flash or they don't want to pay for expensive flash units. Tungsten lighting is simple and cheap, but can be hot in the summer. You just need a simple reflector dish with a bulb socket, which can be purchased cheaply from most camera stores - the brighter the bulb, the sharper the image. However, be careful not to make a dark shadow by lighting your item unevenly. If you can't soften the shadow, try pointing your reflector to the ceiling and bouncing the light down. More-even lighting is given with two reflectors and bulbs, but can produce double shadow which looks terrible. A florescent tube will give you a softer light, although green in color. You can correct this later using any good image editor on your computer & same with the reddish color of tungsten light (unless you use expensive daylight bulbs).

Flash Lighting
Although external flash is the best, you will need a camera that allows connection & most small cameras do not. More-advanced cameras may have a hot-shoe, which is the worst place to fit a flash. However, you can buy an adapter that plugs into the hot-shoe with a socket for a flash plug. SLR cameras should have a normal socket for a flash plug and are the easiest to synchronize external flash. Flash light also has the advantage of being daylight color temperature, so you need less color balancing later. Set the camera to manual exposure at around 1/60 second. More-even lighting is given with two or more external flashes, you can trigger extra units with a slave. If you are using a studio flash unit as in the picture, soften the light by using a soft box, which is better than umbrellas which give a "harder" lighting.

A plain white background does for most, but some items can look better on a dark background, like a matt dark-brown. Buy sheets of matt card from an art shop and curve them between a wall and a table. Avoid glossy shiny backgrounds as they reflect hot spots. Usually light-colored products are best on a light background, although there is no hard rule. A light-tent, easily purchased on eBay, is useful for avoiding reflections or "hot spots" (these are white spots on the image caused by reflection from your light).

Taking the Photo
Compose your product to fill around 85% of your camera's screen if possible. If you can't focus close enough, then shoot from further away and crop the image later. Auto focus should work OK, but if your camera allows, manual is best. Auto exposure will also work fine, but you should ensure you have a shutter speed of at least 1/60 second to prevent camera shake. Unless you are using flash, where you will need full manual exposure. If your camera tells you the exposure setting, use the highest f number (smallest aperture) & this will give you the sharpest possible image. Position your product on a table so you can easily bring the camera down to the same height & this makes your item look better (rather than looking down on the product). Take a few pictures of each item, re-focusing (if using manual) in between. Check the first pictures are sharp and correctly exposed before photographing many items.

Afterwards & Improving the photo on your Computer
However good the image, chances are you will still need to improve the picture with an image editing program. This will crop the picture so your product fills the frame, enhance the contrast, adjust brightness, and reduce the image's size so it downloads fast online. Although many have broadband today, too large an image will put off buyers with a slower connection. One of the fastest and easiest image editors to use is ACDSee - not as sophisticated as Photoshop, but much cheaper and simpler to use. It may be enclosed with your camera's software, or to download for under $50 go to To actually get your image from the camera to your computer, you can either plug the memory-card into a USB socket (with a card-reader adapter, although some newer computers have a socket built in), or you can run a lead from the camera to a USB socket.

We find the best size for auctions and websites is around 450 pixels wide for a landscape-shape picture. Your camera will record the picture as a JPEG, and it's best to leave it in this format as it will show your product at its best. The other most-common format, GIF, is for simple line images like logos or cartoons with little color.

How MrBead Photographs
We use two studio flash units. One on the left at 45 degrees and level to the product with a large soft-box attached to soften and even the light, and another to the right of the product with a simple reflector to give a little "modeling". When photographing beads and small items we place them inside a light tent to help prevent hot spots.

We use a digital SLR with a wide-angle zoom macro lens, usually set at between f24 and f32. The shutter is set to about 1/60 sec, but this is not important with flash. We focus manually, but on very-small items we pre-focus then move the camera back and forth to get the sharpest image in the viewfinder. The camera's screen is only used for a quick check after the photograph is taken. ACDSee is used to balance the color, enhance contrast, crop, and reduce the size of the image. We then save to our hard-drive and upload a copy to our host server.

Sapphire: September's Gemstone

Sapphire is the birthstone for September, and is chemically and structurally the same as ruby, an aluminum oxide. However, where rubies are only red, sapphires come in every color but red: blue, golden yellow, reddish-orange, or violet. The most valuable sapphires have a vivid royal blue color. Some sapphires do change their colors between blue and violet depending on the light.

Sapphires are extremely durable, only diamonds are harder. Sapphires are generally cut into cushions, rounded rectangle or oval shapes. However, fancy sapphires may be triangles, squares, marquises, pear shapes, cabochon cut, or smooth domes. Sapphire is the anniversary stone for the 5th and 45th years of marriage.

Dark blue and lilac sapphire is said to enhance ones creativity while guarding against distraction. It is also good for sexual relationships because it tends create deep bonding between people and brings loyalty.
Light blue sapphire is the inspiration stone. It helps to bring new thoughts and makes one feel excited and full.
Green sapphire brings a lucky sense to ones life for it allows things to run smoothly.
Orange works on a totally different level by not allowing you to deceive yourself. It makes you look at things in their basic form without distorting it to conform to what you want it to be. Brings true knowledge - a good stone for students, teachers, writers and researchers.
Pink sapphire allows one to surrender to another for the good of the all.
White sapphire helps you take care of yourself and to tend to your personal needs. Yellow sapphire connects you to the total you with all of your inner knowledge. It also helps you to see what you do not know so you can look for an answer, rather than believing you already know the answer.

Blue chalcedony can look similar to sapphire at a fraction of the cost. Although a very fine-grained variety of quartz. It has a waxy luster with a compact fibrous structure. Natural chalcedony is usually grayish blue and sometimes with hints of pink, however it can be color enhanced to light blue. It is said that chalcedony was used as a sacred stone by the Native Americas, promoting stability within the ceremonial activities of the tribe. Chalcedony is thought to augment emotional balance, vitality, stamina, endurance, kindness, charity and friendliness. It also supposedly alleviates hostilities, irritability and melancholy.

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Man-Made Gems

One of the most common man-made gemstones is a flake stone called goldstone. First created by alchemists trying to make gold. Other variations of flake stones are bluestone, lemon stone, and peach stone. Each are a type of glass mixed with metals to form a glittery appearance.

Goldstone has tiny specks of copper dispersed all over them. Bluestone beautifully captures the essence of twinkling stars with its dark purple sparkles. There are also brick-red and greenstones with a similar shimmering look. The red varieties were created to look like sunstone, a member of feldspar, and the greenstones look a little like sparkling aventurine.

Although manmade, they do have metaphysical properties - these are transmitter stones. Warn as jewelry, flaked stone causes light to pass through you in order to receive a medium. Revitalizing, energizing, and bringing a positive attitude and individualism. As well as calming, refreshing, and is said to protect the center of the body reducing stomach tension. The tiny copper particles also increase blood flow and stabilize your energies and emotions. Plus, their starry appearance will remind you to reach for the stars and that there's light within the darkness.

These stones are ideal for evening wear. Bluestone goes well with dark amethyst, and you'll feel like you're wearing little drops of midnight sky! Goldstone is like rays of sunshine, while redstone is fantastic with carnelian and jaspers.

Many other man-made jewelry stones are made from glass, like cut glass which looks like natural crystal; and opalite glass, like moonstone. Plus there are lots of other man-made semi-precious gems which are created by mixing the real gemstone with cheaper materials to cut cost - like howlite and reconstuted turquoise, sponge coral, amber, onyx and obsidian. This makes an otherwise expensive gemstone affordable to the masses.

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