article was originally published in the December 2002 issue of the newsletter
of the Metal Arts Society of Southern California (MASSC).
is good. Why? Because I finally have a way to easily and quickly make
photographic images of just about every piece of jewelry I make. These
images are used for sales, archival, and reference purposes.
The next time a client halfway across the country asks me to make a pendant
to match her earrings made of, say, citrine and dinosaur bone, I can meet
her request. There is no more, "Gee, was it the grayish dinosaur
bone with the tight pattern or the reddish with the yellow spots?"
Perhaps I want to email some pictures of unset cabochons to a prospective
client to let her see if that turquoise is the shade of blue that she
wants. And I now have a web site with images that I can easily change
as items sell. How is this done? What is this new miracle device? I use
The difficulty of photographing jewelry is matched only by its importance.
Often it is more important simply to have any image than to have that
perfect image. The images I have created with my scanner are nothing that
I would consider using for a full-page ad in a glossy magazine. But for
the reasons stated above, scanning has solved a major problem for me.
Juries and publishers still require slides, so theres absolutely
still a place for professional photographs. But more often than not, I
am in too much of a hurry to send new pieces off to my galleries to take
the time to get them photographed. Im now also starting to hear
about show juries and galleries that will accept digital images, and I
expect this trend to continue.
Admittedly, this method wont work for everything. The scanners
optics only has about 3/4" depth of field, so those of you who make
deeply three-dimensional jewelry might not be able to use this method.
You are also limited to merely laying the pieces flat on the scanner bed,
so elaborate setups are not feasible. Testing several types of scanners,
I found that they all work about the same, with one exception. I have
limited desktop space, so the compact Canoscan scanners were attractive
- just over 1" thick and hot-pluggable with USB connections. I looked
at the Canoscan as being something I could store under my desk and just
plug in when I needed it. I bought one for about $100, only to find that
it can really only "see" 2-D objects. Its depth of field appears
to be only about 1/4" or less. So I returned it to the store and
exchanged it for the $79 Umax that has been working fine for me ever since.
The problem with shopping for scanners is that virtually none of them
can be tested in the store. Stores may have one scanner connected and
set up for testing, but most stores have nothing at all. I had previously
tried out an older Hewlett-Packard scanner, which probably cost around
$200 new, at a previous employer. This scanner worked fine and made great
images of my jewelry. I tried out my brothers $300 Epson scanner,
which also worked fine. After my experience with the Canoscan, I decided
if I had to test-drive each scanner, I would start with the cheapest and
work my way up until I found one that did what I needed.
It is my impression that more expensive scanners will only give you faster
scans at least until you get up into the scanners costing over
$1000. There has got to be some reason those scanners are so expensive
(probably much faster and with much higher resolution), but I have no
first-hand experience with these types of scanners.
The process is simple, and any of you out there who already have a scanner
should at least give it a try. I lay the jewelry face down directly on
the scanners glass and close the lid, propping it up with something
so the lid is not resting on the jewelry. I experimented with draping
black cloth over the entire scanner to block any light leaking in from
outside, but I found this to be totally unnecessary. Ive recently
constructed a box out of foam core that fits over the scanner surface,
so I can just leave the lid up when I scan. A shoebox lid would probably
work just as well. Pay attention to the color of the inside of whatever
box you use, since that will be the background color of the resulting
image. My preference is white. To save time, I usually lay out several
pieces on the scanner and scan them all at once. You can then cut them
up and save them as individual images with a graphics-editing program
(I use Photoshop). I scan at a relatively high resolution (300 dpi or
higher) and I do some slight image editing with Photoshop (I adjust the
contrast and clean up any dust spots). Its also possible to clean
up any bad reflections or flares that sometimes occur where the metal
actually touches the glass. I resist the temptation to overly enhance
the colors of my stones, since I dont want the image to look better
than the actual piece. After thats done, I save the image as a Photoshop
file, not a jpg, since jpg is a compression format that causes the image
to lose some detail. This results in a pretty large file, but you can
always convert it to a jpg later when you need to reduce the file size
for web use or email. Like most things, there is a bit of a learning curve
with Photoshop and even though the overall scanning process is simple,
there is a lot that can be done with the resulting images using this incredibly
complex and powerful program. Take a look at my web site (www.billgallagher.net).
All jewelry images were made with my scanner. I am NOT a Photoshop expert.
I took a web design class at a local community college, which included
some basic image-editing techniques. I have a friend who is a Photoshop
expert, however, and he informs me that there is still more that can be
done to further improve the clarity of my images. Ill incorporate
these techniques in the future. Meanwhile, the images that can be created
are clear, well lit, and readable, if not particularly dramatic. My original
goal was to use these images for the web, not print, so super-high resolution
is not an issue. I have, on occasion, printed my original, uncompressed
scans and the results are perfectly usable for flyers, etc.
So to those of you who do flattish, primarily two-dimensional jewelry,
especially with stones or enamels, I suggest you consider a scanner as
an alternative to, or to augment, traditional photography as a way to
document the things you make.