While our panel of experts from "Photography in Flux" at the recent Professional Development Seminar (SNAG Conference Seattle) did not declare a "standard" for photography backgrounds, they did make it clear that BAD BACKGROUNDS create BAD PHOTOS.
In the following photos, I have concealed the identity of the jewelry item so that you can focus on just the bad backgrounds (and to protect the identity). A short description of the PROBLEM and suggested SOLUTION follows each photo so that you can avoid such problems in your photos.
PROBLEM: In the photo above the texture of the background is too similar to the texture in the metal. (I would swear this is a dirty paper towel, but I could be wrong.) Additionally, the silver metal is very close to the color of the background. There is not enough contrast between the earring and the background.
SOLUTION: A plain background without texture would have improved this photo. Perhaps a darker grey background may have provided more contrast between the earring and the background.
PROBLEM: The background in this photo has a distracting crease. When photographing jewelry, any defect in the background is simply too obvious.
SOLUTION: If your cardboard or paper background is damaged, do not use it. It will ruin your photo along with ruining any chance that your photos or work will be accepted.
PROBLEM: There is too much background in this photo. It appears that the necklace might be draped over a round ceramic container. The glaze has a moderately distracting pattern and a shiny reflective surface. The reflected "hot spot" on the container makes the photo not so good.
See the bright white reflection on the upper right? It ruins the overall image because it distracts the viewer from looking at the necklace. Obviously, this photo was taken with a single strong light source (not diffuse lighting) because the same hot spot is on the necklace.
SOLUTION: A plain background would be much less distracting. In addition, a diffuse or softened light source can be created by using translucent paper or by bouncing strong light off a foam core for a softer light.
PROBLEM: This necklace appears to be draped over the bottom of the same ceramic container. In addition to all the problems described above, we are distracted by looking at the random pattern of the unglazed ceramic bottom which is unfinished and unattractive.
SOLUTION: Do not drape your jewelry over bowls, cups, or plates of any kind, ever. This never looks like a professional quality photo because professionals don't do this. Find another solution.
PROBLEM: The background for this photo is inconsistent and distracting from the pendent. The highly reflective surface creates dark shadows and washed-out highlights.
SOLUTION: A plain simple background allows your work to shine, without competing with the background.
PROBLEM: Do not use draped fabric for your background. It always looks commercial and corny.
SOLUTION: Plain paper or a photographic background is a conservative but safe choice that will work for most situations.
PROBLEM: These earrings are draped over the rim of a cup. While this is a common practice, it is NOT a good photo. What do earrings have to do with a cup or bowl? Nothing! Professional photographers don't drape earrings on a cup or bowl. In addition, the background behind the cups is even more distracting with color, light, and reflection.
SOLUTION: Earrings can be laid on a piece of paper, or hanging from a model or mannequin like this earring photo on the left by earring by Andy Cooperman.
PROBLEM: The dark shadow on the left side of the pendant and the pendent blend together. It creates a dark left half to the photo lacking interest. In addition, the pendant is dwarfed by too much background and the background has a touch of green in the upper right-hand corner. Why? This is not O.K.
SOLUTION: Your background needs to be consistent within the entire frame. Also, bounce light into the dark side of the pendant with foam core or aluminum foil over cardboard. See below for an improved photo.
SOLUTION: I fixed this pendant image in Photoshop, lightening the left side of the photo enhancing the pattern and texture. Also by cropping off the green bit of background the pendent becomes the sole focal point of the image.
Bad photos are not limited to jewelry. The challenge of getting quality photographic images is very difficult for all media. Artists and makers should take it to heart that quality photographic images are interpreted as quality items, and vice versa, bad images are interpreted as poor quality work. Great images can lead to professional success.
A BAD background sends an unintended message. This message may be amateurish, commercial, over-stylized, or have a dated appearance.
Most of these images were selected off the Internet without permission. In most cases, I obscured the actual item to avoid embarrassment by the maker.
Stay tuned to ASK Harriete for the next photographic issue raised during the Professional Development Seminar program Photography in Flux. The PDS was brought to you by the NEA, MJSA, and SNAG.
Looking forward to the next post.
This post was updated on February 4, 2022.