When I was 10, my parents sent me off for Two Whole Months to a distant boy’s camp while they traveled in Europe. Besides becoming extremely homesick, I got caught up in an activity right next to Arts & Crafts called Silver Shop. Here, one learned how to use a jeweler’s saw, torch, files, proper sanding and finishing. Working with sterling silver, you first made a simple band ring; after that you could make all kinds of neat stuff. I subsequently returned to that camp 4 more times, at the end becoming the counselor instructing Silver Shop.
So fairly early on I was designing rings of increasing sophistication along with pendants, earrings, pins, etc. but mainly rings. Later when my mineral collecting morphed into lapidary, the semi-precious stones I cut into cabochons were used in my creations. A few years ago when I got most of the rings together and did a count, it was determined that The Wife could wear a different ring every day of the year and then some, so I figured That Was Enough. Some 23 years ago, putting my skills to practical purpose, I made The Wife’s engagement and our wedding rings.
Starting with sterling silver (or “925″: 92.5% pure silver, 7.5% copper), I soon moved on to gold: preferably “rose” or red gold (higher copper content) along with white gold. (There’s even something called “green” gold, but after trying it a couple times, I was of the opinion that it just looked like gold that wasn’t feeling well).
All my work was fabricated; never got into casting — that’s a whole different animal. Working with some sheet but mostly wire, I’d experiment with twisting varied numbers of strands different ways. Certain machine-shop techniques, including the use of a metal lathe were also employed. For economic reasons, initial experiments were done with with copper and/or brass.
Small jewelry items (like rings) are best photographed by using DIFFUSED light so as to minimize “hot spots.” I’ve found the best way to do this is by using a light “tent” or box or as we’re about to create, light “cylinder.”
If you don’t have access to some 10 or 12 gauge wire, get two or three regular wire coat-hangers and straighten them out. Pliers make it easier, but you can do a fair (if crude) job by hand. Make a circle with the wire (aprox. 12″ diameter) and tape it together with strong tape (e.g. duct-tape). Make a second. Get some heavy-weight WHITE construction paper (I used two sheets of 13 x 19 photography paper taped together) and make a cylinder the same size as your wire circle. (Actually you’ll get a better “fit” if you reverse the process: make your paper cylinder first and then size the wire to fit). Tape the wire circles to the cylinder top and bottom. Use the cylinder as a guide to mark and cut out a circle of the white paper the same size and tape on top. Cut a hole approximately 1/3rd of the way down from the top slightly larger than your camera’s lens . Of course if you want to shoot directly from above (e.g. “Coconut Shell Pendant”), it makes sense to cut a lens-hole on top; in fact you can cut several for different vantage points, cover and tape all but the one in use with white paper. Now you can photograph your subject in full sun, but without hot-spots or shadows. It may not be elegant, but it works.
Other than using a light “tent,” the actual set-up (in terms of background) is similar to that employed when photographing shells (“Shells are Swell”) or any other small object: my often used “aquarium” coral spray-painted matte black or other natural forms (e.g. cacti, lava, etc.), so long as they can fit inside your cylinder. Once again, it’s a matter of showing off the subject in a revealing way that gives a sense of that object’s specialness.
More from Warren Krupsaw
Please check out Warren’s latest Moth Photography in his new self-published calendar Mothography 2012.
Warren Krupsaw, a one-time student (and house guest) of Ansel Adams is a nature photographer concentrating on landscape & detail. After participating in the first year of a new graduate program in Photography at M.I.T. with Minor White, he earned his M.F.A. in Photography under Harry Callahan at the R.I.S.D. in 1968.
Book: Portraits of Passion and Other Dalliances