If you’re looking for a professional jewelry photographer, this article is for you.

I’m Chelsea Lister, a Charleston area website builder, and the more complicated websites I build are for jewelry clients. There is a lot of work that goes into the images for your website as that is where you are going to either land a sale, or a customer is leaving the page. Jewelry photography takes a lot of time and planning if done right and I wanted to understand how this time gets reflected in the client’s cost. I spoke with professional jewelry photographer Kate Benson for a better idea.

There are a variety of images styles you can take for jewelry, but I’m going to focus on e-commerce website images. These images are extremely important, because they are your first impression to your customers. If you don’t catch their attention now, there’s risk of loosing sales. Think of it like real estate photography. You want to go see the home with the beautiful lighting and bright, full-frame images that capture the architecture and space. Not the house with cropped room pictures that are too dark to see in. Jewelry photography is the same. You want it perfectly lit, in focus, and captivating to your customers. But jewelry is one of the hardest products to shoot. You need to make sure it’s done right.

Why hire a professional jewelry photographer

With all the tools at our disposal, it’s tempting to try to cut costs for photography. You can easily search for DIY tutorials, order your own equipment, or compare quotes between photographers to find the cheapest rate. The difference is that a professional jewelry photographer will make your piece look stunning, and go above and beyond your expectations. You’ve invested in your jewelry, so you should invest in excellent photography that will be true to your products. Having build websites for clients who went both paths, the websites that invested in their product photography out sell (by a lot) those who don’t.

If you get quotes from multiple photographers, make sure you compare apples to apples. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. “Know what you’re paying for. I always include overhead,” said Kate. She also adds other anticipated costs in her quotes, but not everyone includes extra fees. One way to understand what the quote includes is to ask to see an example of what the jewelry images will look like at that lower cost. 

Another reason to hire a professional jewelry photographer is because they want you to be successful. One of the reason’s I like working with Kate is that I often hear her offering suggestions to clients about different ways to photograph a piece, or other angles to consider taking. Professionals photographers have also seen what sells and what doesn’t. It might make costs a little higher, but having a photographer who is also a consultant can be huge. They’ll be able to guide you because they’ve done this many times before. 

A big consideration to hiring a professional, but not the most obvious, is repetition. If you continue to work with the same photographer, your images will stay consistent from shoot to shoot. For example, Kate showed me some of her studio notes. For each client she records all the values for the lighting, studio setup, and camera, notes about the post processing, and pictures of the studio. These details allow her images to look the same whether they were shot back to back, or 6 months apart. And with the complicated setup for jewelry, these notes are critical. By paying more for a professional jewelry photographer, you know you’re working with someone who knows that they’re doing. They are careful and precise in their work.

The cost of hiring a professional jewelry photographer

The cost of jewelry photography varies widely, and can run anywhere from $10 to $2,500+ per image (especially when you factor in shots on models which include a lot of other team to product), which is a pretty big range. There are many contributing factors for your per image cost. Kate focuses on four main variables.

  1. Quantity of images
  2. Art Direction
  3. Availability 
  4. Quality of the Jewelry

In general, photographers essentially charge based on time + costs + usage (which is minimal for website photography). The more shots you want, the more time the photographer needs to shoot, so the larger the overall estimate. Make sure your estimate includes overhead fees like the time it takes for the lighting setups. To get a good base for comparison, take the quote you get after adding all of these items together and dividing it by the number of products you want shot to get a cost per shot. The more jewelry pieces you have and shots you need the higher the estimate total but the lower the per image cost will be. One way Kate minimizes costs is to be efficient. She organizes the jewelry, and shoots everything that requires the same setup, trying not to move the lights until she has to (as changing the setups increases the overall time spent shooting and raises the costs). She gave me a great example of how important quantity can be toward your end jewelry photography costs. One of her clients gave her a few jewelry pieces to shoot, and Kate sent them under 15 files, at a per image rate just below $60 each. For a later shoot, that same client Kate sent over 150 files, and the per image rate was under $30 each. It’s best to send large quantities of your jewelry over to a professional photographer at a time, to minimize your costs throughout the year.

According to Kate, the largest deciding factor in cost is art direction. This variable dictates exactly what the photographer needs to do. What you want your jewelry to look like will depend on many costly options. For example,

  • Do you want your product on a plain background, or on model?
    • Models can significantly increase your costs. Not only do you need to pay for the model, but also depending on the shot you’re looking for, you might need a hair and makeup artist, and/or a stylist, and possibly a location.
  • Do you want reflections under the jewelry, shadows, or neither?
  • How many shots are you looking for?
    • Each angle of a piece of jewelry is one shot
    • Multiple pieces of jewelry in one shot would still be one shot but the cost for that shot could be higher since it has more time to style and more pieces to retouch.
    • Details/closeups of jewelry are also one shot
  • Do you want to use any props?
    • Depending on the props, this might be an insignificant charge, or huge

As you can see, there are many cost factors that a photographer can determine from receiving art direction from you. An example of good art direction is this image:

The availability of everyone involved will also determine your image cost. Sometimes, you needed your jewelry images yesterday and want to get them rushed. In most cases, there’s a large rush fee. When I found out about how Kate accommodates a rush job request, I thought it was really well-put. I wish I had thought of it. Instead of you paying a “rush fee” and pushing another client’s work to the side, you pay for Kate to either work overtime, or get an extra set of hands to help finish the projects before you. That way, all of her clients still get the images they need on time, but you got yours faster than typical. I know, because I’ve occasionally asked for her to rush shoots for my clients. 

The last major cost factor Kate mentioned is the quality of the jewelry. When a professional jewelry photographer is trying to make a piece look as good as possible, there might be additional production necessary. Extra retouching could be needed if the jewelry being shot are samples that show signs of handling. Those pieces might need additional retouching to make sure any flaws that are not representative of the actual product are not present. Fine jewelry might need extra time in setting up the shooting space if the product has insurance requirements that restrict where it can be shot.

Overall, if you have a very simple setup, where the lighting doesn’t need to change, and the products are all shot at the same angle, your setup costs will be broken down into your per image shot. And that will be much cheaper. 

How you can minimize your costs

You want to hire a professional jewelry photographer, but it’s still a little too expensive. Is there anything else you can do to minimize the costs? Yes, because remember: time and cost go hand in hand with photographers. The quicker they can shoot your jewelry, the less it will cost.

First, treat your jewelry as if you are getting ready to hand them to a customer. Make sure to polish them before giving them to the photographer. If they’re used, such as antiques or auction pieces, it’s best to get them professionally polished. Having the pieces ready for the shoot means the photographer doesn’t have to spend much time polishing and cleaning the jewelry when it arrives, they can quickly move from piece to piece during shooting, and it minimizes the time it takes to retouch the pieces in post production. And the less time the photographer needs for your shoot, the less expensive the invoice.

Another way you can lower your costs is by recoloring. If you have the exact same jewelry piece (including chains, if applicable) in gold, rose gold, and silver, or if you have the same piece with different fine stones, a professional photographer like Kate can often recolor the images for you. First, they style one of the pieces and take the image. Next, they take images of the other pieces for a color reference (no styling necessary). Then, after retouching the styled jewelry, the photographer can go and recolor it using the references from the other jewelry images. This process saves time because the color references are not styled, and the photographer only needs to Photoshop (retouch) one file (the styled jewelry piece). For example, Kate recolored some fine stones for a client, and the cost per image was under $3 each file. 

If you’re in love with a jewelry photographer’s work, but don’t need to have them on location, you might be able to mail them your pieces. This will save you the photographer’s travel expenses. When Kate handles jewelry that was shipped to her, she offers to do test shoots to make sure the images are what the client wants, or live previews where the client can receive the images in realtime and make any necessary corrections to the art direction. She might also offer the option to hire her for an hourly rate. So, if you’re looking to work with a jewelry e-commerce photographer, shipping might be the best way to save some money.

The price difference between everyday and fine jewelry

Being able to ship your jewelry is dependent on what you carry. If you sell everyday jewelry, your overhead costs will probably be lower, and you can ship your jewelry to the photographer to save travel expenses. However, if you sell fine jewelry, there are strict insurance regulations. Jewelry is a unique product in this regulation, so your photographer will have to come to you. When I asked Kate how she handles fine jewelry, she said she travels all over the country to shoot for clients. One of her favorite shoots was in a vault, where she had to go through extensive security before being able to see the piece she was photographing and bring in battery packs for all her lighting.

Final thoughts

Hiring a professional jewelry photographer for your e-commerce website will help you in the long run. You are hiring a photographer who not only knows how to make your jewelry look stunning, but also acts as a consultant who knows what works and what doesn’t, and who can give suggestions to enhance your brand. It is worth the cost, but there are certainly some ways to help lower your per image rate. 

If you are looking for a professional jewelry photographer and would like more information, or a free quote on your project, contact Kate Benson Photography.

Good luck with your e-commerce website!

Chelsea

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