Tools You Need

* Digital Camera
* My Fancy Wastebasket Photo Studio
* Photo Editing Software

The Camera - What features do you need?

My camera has several features that help me take good photos. I am not a photographer, but I can read the instruction book that came with my camera. I just played around with all the options until I got the combination that works. I have a Vivitar "Vivicam 5386". I bought it at a big chain store because it was on sale for $125, it had a big LCD screen on the back, and it has a macro setting on it. Once I read the book, I found out it had all kinds of cool features that help me, because I really knew absolutely nothing about taking pictures except how to push the button on my old $10 camera.

These are the settings that I like.

1) Focus - Macro Mode: That means I can take close-up shots and they don't get all fuzzy. This is good when the camera is about 12-18 inches away from the object.

2) Capture Mode - AEB: My camera has a setting called Automatic Exposure Balance. This means that it takes three pictures in a row, using different exposures. Exposure is a measure of how long the camera shutter is open, and how much light gets into the camera. So, when I download the pictures, one is kinda dark, one is medium, and one is lighter. So I look at them and find which one I like best. Some cameras have F-stop settings, which controls the same thing. But I don't really understand it, and my camera doesn't have it, so this AEB setting does the work for me.

3) Metering - Spot vs Average: This means that the camera will pick a spot on the photo or average out all the light coming in when it decides how long to keep the lens open. On my camera, I found that the SPOT setting produces better results. It seems like it picks the brightest spot of the whole scene and "judges" how long to stay open.

4) Exposure: My camera has a setting called Exposure, then numbers that are above and below zero. I always set it back to zero after my guys play with my camera. I don't know if that is "right", but I know that is my "jewelry baseline".

5) White Balance - Auto: My camera has different settings for different lighting conditions. Auto will sort it out for me. Daylight is for outside on a sunny day, Cloudy is for outside on a cloudy day, and Night is for dark conditions. Different lights make a difference too. Daylight vs Incandescent vs Tungsten lighting will make a huge difference in your photos. I use "daylight" light bulbs (see below) and the AUTO setting, because it works for me.

6) Zoom - I can zoom in or out. My camera has Optical Zoom and Digital Zoom. Optical zoom means that the lens actually zooms in closer to the object, and digital zoom means that the camera's "computer" zooms in on things. I usually try to stay in the optical zoom range, because the digital zoom gives me grainy pictures for my small objects.

7)Timer Function - 2 second delay. My camera has a timer function, so that I can get it all set up and focused, then let go of it so there is no shake in the picture.

My Fancy Wastebasket Photography Studio:

You will need to spend about $25 dollars.

1) Lights: Go to the hardware store and buy two "daylight bulbs" for about $10 each. Daylight bulbs simulate the natural spectrum of light from the sun, and give the truest colors. I had one already in my beading lamp, and I got another one for my other lamp. Sometimes, I use a third light, but usually I don't need it. I have seen very expensive bulbs up to $25 each, but the $10 ones work just fine.

2) Fancy Light Deflector: Go to the home decorating section of any store and get the cheapest white translucent waste basket you can find. I spent a whole $2.50, on sale. It needs to be a thick plastic that is not clear, and not opaque, but translucent. This means the light will shine through it, but you can't actually see the outline of anything through it. Cut a hole in the bottom of the waste basket that is big enough for your camera lens to fit through it.

3) Fabric: Go to the fabric store, or look in your closet for a piece of fabric that you think will be a good background for your pictures. I chose a piece that is a light grey, because it make a nice neutral background for everything. You may also want to have other colors on hand. Sometimes I also use the big 12" x 12" pieces of scrapbooking paper as backdrops for my photos.

4)A Thick Towel: Grab a thick, clean towel from your linen closet. It will pad the surface and keep the light from seeping in under the edges of your fancy light deflector.

Assembling your photo studio:

1) Put the towel on the surface.

2) Cover it with your fabric. Get all the dust and lint off the fabric, because you don't want it to show in your photo.

3) Arrange your jewelry on the fabric. If you want to change the height or angle of the jewelry, you can make bumps and ridges by putting little boxes or balls under the fabric.

4) Set up your Fancy Light Deflector. Put the wastebasket over your jewelry. Get the hole on the bottom of the basket directly over your jewelry.

5) Arrange your lights. I usually put the two lights on either side of my fancy light deflector. Sometimes, I put one light up on the pottery jar, so the light comes directly from the top.

6) Check the settings on your camera. The most important ones are MACRO and WHITE BALANCE. Remember, MACRO is for close shots and WHITE BALANCE adjusts for the kind of lights you are using. I LOVE the timer function too. I can set it for 2 seconds or 10 seconds.

7) Look through the lens and get the shot set up. Many times I have to adjust the placement of the jewelry or lights, or zoom in or out to get the right shot. Once I'm ready, I push the shutter button half way down, and a pair of brackets [ ] pops up on the screen. They turn to green [ ] when the picture is focused. OK, CLICK!


Once you take all the pictures, now what do you do with them? This mystified me for a long time. So I did a lot of reading, and a lot of searching the internet, and a lot of playing around. Finally I settled on some tools that work for me.

I downloaded some free programs that work on my Windows-based PC, and don't have spyware and adware and junk attached to them. This is a very important consideration.

Here are the programs I use:

A) Photo Editing Software - Picasa
Picasa is an easy photo editing program. It helps you get the pictures from your camera to your computer, and has basic photo editing tools to help you clean up your photos. This is not the most sophisticated program out there, but it works and it is FREE. You can adjust the colors and crop your pictures. It also has a great photo organizing feature, and will let you upload photos to a web album.
Eni has a great article about using this at this link:

B) Photo Resizing Software - Fast Stone Photo Resizer -
This program is free for home users, and there is a commercial program available too. This program does several things. It will resize and rename your photos, change the image resolution and add text or a watermark to your photo.
As you probably know, the image in your camera is WAY TOO BIG to post on the web. Pictures that are printed use 300 dpi, and many pictures on the web work well at 72 dpi (dots per inch). The ability to change the size of your photo is not available in Picasa, so I use this program to make my pictures the "right size".

C) Image software - The Gimp -
Many people use Photoshop to play with their pictures, but I couldn't afford to upgrade to the newest version. Upon searching the internet, I found a program called The Gimp. It is a free, open-source image software. It has a zillion features, it opens every type of photo file known to woman, and does all kinds of cool things. It does take some work to figure out how to use it, but right now, I have more time than money and I am very happy with it. They have a huge website devoted to it, and lots of good tutorials. I like open-source software, so give it a try.

D) Scalable Vector Graphics - Inkscape -

This program is not necessary for photography, but if you need to make diagrams it is FABULOUS and FREE. SVG's are Scalable Vector Graphics. That means the picture is made of a fixed set of shapes that don't get all fuzzy when you change their size. see for more info.


These are the steps:

1) Hook up your camera to your computer. Plug in the cable that comes with your camera. A screen pops up that asks what you want to do. Pick the option: DOWNLOAD PICTURES USING PICASA

2) Decide which photos you want. Once the photos load into Picasa, you decide which ones you actually want to download onto your computer. You right-click on the thumbnail photo, and pick the option you want: Include or Exclude. At this point, you are looking at the overal focus and lighting and staging of the photo. Then hit the IMPORT button.

3) Decide where you want to photos to go. You can pick where you want the photos to be stored. I have a folder called Jewelry Originals, where I put all the photos right from the camera, sorted by date. Then, if I screw up the copies, I always have an original as backup.

4) Decide if you want to leave the photos in the camera, or delete them from the camera. Hit OK.

5) Look at your photos. Click on one of the thumbnails of the photos you just downloaded, and it will pop up into a bigger format. The first thing I do is label my photos. I hit F2 - which is called RENAME. This box allows me to add the date and time and size of the picture right to the name of the picture. Leave your photos in the same directory, and don't do anything except add date, time, size to their names. DO NOT retouch them now. If you don't like the picture, delete it.

6) Now, go back and edit your photos. I consistently do several steps:

  1. Make a copy and work on the copy!
  2. Crop the photo
  3. Rename it something meaningful
  4. Save the copy in a different folder than my originals.

PLAY AROUND with the different buttons

Eni has a great article about using Picasa at this link: The new Picasa 3 has features I haven't played with yet, but look very exciting.

This is the original picture. More playing!

To see how the pictures turned out, go to my gallery at

Once I got the picture looking good, I used the CROP feature to cut out the extra background. Don't forget to SAVE IT!

7) Resize your picture. Now you have a picture that you can use, but it will still be TOO BIG. Now you need to resize it. There are three general sizes that I use.

  1. A small thumbnail size in the range of 75 to 100 px square. If you have a big picture, it often works best to cut out a small piece of a bigger picture, rather than shrink the whole picture.
  2. A smaller picture in the range of 160 to 320 pixels wide. Good for small areas, detail shots or use in tutorials.
  3. A bigger picture in the range of 320 to 1000 pixels wide. Great for seeing the details.

You may also need to change the resolution of the picture. Photos that will be printed work the best at 300 DPI (dots per inch). Photos that are going on the web work best at 72 DPI. If you already know how to use photo software like Photoshop or Gimp, you can open the pictures in that program and use the feature called SCALE or SCALING to change the overall image size and resolution.

If you don't have the software or the skills, then I would recommend using Fast Stone.

  1. Open Fast Stone Resizer
  2. Go to the folder where your picture is.
  3. Then, highlight it in the Batch Convert list, and hit the ADD button to move it to the Input List.
  4. Go thru all of the buttons and drop down lists and make sure your picture is going to format the way you want it to. You can set the folder you want it to go to, so that you can find it once its resized.
  5. Click the ADVANCED OPTIONS button, and go thru the different tabs. There are options for each of these: Resize, Rotate, Crop, Canvas, Color Depth, Adjustments, DPI, Text, Watermark, Border.
  6. So, now you should have a good start on taking good photos. I'm sure other people have developed their own ways, and I'm hoping they will share, so I can pick up some new tricks too.