Cinematography Mailing List - CML

Filming Jewellery

A local jeweler wants me to shoot a 1 min commercial for them. While I have shot jewelry stills before this will be my first time shooting jewelry, diamonds and Rolexes on 16. They have a small rotating platter with a black velvet cover to place the product on. Any advice? Any gotchas? Filter suggestions? I have a Nikon adapter for my Aaton so getting close in to the point of macro focus will not be a problem. They want lots of hits and glints as the items rotate.

They are pretty open to experimentation. Since I'm shooting 16 I am thinking of shooting 7245 with an small HMI source. I really want the product to pop off the screen.

Tom McDonnell Cinematographer/Editor

New Orleans, La

Have you considered a _spring loaded_ 6 pt star filter?

-- Caleb Crosby, s.o.c. Cameraman

New Orleans

Years ago I used to help Director/Cameraman Ron Dexter shoot jewelry for Zales.

One lighting tool we used to make was what we called a "light cannon." It basically was a very bright bulb with the smallest possible filament, usually a projection lamp from an Ektagraphic projector, mounted in one end of a aluminum tube, with black flocked paper inside, with a long focal length overhead projector lens in the other end. The cooling fan was not mounted to the tube, because it would vibrate and thus vibrate the very hot spot of light. Bather we blew cooling air through hose like a vacuum cleaner uses, so the fan sat on the floor and could not transfer vibration to the "light cannon" tube.

We would focus the lens to place the lamp filament "image" inside the rotating diamond. We would then shoot that with some sort of macro lens on extension tubes or bellows.

With several "light cannons" pointing at the rotating diamond from different directions, we would typically get the suitable glitter we needed.

We would undercrank the camera, and proportionately scale the diamond's rotation to help us get the stop we needed, both for exposure and depth of field. The object field of view was about 2cm. And that was enlarged to fill the 35mm Academy frame, leaving a little "air" around the diamond.

I do remember shooting a very high quality diamond the size of an American "dime" ten cent coin. (About 1.5cm in diameter) It came with a security guard that never let it out of his sight. He took it with him when he went to the bathroom. At first the clients thought we could get away with shooting an artificial diamond, a cubic zirconium, but at the huge magnifications we were dealing with, you could easily see all the flaws. So they sent us out this huge diamond from their headquarters in Dallas, Texas, complete with the guard.

Bill Bennett DoP Los Angeles, CA, USA

I have a shoot similar to Tom McDonnell's coming up soon. Its a 35mm commercial or a high-end jewellery manufacturer.

I was wondering if a standard macro lens would leave me enough room to light the product, while maintaining room for some interesting moves.

Does anyone have experience using a probe lens for this type of work. I thought if I combine a probe lens and a 3 axes remote head I could get some nice movement.

As well any tips on how to suspend and rotate the jewelry would be greatly appreciated.

Ryan Godard DP Bangkok

Many a true word spoken in jest. I would suggest a 2 point star though - you're less likely to end up with an ABBA 1973 effect.

If you're shooting on tungsten balanced stock perhaps introducing a half corrected HMI source for a single 'bling' would be nice - assuming it's a white diamond. Blue just says 'money' to me.

Tom Townend, Cinemaographer/London.

To give some ideas to both enquiries, I would say that to shoot jewelry you need indeed some hard sources coming from the side and back to get your sparkle, combined with a suitable star filter this should really make the product "pop". A more maneuverable and less DIY alternative to the light canon would be some Dedo lights with optical noses. As you can get the units very close to the subject, even the 100W will be bright enough. I also had a very good result using a CCT 500W minuette profile for the same purpose. This also gives you the option of using different colours on the lights.

As for ways of shooting and mounting the jewelry, try using a perspex tabletop set up with mini-cyclorama. Very easy to construct and you can wash the background with different colours according to need. You can also place the product on some glass wool and light it from underneath. Additionally you could rotate the star filter in front of the lens or put little flicker wheels in front of the light sources to add interest. If your budget allows you could investigate using state of the art disco/rock-n-roll lights like Clay Paky, High End or Varilights and let their internal colour changers and gobo rotators bring your jewelry alive.

Having said all that, I do share Tom's fear about Abba and 1972, but hey, I understand they are back in vogue. Good luck and have fun

Roger Simonsz DP Paris

Bill then goes on to explain their "light cannon". It's been mentioned on this list before, but it's worth mentioning again that Ron Dexter produced a series of video tapes and a companion book called "Dexter's Trix", describing many of his tricks and shooting methods. It's a fantastic collection with something in it for every level of experience. Ron is a truly creative guy. For instance "Skateboard Dollies" and all of their various versions are really just versions of the "Dexter Dolly".

Brian Heller IA 600 DP

If you haven't yet checked out his web site, please do so :

I can't wait for his section on "How to build your own WesCam." It seems like he's built nearly everything else. Wait - he DOES have a section on Gyro Stabilization!

Yes, there's also a section on "shooting the moon"

It's an encyclopedia of Cinematographic techniques.

Rachel Dunn DoP/VFX

Los Angeles

When you're shooting larger pieces like watches, it's a great help to make a simple wooded frame about 1' square to rig the watchstrap on w/ monofilament. Rigging this on a grip arm gets the object away from the background, allowing you to add back and edge lites with much less trouble and eliminates the problem of the velvet background texture "reading in the shot. You can also attach the rig to a turntable putting the watch about 6" above it for small rotations.

I've also used small shiny bounce cards and mirror fragments to sweep kicks across the jewelry during the shot.

Rob Lindsay


Just wanted to say thanks to all who replied. There are some really cool suggestions and tips to get me started. ...and I thought Disco was dead.

Tom McDonnell


New Orleans, La



Copyright © CML. All rights reserved.