Here’s how to use a digital camera and Adobe Photoshop to create high quality images of your beads, jewelry and artwork in your own studio.

With Adobe Photoshop, a digital camera and a Digital Concepts Portable Lighting Studio I am able to take photographs of artworks large and small use them in many different ways. I didn’t start out to be a photographer, but in the course of my work I’ve learned a few things that really help.  Here’s what the product description says about the Digital Concepts PS-101 at :

use simple lighting and photoshop to create create images to sell your workThe Digital Concepts PS-101 portable lighting studio is light weight and easy to setup. With built-in carrying case; includes 2 high-output lights with retractable legs, 2 colored backgrounds for contrasting light or dark objects, a mini tripod and nylon diffuser screen for balanced lighting portable lighting studio.

I like it because not only is it very portable, it is also effective in a lot of different situations. You don’t have to use it only as shown–the Velcro edged squares can be used by themselves as hand held light diffusers, or the top can be left open. There are many possibilities. I use my own cloth or paper backdrops too, and I made a fabric covered foam board “easel” that can be used under the backdrop to get a better angle. Items can be discretely pinned to the board if needed.

Many times I use the automatic settings on the camera itself, but sometimes I override them. I like to have enough lighting from my setup that the flash in the camera doesn’t have to come into play. 

Sometimes the flash is useful, but mostly it just makes for glare. This is particularly true with strongly reflective surfaces like highly polished metal, glass, crystals, and other shiny surfaces. Diffused light is always best. I also use a small OTT light to add “fill” light to the mix from the front or the top as needed.

I’ve found that the OTT light fits well on top of the the box shape that the portable studio assumes when set up. It is shown at right. The fabric walls and top unfold from the carrying case and velcro into place, and the lights that come with it shine through from the sides and the top. They are not lit in this image; only the OTT light is on. The glare was too much with all the lights on; because the ornaments were dipped in Varathane when they were made 25 years ago and are still very glossy. I made our Christmas ornaments out of bread dough back then because I hadn’t discovered polymer clay yet. I had never used a computer back then either, and the cost of traditional film photography was prohibitively high. But even then I knew Varathane was a very useful gloss finish for use on more than just wood!

Sometimes you have to try various settings–some lights on, all lights on, lights close, lights farther away…there are many variables including the ambient light in the room, the items that are being photographed and the camera itself. Sometimes I raise the lights by putting them on top of books or boxes. While not high tech, it is very effective. Full spectrum light works best, whether provided by daylight or artificial bulbs. Using a tripod is also important with small items and high resolution. The portable studio includes two lights and a tiny tripod. Its very cute, but I use my larger tripod that I already had most of the time. Another studio “must have” is a power strip or box extension cord. The lights have very short cords, and there are three of them in addition to the AC adapter for the camera. The adapter allows me to shoot for hours without changing batteries every five minutes. Using the camera’s Live View function or the Macro focus uses a battery up in no time at all, but its not an issue with the adapter. 

I always start with the biggest possible file settings in order to capture a high resolution. The pictures start out HUGE and with a file name that is generated by the camera. When shooting pictures for print, I stay at the large file size with 300 pixels/inch resolution, but for web pages I reduce images to 150 or 72 pixels/inch, with most at the lower resolution. I always keep the original in its unchanged state, then crop it to remove excess areas and resize it as needed. Then, I use the command File>Save As and rename the picture to indicate what it shows. Every time you save a .jpg or .gif file, it loses a little bit of its original file integrity and some pixels. A file with the extension .tiff so doesnt lose anything, and I save images for print that way. This keeps the original image intact and is a great backup.

Sometimes I’m editing pictures sent to me by other artists, and I don’t have control of the photography settings or the backgrounds. Photoshop is the tool to help improve ANY photos! Here is a shot of a polymer clay mask by Ann Kruglak that I edited using Adobe Photoshop. Taking a class in how to use this program and other media graphic design courses at my local community college has been of tremendous benefit to me! This is the original file that she sent to me.

Rainbow Kachina polymer clay mask by Ann Kruglak

Here’s the edited version.

Rainbow Kachina polymer clay mask by Ann Kruglak

The best part is that the original file pixels are intact under adjustment layers and masks added using the Layers Panel in photoshop. The pixels are not destroyed when you use adjustment layers, but they are lost when you make your changes with Image>Adjustments from the top menu bar.

Here’s how I got there from the original. Once you’ve done it once or twice, its not hard to do at all.

Open the file, and look in the lower right hand of the screen at the layers panel.
Go to window>layers if the layers panel isnt already open.

Use your curser to pull the lock icon on the background layer down to the trash to unlock the layer, then select the little black and white half-circle icon to create new fill or adjustment layer >curves.

Use your curser to pull lock icon on the background layer down to the trash to unlock the layer, then select the little black and white half-circle icon to create new fill or adjustment layer >curves.

A screen then pops up, where I moved the black slider very slightly to right,move white slider in slightly to the left to match up with where the the histogram edges start and end.

Select layer 0 with artwork, then go back to the little black and white half circle icon to create new fill or adjustment layer>solid color, select white (or whatever you choose–even patterns or gradients!) It will cover up the picture, because it is on a layer above it.

In the layers panel, drag the new the layer underneath layer 0 where the artwork is, and it will show up again.

In the layers panel, click on it to select layer 0 with the artwork, then click on the little icon that looks like a sqare with a circle in it to Add Layer Mask.

Using the brush tool with a 100% hard edge and black selected as the foreground color, paint out everything you dont want to show.

I start with a BIG brush and cover up most of the outside area of background.

Think of it as invisible paint. When you exchange the color to white, you can return the visiblity, so if you take out too much, go back over it with white and put the image pixels back!

Zoom in and out as needed and change the size of the brush as needed.

Keyboard short cuts are great!!
brackets change the tool size up or down and that saves a LOT of time that you don’t have to choose this from the menu.

Ctrl Z undoes what you just did
Ctrl + zooms in
Ctrl – zooms out
[ makes the brush smaller
] makes the brush bigger
x exchanges the foreground and background colors

As you apply more of the mask, you will see the blacked out area appearing on the mask image in the layers panel.


Keep going until you cover up all of the background. Remember if you make a mistake, just change to the white foreground color and paint over it again, bring back what you just covered up.

Click on it to select layer 0 artwork (not the mask square) then back to select the little black and white half-circle icon to Create New Fill Or Adjustment Layer>Vibrance and adjust the sliders to add just a bit more vibrance to the colors.

Then, click on it to select layer 0 artwork again and go up to the tool bar to choose Filter>Sharpen>Unsharp Mask and adjust the sliders till you like the way it looks.

Save the file.

If you are going to use it on the web, reduce the file size by choosing File>Save For Web And Devices.


And that’s it! Thats how I use photoshop masks and polymer clay masks together. Here’s another mask by Ann Kruglak with the original photo, and with two new backgrounds. One is an angle gradient fill, one a solid red fill.