Friday, September 26, 2014

Free Wire Wrapping Mini Tutorial : Wire Wrapped Bail / Woven Bail

Hello good readers! I hope you all are having a wonderful day. I woke up to a horrible day. Awful, just awful. Then I got an email from someone who is performing a random act of kindness on my behalf. I can't tell you how much this improved my day!

In the spirit of paying it forward and since I'm not rich enough to surprise you all with an envelope of cash. (Who wouldn't love that??) I have decided to share a quick tutorial I whipped up for a friend a while back.

I don't know how other people do their woven bails, but this is how I do it. You will need to be a relatively competent and experienced wire wrapper to follow this, but it shouldn't be too hard to give it a try, anyway. This will depend on how well your eye is calibrated, too, because you'll have to make some decisions on your own, based on your project. (Try it with copper first.)

As some of you know, I like to tie down my wires. If you are comfortable not doing that, then by all means, adapt this to suit your style. This isn't written in stone. Experiment. For example, I like to wrap with (4) 20g round wires, so I have 8 at the top. I turn 2 down leaving 6 to weave with. You can do it whichever way you work, but you will need, at least, 2 wires at the the top to weave. If you are using 22g, you should probably hammer your wires. But, use your own judgement. That's what wrapping is all about- individual expression.

If you find this Free Wire Wrapping Mini Tutorial useful, please leave a comment. I would love to hear from you. :) I'd love to see you at my new blog and site, too.

Remember to pay it forward.

So, here it is- the rough, dirty and quick pictorial tutorial for my wire wrapped woven bails. You can click to enlarge images.

2.5 arm lengths is a good start. Better to have some leftover than to run short. BTW, my arms are kinda short, so don't make it too much.

Have fun and happy wrapping!

Monday, September 22, 2014

White Balance Settings

Last week, I touched on DSLR cameras, mid range cameras and depth of field. This post will address white balance and why you should understand it.

Have you ever noticed in your pictures that your pretty white backgrounds were red or that your subject was some groovy color not found in nature? I sure have! That is, until I learned about the white balance settings on my camera and what they can do for me.

Most cameras, even some point and shoot cameras will offer a few settings which will allow you to shoot more accurate colors in different lighting conditions. You see, cameras, especially modern digital cameras, are computers. You have to tell it what you want. It doesn't have our brain or eyes. So, tell it what lighting conditions you are shooting under and it will try to accommodate your needs. Every lighting condition will look differently.

My mid range Canon G-12 has lots of white balance settings. I can choose the setting most like my conditions, or I can set my white balance manually. I don't know your camera, so you'll have to get to know a few of its functions to follow along. If you lost your manual- Google is your friend. :)

The following images were taken of a pale pink limb cast chalcedony cabochon on a sheet of white paper under halogen lights with the Canon G-12. I used every white balance setting. White balance is sometimes just referred to as lighting conditions.

This is a little purple looking to me.


Warmer still


Warm again

Warm .... again

.... and warm

I set the custom white balance, using a sheet of white paper, since the camera doesn't have a halogen setting. The color is closer now, but it is still a little cool (blue) and still needs help with the gray background.

Using Photoshop or another image editing program which has levels, pick the white eye dropper and click it in a white area of your image. That should brighten things up. Play around with levels a bit and get a feel for what it does.

Here, the image background is almost true white (you can still make out a tiny tinge of blue) and the stone isn't as dark. My stone, indeed, looks like this indoors and under halogen lights. 

Of course, if you can, try to use natural sunlight. My stone is a bit washed out, but the color is very close to what it looks like outside. I used the daylight setting on my camera.

So many of us post images online to share or to build an ad for selling purposes. It is paramount that these images look great. But, they should look like the original, too. Be careful not to over process, but don't neglect the little tweaks, like levels, that will improve your images. 

I finally found my forever camera with my Nikon D5200. If you don't have many options on your camera, especially white balance options, you really should consider another camera. Don't beat your head against the wall because you can't get good shots. Take a breath and explore your settings. Learn your camera. If you still can't get great images, maybe it isn't you. Maybe its just time to step up.

If you are happy with your camera and you can set a custom white balance get a digital gray card on eBay to help you set the white balance. I could have gotten an even closer white balance had I used it, but I'm lazy and I wanted to show you levels. Essentially, the gray card is an exact gray point for your camera to reference. Instead of using a white paper, you use the card. Really simple and effective.

Since I haven't posted any jewelry in awhile, here's a couple pieces I recently finished. I used custom white balance on the Nikon D5200 using a gray card, a light tent with color correct bulbs and a shallow depth of field. I shot on full manual except for the auto focus lens.

Willow Creek Jasper

Stone Canyon Jasper

Dinosaur Bone

Gemmy Druzy Ocean Jasper

Purple and Red Agate

Thanks for reading. I hope this was helpful. Post your comments and or questions and I'll address them and answer, if I can.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

DOF-- DSLR versus Midrange Camera

I have a friend who takes absolutely beautiful pictures of her jewelry. I asked her how I could get such great pictures and she said get a better camera. In general, and as far as I know, you really can't get much "depth of field" (DOF) effect with a digital camera without a DSLR.

A shallow depth of field creates the blurry background effect. What some people might call the vignette effect. Continuing, where I say "DOF", I am referring to SHALLOW DOF, which is the more correct term for the vignette effect.

To begin, let's just get this out of the way. I'm a Nikon fan. I know Canon fans and Nikon fans are extremely devoted, some even rabid. I won't go into which camera is better. But, I do like Nikons much better. I am going to talk about some pictures that I shot with a Canon midrange G12 and a Nikon DSLR 5200. When I bought the Canon, it was the quality that I could afford at the time. It never was really up to par. But, I am comparing apples and oranges here, so let's forget about the brands. The point is my Canon is a step up from a point and shoot and my DSLR is an entry level DSLR. 

My friend's pictures are really great because her jewelry is always the center of attention- or, some point of it. Whatever she wants you to see is in sharp focus and the rest isn't. If you are really, really good, you can do this with photoshop, but it will never look quite as good as if you had done it in camera and it will take a long time.

In the simplest terms, shallow DOF is achieved with low f numbers. If I get more complicated, it just gets confusing- so, just remember- You want the lower f numbers for good shallow DOF. The lower the number, the more blur in the area outside the point of focus. But, the lower the number- the more light you will need, too. Keep reading for more on that.

(For those of you who really understand cameras- just go with me here, I'm trying to keep it simple.)

Shameless plug- All of these pieces are available in my shop. 

Here are some pictures I threw together using a light tent and color correct bulbs. I manually set the white balance on each camera. (That is another subject.)
This picture of an agate piece was taken by the Canon. You can click to enlarge. It is cropped from the RAW image.

Below is the image adjusted in PS (Photoshop). Notice the background rocks are mostly in focus. They are also darker than in actuality.

Here is the RAW cropped Nikon DSLR image:

Below is the adjusted image. All I had to do was bump up the light and contrast 5 points- not much, at all. The DSLR is very good at gathering light.

You see how the rocks are now fuzzy and seem to actually slip into the background, creating a 3-d look. The agate is the most in focus. Which is what I want.

I chose to show you a few of the most difficult rocks for me to photograph. With the Canon midrange, it took forever to get the best shots, which still required lots of post processing. I don't like to do much post processing because I run the risk of the picture not looking like the piece. I always used Aperture Priority on the canon because that is the setting that allowed me to adjust the f number. I used the smallest number available, but it wasn't small enough for really great effect.

With the DSLR, it is super easy to dial in a lower f number and use manual to gather the light I need in a light tent. On manual, there is a nifty little sliding scale that tells you if your image is under or over exposed. All you have to do is adjust the f number and/or the exposure time to get the right exposure. A longer exposure time allows more light to enter the lens. It couldn't be any easier and I get consistently good results.

Here's another set of Canon pictures. This bloodstone was extremely hard to get a good picture of. Getting the exposure right turned out to be impossible with this mid range camera in a light tent.

First is the cropped RAW image, second is post processing. I like to have white backgrounds because they look best online- at least, I think so anyway.

Here are the DSLR images cropped and processed.

Notice again the DOF and how it makes the stone pop. Notice, too that the "blood" shows up much better and is much closer to the real thing.

Here are two Montana agates that were really hard to photograph.

Canon: (I even had to use a handheld light to shine on it!)

Nikon: (No handheld light.)

Both are in front of white backgrounds for a backdrop to the pattern in the stone. The DSLR gathers more light and does a better job of revealing the stone's true character. The DOF also helps the stone pop.

And for the last one, another Montana agate. (Never mind the dust.) :

.... and DSLR

I think this comparison was the most dramatic. I always found Montana agates hard to get, but with the DSLR, it is really easy.

So, if you are still reading and you have a camera that will allow you to select "AV" or Aperture Priority shooting mode, dial in a low f number and start shooting. You will need to bring the camera back a little to allow it to gather more light. If you have enough pixels, you can easily crop in your image.

If you can afford it and you are ready to step it up a notch, get a DSLR and don't be afraid to go full manual. It, honestly, is very easy to use. It'll take a little while to learn the buttons, but it will so be worth it.

If you are in the market for a camera, go to Ken Rockwell's site. He has, what I have found to be, the best review site online. Do yourself a favor and look for a tilt monitor. I, initially, bought the D3200 and promptly returned it for the D5200 which has the articulated monitor. You can usually find really good deals on cameras which are a few years old and are still perfectly good cameras. Remember that you need higher mega pixels to crop in without loosing definition. And, for a mid range camera, you'll want macro capabilities, though most all have it. (It is usually the setting with a flower.) With a DSLR, it is the lens which will need to be macro. However, true macro, when talking about lenses, is different from the macro function on a camera. You will likely NOT need a true, expensive macro lens. I don't have one and I have no troubles. The 18-55mm Nikkor lens bundled with my camera worked fine, but is bulky, so I got the all purpose 35mm Nikkor lens. Ken Rockwell recommends it, so I got it and it is working fine.

Hope this was helpful. I found most of my research on DOF to be daunting, so I really wanted to write something simple and easy to understand. :)