Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Beauty of Jaspers

by ShadowDogDesigns

Often I have been accused of having a weakness for shiny stones. Humans are attracted to gems on a very primal level, I believe. How many of us have never outgrown the need to pick up a pretty rock and admire it? It is mind boggling to think that the stones we hold so dear have been part of the Earth's crust for millions and millions of years. Humans have surely been assigning value and metaphysical powers to them since one our earliest relatives picked up a stone and decided to wear it as a piece of jewelry.

EntwinedVines created a beautiful bracelet using Rainbow Jasper

One of the gemstones I am most fascinated with is jasper. Jasper is a fine grained, opaque variety of chalcedony. It is found in all colors including: red, brown, pink, green, blue and purple. Jasper often contains organic material and mineral oxides which creates interesting patterns, bands and colors. My favorite patterns resemble landscapes, some with mountains, valleys, rivers and oceans. "Picture" is part of the name of many well know jaspers, such as Owyhee Picture Jasper or Nature's Picture Jasper.

Here is a ShadowDogDesigns necklace with a Nature's Picture Jasper cross

Magical powers have been attributed to jaspers in almost every culture. In ancient Europe, jasper was often used as a "rain bringer". Even more fascinating is that the word for jasper in some Native American Indian cultures also meant "rain bringer"! Traditionally when worn as a decorative necklace, jasper is thought to combat exhaustion. Jasper is also believed to be a protective stone since it is said to drive away evil spirits and protect against snake and spider bites. According to the Bible, jasper was a direct gift from God and would be the first foundation stone of the New Jerusalem.

TalisCreations has these beautiful Yellow Zebra Jasper earrings in her studio:

Jaspers are collected by many people (including me) and are enjoyed for their uniqueness. The prices for different types of jasper are very subjective and are influenced by rarity, patterning, trends, mine finds, etc. Some jasper are found world-wide, some have been found in only a single location. The value of a piece of jasper jewelry is in the cut of the stone by the lapidarist and the artistic use of the stone by the jewelry designer.

I thought it would be nice to share jewelry from fellow JCUiN members who used jaspers in their creations:

MyPersonalOasis created a stunning necklace using Green Jasper:

The highlight of this leather bracelet by PinkSunsetJewelryDesigns is a mauve Picture Jasper:

The color/pattern in these Red Leaf Jasper earrings by KristiBowmanDesign is wonderful:

Subtle colors are found in this Green Seaweed Jasper vintage style necklace by RuthNoreDesigns:

Noreen Jasper is a newly discovered jasper and is found in only one place in the world, in the Pilbara region of Australia. I created this ShadowDogDesigns necklace with Noreena Jasper and Red Flake Jasper:

A different semi-precious stone will be highlighted next time!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Photography Basics - Understanding Exposure and ISO

by DalyCraftWorks

In these blog posts, I'd like to talk about how to take great photos for your ArtFire studios. Taking great photos requires three things from you: A little technical knowledge, attention to detail, and clarity of intention. I know with a little practice we're all capable of all three, but to start us off I'm going to talk about the most basic technical knowledge because it's important to be sure we're talking the same language before we begin exploring the more esoteric aspects of product photography.
So, let's begin with Exposure.
Exposure is controlled by the available light and three camera controls: ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. This blog post is only meant to explain ISO, but it's impossible to discuss one of these elements without bringing in the other three because they all work together. You can't alter one of them without affecting the rest. To understand the exposure process, imagine what happens when you fill a bucket with water. Once you've picked a bucket to fill, the amount of water needed to fill it isn't going to change. What will change is how fast you choose to fill it.

If you open the faucet all the way, the bucket will fill quickly.

If you open the faucet only a little, the bucket will take much longer to fill.

In the illustrations above, think of ISO as the size of the bucket, available light as the water, aperture as the faucet opening, and shutter speed as time (how long you let the water flow). If you open your aperture wide the available light will pour in, and you'll need a fast shutter speed or your bucket will overflow. If your aperture opening is very small the light will trickle in and you will need a slow shutter speed to allow your bucket time to fill.

Just remember: to achieve proper exposure you need to fill the bucket. But there are many ways to get the job done. So, if you can't adjust the light flow, adjust the time; if you can't adjust the time, then adjust the light flow. If the aperture is all the way open and you still can't get the bucket to fill, you need more light or a smaller bucket. If the aperture is closed down to a dribble and the bucket still keeps overflowing, you need less light or a bigger bucket. If this example is confusing, don't worry. All I really want you to take from it for now is the understanding that there are four variables at work any time you make a picture, they all work together, and you can't change one without affecting the rest.

Whenever I encounter a situation with that many variables, my first instinct is to eliminate as many variables as I can. The fewer variables, the more control I've got, and the greater chance of getting the results I want. Let's look at each of our four variables and see what we can do to either eliminate or control them.

First let's talk about your bucket.
What is ISO? ISO also used to be called "film speed" because it is a measurement of how sensitive a film is to light. The higher the ISO, the more light-sensitive the film. The more light-sensitive a film is, the "faster" it is, because even in low light it can be exposed properly using normal shutter speeds. Less light-sensitive films are "slow" because even outside in bright sun they can be exposed properly using normal shutter speeds. Slower films also have finer grain. The larger the film's grain, the more it resembles the "snow" on your old analog TV set. So, in the world of film, less sensitive, slow films with low ISO numbers like 64 and 100 are used outside in bright sunlight. More sensitive, fast films with higher ISO numbers like 400 or 800 are used inside or in low-light situations, with the tradeoff of larger grain.

Most of us are using digital cameras now, so what we mean when we say ISO now is the sensitivity of the camera's sensor. Each camera manufacturer tries to design its ISO settings to approximate the results you would get with film at the same ISO ratings. The lower the ISO number, the less sensitive your camera's sensor will be to light. Because we're no longer tied to the ISO of the film in the camera, the default on many digital cameras is to let the ISO change automatically in response to conditions. This is usually referred to as Auto ISO. If you regularly shoot your products indoors where light is limited, you might think letting your camera set a higher ISO when necessary is a great idea, allowing you to capture shots you otherwise couldn't get.

The problem with Auto ISO is twofold: It introduces an extra variable to deal with when shooting, and higher ISO settings introduce more "noise" just as faster films had more noticeable "grain." In the case of digital cameras, noise is created when the output of the sensor is amplified to make it more sensitive to light. Because the sensor picks up not only more of the ambient light from the scene, but more of the noise generated by the sensor itself, higher ISO settings can cause noise. If you're using a DSLR, chances are you will be able to shoot at 400 ISO or even 800 without noticing a major increase in noise. Improvements in sensor technology have allowed all digital cameras to produce less noise at higher ISO settings. However, if you are using a compact camera, things can get quite noisy even at 400 ISO.

This is because the smaller size of the sensors in compact digital cameras introduces another source of noise. The smaller the imaging chip used, the noisier the results. The number of megapixels a sensor will capture bears little relation to final image quality. Increasing megapixels on a smaller chip may actually mean noisier pictures. So, particularly when using compact digital cameras with smaller sensors, stick to the lowest ISO settings to control noise as much as you can.

This is important when shooting small items and close-ups as we do in product photography, because noise will make your jewelry look blurry or grainy even if it's actually smooth and shiny. You will see speckles, blotches and fringes, rather than smooth gradations and crisp curves. And if you need to crop and enlarge a small section of a larger photo in order to feature details of a piece of jewelry, any digital noise will quickly become much more obvious. It's a good idea to take your camera off "Auto ISO" and set your ISO manually, if possible, so your ISO remains constant. Set it to the lowest ISO your camera allows, preferably 100 or less. That way, you know you've taken one variable out of the equation. Choose the best ISO for the situation (in this case, the lowest available), set it, and forget it.

If you can't set the ISO manually on your camera, keep an eye on it as you shoot. The LCD on your camera should show you what the ISO is while you're shooting. If you're shooting indoors, you may need to Increase your available light in order to keep the ISO from going above 100 (or the lowest setting available if that's higher than 100). An ISO of 100 would have been considered a "slow" film speed, so remember a low ISO works best when there is a lot of light available. Even with a lot of light, shutter speeds can be slow. This is why a tripod is essential. Don't try to hand-hold your product shots. If you can't buy a tripod, set the camera on a stable surface. If you have a variety of books or other stable, stackable objects, you can make fine adjustments to the camera's height using the books. For a little more height add some poetry, for a lot more height add a dictionary.

If you buy a full-size tripod, be sure to get one with a ball head so you can tilt and swivel it wherever you need to. Make sure it allows you to position the camera both vertically and horizontally when shooting. Small levels embedded in the head are nice, as is a reversible middle pole so you can shoot low to the floor if necessary. The legs should telescope to bring the camera close to eye level. You only want to extend the middle bar for small adjustments, because it is less stable when it is fully extended. Use the legs first to get you close to the right height, then the middle extender for fine adjustments. The tripod should be sturdy, but the lighter the better in case you want to travel or hike with it.

If you buy a small table-top tripod, make sure it will support the weight of your camera. If possible, test it with your camera before buying it. All of the features you want in a full-size tripod are also valuable in a table-top. The more adjustable and stable it is the better.

I think that's plenty to absorb for now, so I'm going to end this post here. I'd like to continue this first series on basic technology by talking about aperture and shutter speed, including a discussion of focus and depth of field. If people are interested I could do a blog on tripods. Otherwise, I'd like to talk about composition, and specifically composing for ArtFire's listing formats, then talk about lighting and props. Please let me know what you think in the comments, and feel free to ask questions.

Megan @ DalyCraftWorks

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Collection of Beautiful Green Handmade Jewelry

The Green Irish Hills Curated by katyanne

Saturday, March 5, 2011

How to get your items in ArtFire Collections

Written by Sheila Wissner of JewelryArte

I was trying to put a collection together when I realized there simply were not enough pieces of jewelry that fit my theme. This got me to thinking about how artisans could improve their shops to get more of their pieces into collections, thereby increasing visibility and sales.

I saw two main problems: not enough jewelry in the studios and inadequate photography.

It’s very important to add as much jewelry as possible to your studios. I wanted to do a collection featuring jewelry that had purple elements. I found some really nice pieces, but I could not find enough to fill all the slots. Even with more members joining, I was still having trouble filling the collection without adding more than one piece from a shop. The problem with adding more than one is that the collection won’t qualify for the front page (although this rule might have changed as one of our guild’s collections made the front page over the weekend even though it violated this rule). We all need to shoot for the front page with our collections. That will give us the best chance of attracting the attention of shoppers who land on ArtFire’s home page.

I’ve been putting together collections since going pro in the fall. Two of my collections have made front page. You can see all my collections in my studio.

Here are some of the attributes I look for in photographs for my collections:
  • Sharp focus. This is critical. Part of the piece can be out of focus, for instance a necklace that seems to fade into the background, but the central focal point must be in very sharp focus
  • Well lit with no distracting glare.
  • Properly exposed: not too light or too dark.
  • No distracting elements like coins. Coins are good to show the scale of your piece but do not belong in the main photo. You can put up to 10 photos of each piece, so don’t waste your main photo on a picture that won’t look good in a collection.
  • No distracting writing in the photo, such as the name of the studio. Keep your photos focused on your jewelry. Your banner is the place to advertise your shop.
Sometimes I like to pick photos containing props like glass, stones or something else that enhances the photos. Sometimes I like to see the jewelry all by itself with a plain background. If you have both kinds in your shop, that gives me more to choose from. But always make sure the jewelry is the main focus.

ArtFire has a good photography guide to help you with your photography efforts:Photography Guide for Products

You might also wants to hop on over to Etsy or other online venues to take a look at their photo guides.

ArtFire also has a guide on how to put together a collection. Here are ArtFire’s guidelines for the front page:
“The collections that appear on the front page of ArtFire are chosen by ArtFire staff members from a pool of "eligible" collections. A collection's eligibility is determined based on three factors:
1. The collection has all 12 main slots and 4 alternative slots filled.
2. The collection exclusively features PRO member items. That means 16 items from 16 different PRO sellers.
3. The third element of eligibility has to do with how recently each PRO member in the collection has been featured on the front page. The pool of eligible collections is updated immediately before a time slot is filled by a staff member.
All PRO members are eligible to be featured on the front page. As long as your collection features 16 different PRO members it will likely be eligible for selection in the near future. Remember that eligibility does NOT guarantee a collection will be selected for the front page or the Collection of the Week email.”

Some of you may be new to ArtFire. If so, you would benefit from following ArtFire’s 45 day guide. One point the guide stresses is that you need to get as much of your work in your studio as possible. If you don’t have many items listed, customers will be less likely to find your shop in searches. So get those studios filled up with jewelry, and practice your photography skills!

photos are items from JewelryArte

Friday, March 4, 2011

Welcome to JCUIN New Blog!


This is the 'Jewelry Creators Unite in Numbers' ArtFire guild's new blog. Here we will feature member's collections and blogs, have articles about the handmade jewelry business, host promos and sales and lots more.

To be updates on new posts be sure to follow this blog!