"Accept the challenges so that you can feel the exhilaration of victory." - George S. Patton
In the world of catalogs, one of the most challenging product lines to effectively reproduce (both in print and online), is fine jewelry. Fine jewelry image reproduction begins with image capture where the photographer tries to find a creative way to photograph small, reflective, shiny shapes. Think of gold and silver jewelry like a bunch of tiny mirrors stretched around different, odd shapes reflecting and catching lights and darks at varying angles.
The color retoucher must become an illusionist- finding a way to carefully mix the right percentage of red, green and blue pixels to look like shiny metallic golds and silvers with luminous diamonds emitting brilliant sparkle. And when these images go to print, the limitations of ink on paper have to be taken into consideration. Unless we can print with PMS 872 - metallic gold (and we almost never can), we have to use cyan, magenta, yellow and black to simulate gold - a process which actually works amazingly well, by the way. Diamonds and silver can only be as bright as the paper the image is printed on. And that paper is never close to the brightness level of spectral highlights emitted from fiery diamond facets. At times, reproducing fine jewelry images in print may seem like having to prepare a twelve-course gourmet dinner using only a hammer, Velveeta cheese and a sleeve of cherry Pez. But thanks to the magic of the four color process, it does work.
I should note that It's not that this photography is bad in any way - It just illustrates the challenge of reproducing images of small, shiny, very detailed subjects while maintaining very specific and repeatable customer aim points.
The Color of Gold
Gold alloy, used to make jewelry, actually comes in many different shades. Pure gold in it's natural state is bright yellow in color. White gold is a mixture of gold and silver. Rose gold is made by mixing gold with 25% copper. And gold can even be made to look blue by alloying it with iron, or purple by alloying it with aluminum. Vermeil (pronounced vermay) is gold-plated sterling silver.
But typically gold is some version of yellow in color. It's a metallic yellow by nature, but sometimes tips toward green, sometimes toward red, and sometimes more saturated yellow. Gold almost never photographs with the desired reproduction color. The image above shows the original capture color of the gold cuff on the left with the customer's desired gold color on the right.
And we can't forget about the effect of surrounding color. A yellow gold necklace photographed on a blue background will look different if the same necklace is outlined and placed against the paper white color.
Widen color retouchers strive to keep the color of yellow gold jewelry consistent across the page in order to meet our customer's desired look.
The Color of Silver
From a reproduction standpoint, we treat sterling sliver and white gold the same. Because silver is very close to neutral, proper gray balance is very important throughout the retouching process. A very small move in any color may cause the silver to look too pink or cold.
As in yellow gold, maintaining the right amount of natural reflection is critical for shape. The image above on the right shows just how much work can go into a raw capture of silver (on the left) in order to make it reproduce the way the customer wants it to look.
The Color of Diamonds
To the ancient Greeks, diamonds were the tears of the gods; to the Romans, splinters from falling stars. To Widen's color retouching department they represent a challenge to bring out all the fire and shimmery brilliance in their reproduction.
A true colorless diamond has the ability to split white light into all the colors of the visible spectrum and reflect a multicolored fire back to the eye of the viewer. Colorless diamonds will become fluorescent under UV light, which is helpful in separating a true diamond from an imitation. Diamonds also come in different colors. Brown or cognac colored are most abundant. Red, blue, green, pink and orange diamonds are exceedingly rare and very valuable.
Color manipulation of images containing diamonds can be very tricky. Color retouchers in Widen's premedia department must walk a very fine line. Diamonds, especially clusters of small diamonds, often do not photograph with the required sparkle and brilliance. They must be brightened in the post-capture process, but not brightened so much that they loose any detail. Small spectral highlights or catchlights often need to be added to help the illusion of sparkle which is present in the actual jewelry. The image on the left above shows how dark the diamonds can look in the raw photography. The image to the right shows how much the diamonds were brightened.
The Color of Gemstones
Gemstones come in all many flavors… deep blue Sapphires, bright red Rubies, cool green Amethysts, rich red Garnets, sky blue Aquamarine, or bright blue Topaz to name only a few. Once again, the photography of these stones are not always representative of the original jewelry sample. And facet detail needs to pop. The rutilated quartz earrings above contain needle-like mineral inclusions that did not show up very well in the original photography. The quartz itself was too dark, the facets were not defined well enough and the natural, rhodium-set diamond trim was too cold and lacked shape. The earrings also needed to be outlined to drop out the background. The retouched version on the right shows how much work was done to make the image match the jewelry.
It's All in the Details
No matter what the colors are in the image, proper detail is critical in fine jewelry. Delicate chains, subtle etchings and piercings, course textures, smooth reflections, overlapping shapes, pearls, gemstone facets… all examples of jewelry elements that often need extra attention to bring out the correct shape and definition.
For Widen's fine jewelry retouching workflow, our premedia department goes to great lengths to ensure every image we work on matches the samples that we are provided and has as much detail as possible. At times when samples are not available, we have the ability to tap into an extensive digital asset database of over 25,000 customer-approved jewelry images to use as color references. That's flexing the muscle of Widen's digital asset management and software as a service capabilities.
In the premedia department at Widen, we work very closely with our customers to learn from them exactly how they want their images to look when reproduced. And in an effort to take that information and produce the best possible work, we create color correction style guides for specific customers. The 42 page style guide pictured above was created so our color retouchers would have a good training and reference guide as they work on very challenging images for one of our fine jewelry customers on the East Coast.
Can you can feel the exhilaration of victory yet? We can...