Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Trouble with Photos

One of the criticisms I hear the most regarding my shop is that my pictures, well – suck.  Ok, nobody puts it that way and that’s really nice.  But they could be much better.  Or maybe they couldn’t.  I kind of think they can’t but I’d love to be convinced otherwise!  Comments are welcome.
Let’s start by talking about light.  There are nice daylight lamps on the market, most color gem dealers have them.  You can build a light box (white box, open on top for light, the white then reflects the light all over and increases its power.  The daylight lamps shine in from the top, usually people use at least two, sometimes four or five.  That eliminates any extinction that is caused by the lighting coming from only one direction.

My thing about the daylight lamps is that I just can’t stand the way they change color.  And it is nearly impossible to change that color back to what the gem really looks like by adjusting the color after.  There is a certain vibrance that daylight lends to a gem which daylight lamps can’t imitate (Mandarin garnet suffers from loss of vibrance under daylight lamps).  Also, some gems actually pick up in color (purple sapphire is an example).  Others (blue sapphire) grey out.  I see this happening a lot when I purchase gems in indoor lighting.  Despite really strong daylight bulbs, it is really hard to make out the true color of certain gems.  With sapphire it is the worst (for me).  I have to take every single piece outdoors.  Most dealers that know me know this about me, and many appreciate it because it means you know what you are doing.  And if the gems are nice, taking them outdoors is a compliment to them.

I don’t use daylight lamps for photos.  I use daylight.  But there are drawbacks.  I use my window sill because when you use actual daylight you need a lot of it.  But unless you can get the daylight to come from directly behind you, you get the gems to show extinction.  Direct sunlight doesn’t work, the contrasts are too strong and you end up with strong shadows. Diffused daylight is best, but bright. Ideal lighting, to me, is when you sit in the shade on a bright sunny day.  I can only achieve that effect outdoors, not on my windowsill (and this is a problem in winter, plus I’m on the 4th floor, I have a roof deck but I don’t like to go out on a cold and windy day).  Rainy days grey out a lot of gems (i.e. sapphire, mint garnet, Ceylon spinel).  Probably they just enhance the grey that is inherent in some of the gems, and so they look more drab.

Even with all this practice and preparation, a lot of times my photos come out too blue (especially my cell phone photos which are otherwise very crisp).  I’ve been told that all cameras, maybe even those in cell phones, can be adjusted for color accuracy in the camera itself.  (Just like a monitor can be adjusted).  In my case I’ve not yet managed.  So I adjust afterwards for color temperature, using my hand shots for reference (I know the color of my hands, which makes it easier). 

Too blue, you can tell from the "white" padded background

The direction of the light is also important.  If the gem is too tilted, the table will look white.  Or it shows tilt window, which almost all colored stones have and which forces you to photograph the gem straight on (hard to do when the light comes from only one direction).

Table is too white

In case you are wondering, I use a Nikon D5100, with the regular lens.  The camera is almost 3 years old now, so I could probably upgrade.  But I don’t know how much that would change things. 

A "good" photo

As you all know, gems thrive in the right light.  Or they “die” on you.  So the correct light, which produces the correct color, is everything.  Some gems also glow more in certain lighting.  Real paraibas show this.  Late daylight is wonderful for them.  Sapphires look better in mid-day in my view.  Morning light is often cooler than evening light, and winter light is different from summer light.  All this can affect what you see.  And – once everyone uses LED lights – say goodbye to the wonderful color change effect that some gems have.  I can see it only in my bathroom and that’s where I take all my color change photos.  :)

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Cecile Raley Designs: Behind the Scenes

Perhaps some of you are wondering how it works. How things get done so fast - sometimes, and then painstakingly slow other times. How things get made, who makes them. Or what you need to run a business like mine. So here goes.

In my home office, there's just me and 2-3 days a week, my very cool friend Debbie. Two days a week we're out, making "runs" in New York. 

I work 7 days a week but not all day every day. I start right after waking up. Etsy questions, convos, listings, photos. That takes about two hours.  When Debbie comes in, she ships.  When she doesn't, I ship.  Shipping can sometimes take half a day.  Etsy insurance doesn't cover gems,  Ship Station does, PayPal does, the latter only up to $500. So we use different services. Payment plans require checking for total amount paid before insuring and all parts of the payment plan (or custom order) need to be checked as shipped.  Ring sizes have to be double checked, custom orders checked one last time, and if a second person is there, all packages are gone through twice to make sure no content got mixed up.

Debbie, My Assistant and Friend

By the time that's all done I usually already have more custom requests, so I take more photos and answer questions. I make a lot of quotes. I go though invoices, do some bookkeeping. In between we do Facebook, Pinterest, other social media, newsletter, blog, we order supplies and castings.  It easily takes all day.

Most of my time is taken up with customers and Etsy itself.  Most of Debbie's job is shipping and social media.  But we also switch off with that, with photographs and other stuff.

Twice a week I go to 47th street to process orders. Those are very busy days!  I am often off to a late start because I have so much Etsy traffic. So Debbie gets there first, going directly from her house, picks up castings and gets them to out pre-polish service - they cut the sprue, clean and tumble. New designs make it from there to Alex, the engraver, then go back to Taba Casting for a mold and castings.

Buying Supplies in New York City (Actually this is Cheese)

Our custom orders each have designated jewelry envelopes with customer name, order date, metal, size or length and order description or drawing. All the order steps are listed and get checked as we go (i.e. casting, parts needed, pre-polish, jewelry work, setting, final polish). Many steps are the same for each piece.  So we essentially funnel the envelopes through 4-6 stops a piece, leaving them at many stops for 2-3 days, and quality checking each time. Some days we pick up or drop at the lab, requesting certificates. On other days I have appointments at various gem dealers while Debbie does the "runs" between stops with the "jobs." We text each other all day long, double checking what is where or which setting works or which customer needs what.  Some days we run out of time. Plus I have to take breaks answering questions for customers (those are the days when you get convoluted convos with many typos).

"After New York" days are often the busiest.  Custom orders come back and need photos and listings and if possible, are shipped asap.

I love my New York days. I exchange news with Pierre the Setter, Vasken the jeweler, Josh from the lab and Jaimeen from Prima Gems. I find out what's new in gems, what the buzz is on the street, and I get to be out and about. I can take much of the news back to my customers.

Often there are errors to correct, and there can be slow downs (a casting has to be redone, a stone broke, or I don't have all the correct stuff in my bag so a custom piece is delayed). Debbie and I need to plan our day carefully so nothing is forgotten and we don't run out of time. One step is missed and we lose half a week!  It happens though. And often it is our fault because there is too much to think of at once.

I process up to 150 orders a month and half or more are custom. I stick to my wholesale pricing so getting more staff isn't easily paid for. But I love what I do and wouldn't go back to my day job for anything.