I've been having the hardest time photographing objects that are encrusted in rhinestones and capturing their sparkle.

My understanding of sparkle is that it comes from two components: the dynamic range of our eyes and movement of our heads. Screens don't do a good job of reproducing the dynamic range that our eyes can see and still photos don't do a good job of reproducing movement.

I've looked at various other answers on this site, but I'm still left wanting a truly "sparkly" picture. I've tried:

  • Placing the object on a reflective surface (black acrylic did a pretty good job for this. It shows a reflection of the object, but effectively dimmed by a number of stops, so the bits that sparkle are still bright)
  • Using a video of the object slowly moving, instead of still photos. This is probably the best option so far, but as one might imagine it's not always a usable option.
  • Using a number of bright point light sources (e.g. non-diffused LEDs, xmas lights).
  • Using a single bright point light source, such as a flashlight/torch or non-diffused halogen lamp
  • Long exposures, short exposures; narrow apertures, wide ones.

No matter what I do, I get more diffuse light (which is good for giving the overall appearance of the object), but very little sparkle. I understand that sparkle is small, bright points of light shining back at the camera, from the mirrored surface of the rhinestone facets, but somehow it never seems enough when captured by the camera.

Perhaps the real question is: how do you show sparkle on a low dynamic-range display? How do you capture it and if it's not easy to capture, is there a way to convince your eye to see something as sparkly?

Here's an example of a shot that I've been trying to make more sparkly:

Photo of a rhinestone encrusted prescription bottle (artwork by Judith Klausner, photo by myself)

The above photo was lit by a single halogen bulb above the camera and a flash pointed directly at it off to the right and above the camera. It was taken within a diffusion box with the front entirely open and black velvet on the left / back side, and black acrylic underneath it all. 90mm manual prime macro lens on a D600 at F16 with a 1.3" exposure.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you provide some sample shots for this ? \$\endgroup\$
    – Tyathalae
    Commented Jul 21, 2014 at 6:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SelimArikan added! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 21, 2014 at 13:12

3 Answers 3


First of all, it's important to realize that, when you photograph a reflective object, you're actually photographing the surrounding scenery as it reflects off the object. This means that it's not enough to just set the object in a lightbox and maybe point some spot lights at it, at least unless you want to make the reflections rather simple and dull.

Instead, what you want, to give the reflections contrast and "sparkle" (not actual sparkle, defined as small spots bright enough to produce visible flaring in the photo, but just the appearance of glitter) is to surround the object with high-contrast scenery that produces the appropriate look when reflected off the object. (Of course, you usually need to leave some neutral background behind the object, but this need not be a large area, especially if you use a long lens.) This is as much an art as science, but here are a few things to try:

  • Add high-contrast edges to the background. If you're using a lightbox, try covering parts of the inside of the box with black cloth / plastic / cardboard, or with colored translucent paper or plastic.

  • Add gradients to the background. When reflected off a faceted object, each facet will reflect a small part of the gradient, giving both contrast between facets and subtle color gradations within each facets.

  • Choose the colors in the background to give the effect you want. With a reflective object, the colors you see in the photo depend as much on the surroundings as on the object itself, so you can "paint" the object by choosing the appropriate background.

  • Use or mimic natural backgrounds, as these often have color schemes and patterns that, even when scrambled by reflection, evoke desirable feelings in the viewer. Even if you go for a purely abstract background, it's often a good idea to e.g. keep the darker areas of the surroundings in the bottom half, and the lighter areas in the top half, as our brains have evolved to expect such an arrangement and find it natural.

As for actual sparkles, these are formed when a small fraction of the facets in the object reflect something so bright that it saturates the camera (or the eye) and creates flares. If your object has enough small facets, just pointing a single bright light source at it will indeed produce sparkles. If not, you may need to use multiple small point lights (such as LEDs, halogen lights or small mirror reflectors pointed at the object) to obtain more sparkles.

One trick you can use is to fix the object and the camera in place, and then move the point lights around until you get nice sparkles from each of them. For a more natural-looking result, you may also want to preferentially place the sparkle sources in "natural" locations, such as in the lighter parts of the surroundings or near the main light source.

Also note that the appearance of the sparkles will strongly depend on your camera and lens. For pretty "starburst" sparkles, you'll probably want to use a narrow aperture and/or a cross-screen ("star") filter. This page from SLR Lounge shows some nice examples of the effect of aperture on sparkles in photos:

(Image from SLR Lounge, used under the CC-By-ND 3.0 license.)

Finally, note that dynamic range is very important here. The notable thing about sparkles is that they're much brighter than the rest of the object. You can't really reproduce the true intensity of the sparkles on screen (or on paper), even if your camera could record it in the first place, so you have to find ways to give the impression of brightness without the actual brightness.

Starbursts are one way of achieving this; so is the use of a dark reflective surface, as you've done, as it effectively gives the viewer two pictures of the object, taken with different exposures, that the brain can combine to reconstruct more of the dynamic range you'd see if you were looking at the object directly.

Ps. I wrote most of the above before you posted your example photo. Having seen it, my specific suggestions would be to:

  • Keep the black acrylic — it seems to work very nicely for what you're trying to do.
  • Step down the lens further, or get a starburst filter for your lens, to add more "sparkle" to your sparkles. (This alone might do the trick for you.)
  • With that many facets, you probably don't need too many light sources to get decent sparkles. The non-sparkly parts of the object might benefit from a bit more diffuse lighting, though, possibly with some subtle color to add contrast. Consider replacing some of the black velvet, especially on the left, with lighter colors and/or gradients, and maybe adding some secondary light sources.
  • While you're adding some diffuse lighting, consider moving the main light source a bit more off to the side. Right now, most of the sparkles are on facets facing pretty straight into the camera, giving the picture a bit of the unnatural look often associated with excessive use of in-camera flash.

I've been working on solving the same issue. I have 3 cameras and discovered (believe it or not) that my simple iPhone camera did the best job. I make jewelry with lots of sparkle and iridescence in it, and had trouble reproducing the sparkle until I tried the iPhone.

I had to experiment a bit with lighting, but it didn't involve a lot of different experiments. I tried daylight, incandescent, and then different backgrounds. When I placed the pendant on a light background, I got the worst results, but when I tried a solid color (red, black or medium gray), I got the best results.

I also tried shining a little flashlight on the pendant while photographing it (as suggested in a great answer above) and that was good too.

For those who are not super familiar with taking macro shots with an iphone: Once you have the item showing on your screen, touch the area of the screen that you want the camera to focus on, then click the pic. Super simple, love it.


Why do diamonds lose their fire in photographs? I want to photograph the rainbow colors (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet) which are refracted out of a drop of water in the sunlight. There are two requirements for getting the fire in a photograph: One, having enough megapixels to catch the color in a tiny spot at a distance, and Two, having a lens that is small enough across the front surface to fit into the span of a single refracted color. The reason diamonds look white, without the flash of color is the white point-source of light is split up into bands of color coming out of the diamond, and the lenses of fancy cameras are so large as to catch all of those colors across the front surface (at a close distance) and they re-focus all of those colors back to a single (group of bayer) pixel(s) which convert the colors back into a white spot. This is like having two prisms, one to refract the white light into colors (the diamond), and another which re-merges the colors back into white light (the lens). Unless your lens is small enough to fall into a single band of color (like a cell phone lens), it will re-merge the colors coming out of the single point of the diamond. We can sometimes see the color in the bokeh, if we unfocus the subject diamond; but then we can't see the facets clearly.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd argue resolution, not necessarily megapixels. Digital isn't the only way to take a photograph :) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 24, 2018 at 14:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ Resolution! I agree. And it may take a medium or large format film camera to catch the tiny spot of color. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 24, 2018 at 14:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Interesting point! Wouldn't a smaller aperture help with that? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 26, 2018 at 3:15

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