Robert K. Liu has published widely on diverse and comprehensive topics from ethnographic and contemporary beads, to aspects of jewelry design, manufacture and photographic processes. Over four decades, he has studied science, small object photography, and jewelry and model making. He has also extensively observed and photographed small animals. He draws on this extensive background to provide technical and pragmatic methodological frameworks for professionals in curatorial sectors, science, arts and crafts, as well as higher education. An editor, writer, and photographer for Ornament Magazine, he is the ideal person to publish this book, a guide to photographing jewelry and related craft components that spans sixteen concise chapters.
Chapter 1 presents a brief overview of the ever-changing technological innovations in the use of digital cameras, lenses, the life-span of recorded images, digital processing, and storage options. Given the lack of exclusionary and specialist expertise in product photography, the author has published this reference to support aspiring photographers and researchers and help them enhance their skill set for curated presentations in academia, the commercial world, and in electronic media. In chapter 2 he explores technical processes germane to cameras, lenses, lighting, backgrounds, and photographic studios. Here Liu's experience is useful: He goes into micro detail about types of equipment one might purchase with limited resources. Liu further advises us to accurately record the shooting process by taking handwritten notes as well as digital notes, files, and images. He also advises investment in strobe lighting, as it is critical to control artificial light. Backgrounds and the notion of depth of field are important processes related to photographing jewelry. To ensure that the photographer can present a coherent and comprehensive body of work, Liu advises shooting multiple versions of single works. He shares a few techniques with which he has had great success. For instance, he constructs armatures and devices to secure jewelry pieces to be photographed.
Chapter 3 was an inspiration. Liu's ability to manufacture jewelry and apply that technical expertise to constructing aids and armatures is notable, as is his deep understanding of artificial light control upon on metallic surfaces. This chapter also displays an exceptional knowledge of compositional elements that include line, balance, symmetry, color, form, and texture that is combined with experience or a “good eye” to make informed aesthetic decisions.
In chapter 4, “Photography of Jewelry: Point of View/Orientation,” Liu introduces his comparative framework to compose or express oneself as an artist. Liu suggests that the photographer be flexible and experimental and recommends relying on contrasts and differences to create focal points and interest. He explains that there are four influencing factors: changing the shape of the object, changing the orientation, changing the magnification, and changing the composition. Prior to the photographic process the photographer is advised to conduct research on the object, process, or even historical practices that underlie the subject.
The necessity of comparisons informs the content of chapter 5, in which Liu's many examples of objects, ornaments, and jewelry bear testament to his dexterous application of the method. Chapter 6 explores the idea that product photographers can assume the role of educator as well. Liu reminds us of the two-pronged approach to photography: the visual record of the work and the gathering of iconographic information about it. Here he also shares his rationale for particular angles and perspectives, demonstrating oblique views.
Chapter 7, “Photography of Jewelry: Process,” has practical relevance for many people, from academics to hobbyists. Here Liu further demonstrates how product photographers can be educators. The content of chapter 8, “Photography of Jewelry in the Studio,” would have benefited from being presented in conjunction with the material in chapter 2.
Chapter 9 focuses on photographing jewelry on models, with neck pieces featured. Liu discusses all the different elements that are necessary for using a model, such as the financial implications of contracting professional models and their team of stylists, clothing, and make-up professionals. The author has hired a variety of models to represent varying ages and races, remaining focused on jewelry. Multiple examples enable readers to develop their personal style.
Beads and beadwork are the focus of chapter 10. Liu prefers to move beyond the entrenched rubric for shooting beads, a formalist attention to structure and a bird's eye view perspective. Instead he presents multiple viewpoints, and both macro and micro details.
Chapter 11 introduces us to photographing covers of jewelry magazines. The author once more uses his practical experience to support his design choices and explores various options for covers. He wishes to entice readers to purchase or the read the text. The various techniques of shooting single and array shots are explored, and Liu documents the process, design decisions, and technical choices for designing and constructing covers. Chapter 12 concerns jewelry in advertisements, explores the possible need to be knowledgeable about editorial photography that Liu considers to be a variation of advertisements, and some points to consider when dealing with clients. The objective is to market the strengths of the client's work. Liu has arranged the images of this chapter in structured, incidental, and cascading formats, in relation to photographing ethnographic material. Liu seemingly uses formalism as a theoretical approach in this book. Even though he makes references to photographic and ethnographic jewelry practices in museums and in their places of origin, he does not adopt a theoretical position from an anthological framework, nor does he critically engage with museums' contexts as vexed spaces. He is more concerned with a comparative methodology in relation to the formal elements and principles of design and providing technical guidance for researchers, scholars, and museum staff.
Photographing jewelry in museums is the subject of chapter 13. In such contexts, there are rules and regulations restricting photographers and permissions must be gained to work in these busy public spaces. A photographer will probably receive added assistance if they are well prepared and can enhance the museum's records. It is also important for the photographer to be flexible in these restricted environments.
Shooting in artists' studios is the subject of chapter 14. Here the photographer can broaden their knowledge of jewelry making. One must be mindful of artists' personalities. The principles gleaned from preceding chapters apply. Photography of clothing, discussed in chapter 15, provides a welcome break that enables one to diversify ones areas of expertise. The concluding chapter, “Photography of Environments,” is very sketchy. Lui presents some images from his travels without any references to technical processes or design related decisions. He links these environments with the subject matter of his photographs to research areas in ethnographic sites and events to enhance the photographic experience.