I received so many great suggestions for how to take better still-life pictures. The most important think I learned is that "it's all about the light." Turning off the flash and shooting in natural light (either outside or inside) seems to be the easiest fix. If you want to turn it up a notch, a light tent or light box is a great idea. You can buy a 2'x2' Cubelite from Lastolite for about $135 or you can make your own! I've always been a bit intimidated by trying to manipulate light - I think because I am most comfortable with sports photography and travel photography, where I work with the available light. I remember once when I was shooting soccer portraits on a cloudy coastal day, and my friend Erik said the light was perfect because it was just like shooting inside a giant light box. Now I finally know what he meant! As an aside, I came across this blog post where someone was experimenting with manipulating light outside.
The dominant suggestion for lens setting was to get close and use the macro setting on the camera (the little flower). I had been using the portrait setting, so I learned something there! Someone else suggested using a fixed 50 mm lens. Since I have one of those (I use it to shoot at indoor, low light basketball games), I'll definitely give that a try, too.
As for composition, many suggested the need to shoot straight on, rather than at an angle . . . unless you're photographing a woman and want to hide any extra chins, then shoot from above. Suggested backgrounds for jewelery included using nature (hanging from a tree branch, wood, rock, uncooked rice, uncooked beans, etc.), a framed screen, or a solid color paper or fabric that won't reflect light (velvet, velveteen, flocked paper, etc.) Other interesting ways to "set the scene" for a book thong were discovered by searching in flickr.com for book thong.
Wow! I learned so much. Thanks for all your great ideas. I took the photos for today's post outside, in the morning, with my flash turned off and the camera set to macro. I hope to build a light box someday (or get one for Christmas), and I'll definitely experiment with my 50 mm prime lens as well.
The winner of a book thong is . . . Kathy M! Email me with your address (or I'll find you), and I'll get your prize in the mail. Thanks to everyone for participating.