Capturing the Crown

At RootsTech 2016, Thomas McEntee passed out blogger badges to hang from my nametag holder. I naturally gravitated toward the sparkles! The first one I saw was “Diva.” I offhandedly remarked that I would love one that said “Princess.” Thomas didn’t miss a beat and quickly pulled out a black strip with a sparkly “Princess” in script font!

Why do I prefer princess over diva? I was a princess!

Actually, I was a teenage beauty queen with dreams of being crowned Miss Teen USA. When I was in my early 20s, I won another pageant title and moved one step closer to the Miss America title. As such, I have two rhinestone treasures on display in my home that recall the times I turned for the judges and became a princess.

If my children and future descendants are going to know the story of how I became Miss San Jacinto Teen USA, they are going to need to focus on my pageant years. And what is a beauty queen without a crown?

In previous posts, I shared how to photograph my grandpa’s military bracelet. The most important tip I’ve learned is to lower the ISO on a digital camera as far as you can when you’re doing still photography.   This one photography tip increases the details in your photographs dramatically and is a simple switch.

The key is to put your camera on a tripod. Then lower the ISO setting to 100 (or lower when possible).

Pageant Crown
Exposure: 1/50, aperture: f/3.5, focal length: 12.8 mm, ISO 80

Photographing a pageant crown is difficult as it needs to be propped up. I used a piece of white fabric to cover a large hacky-sack. You could use a piece of cotton fiber stuffing (sold for craft projects, sometimes called Fiber Fill). Then I placed the crown on top and kept tinkering with the arrangement until the tiara didn’t fall forward.

This setup up was inside a DIY lightbox. Lightboxes are a great way to surround objects with light for photography. But it can take many attempts to find the right combination of light sources to capture the look you want.

First, I situated the box beside with a large window on the left side, utilizing afternoon natural light. In front of the box in an attempt to make the crown sparkle. I filtered the light through tissue paper to soften the shadows. This setup was a failure but, the lesson learned is to try different things. That’s how we learn.

Pageant Crown
Exposure: 1/15, aperture: f/3.5, focal length: 10.3 mm, ISO 80

Eliminating the artificial light instantly improved the color quality of the photos. I decided I didn’t like the orientation of the crown and decided to rotate it.

Pageant Crown
Exposure: 1/60, aperture: f/3.5, focal length: 10.3 mm, ISO 80

This time, I added a light through the light box on the right of the photo, with the natural light on the left side. I reset the custom white balance before I placed the crown in the light box. The resulting picture seemed to make the tiara shine.

Pageant Crown
Exposure: 1/50, aperture: f/3.5, focal length: 16.1 mm, ISO 80

Finally, I zoomed in closer and eliminated much of the background. I love seeing the details up close and personal. Pageant girls covet the crown, so this close up focuses your attention on what mattered most.

So, now I have captured this crown twice: once when I won Miss San Jacinto Teen USA in the early 90s, and now, with my camera. With the completion of my book From Metal to Rhinestones about my early pageant years, this photograph will be useful in more ways than one.

Learn the story of how I became Miss San Jactino Teen USA/
in this book available at

If you have something shiny in your treasure box, experiment with a camera and a lightbox. You can take lovely photos with minimal photography skills! Just drop the ISO and put your camera on a tripod.

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