How I Photographed My Teenage Treasure

Photographing a rhinestone crown

If reflective jewelry is hard to photograph, then rhinestone crowns are a close second. But I was able to accomplish my goals so I can share with you what I learned.

Why do I have a crown in the first place?

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?

Tripods Dramatically Improve Photographs of Jewelry

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).

The Challenges of Photographing a Crown

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.

Tips for photographing rhinestone accessories.
Exposure: 1/50, aperture: f/3.5, focal length: 12.8 mm, ISO 80

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 a large window with natural light 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 the 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.

Photographing Pageant Crowns for Family History
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.

Photographing Pageant Crowns for Family History 3
Exposure: 1/60, aperture: f/3.5, focal length: 10.3 mm, ISO 80

This time, I added a light source that filtered through the lightbox 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 lightbox. The resulting picture seemed to make the tiara shine.

Photographing Pageant Crowns for Family History 5
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.

Follow along in the process of an amateur photographing capturing a digital image of a rhinestone tiara. #preservation #familyhistory #memorabilia
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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.

From Metal to Rhinestones a Quest for the Crown
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.

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee is passionate about capturing and preserving family stories so no one alive today has to be researched, or forgotten, tomorrow. She has authored 6 how-to books, a memoir, two published family history biographies, and over 60 family scrapbooks. She's an enthusiastic speaker who energizes, encourages, and educates at the same time.

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