SIMPLE TIPS FOR PHOTOGRAPHING WATCHES

This resource is intended to give you some idea of the techniques I use when photographing watches.  I use a Samsung compact 4mp camera, so nothing fancy.  If you have anything you feel you can add then please email me at pgtips@wrist-watch.info

Watches can be the most infuriating objects to photograph especially for the beginner.  Their shiny surfaces and glass crystals reflect light and glare and watches with dark dials often act like mirrors.  So much so in fact that some professional watch photographers for high end manufactures will often have the crystal removed before taking the picture!

I have tried to put together a few tips which I think will be helpful.  I am just an amateur and have no training in photography but others have said they like my work and I feel I should pass on my limited knowledge to help others get better results.  After all I enjoy seeing other peoples watch pictures as much as taking my own.

HAVE A LOOK AT OTHERS

There are many sources for watch photographs, high street shop catalogues, magazines, professional sales brochures and books and of course the internet.  Have a look at what others have done, the style they use, the way they light the subject and the props and background they use.  There are just the straight forward "sales" shots like you see in the Argos catalogue and there are much more "arty" shots using all manner of techniques both using the camera and photo manipulation software on the computer.  A lot of pro's talk about developing a style.  Don't worry about this.  If you have a style it will show itself naturally, just go with what you like.

PRACTICE

Don't be afraid to try new techniques.  The beauty of digital photography is you can try something and immediately and see if it looks any good without waiting for the film to be developed.  Most of the shots I have posted are after many attempts to get it right.  It's rare, even for the experienced, to get a shot exactly how you want it at the first attempt

Play around with the watch, where you place the camera, where the light comes from, what type of light you use etc.  If your camera allows it, fiddle with the controls.  If you have aperture priority mode try changing the f stop setting to see what effect it has.  No matter how many times you read about big number small hole and depth of field you will get a much better idea of what does what by trying it out yourself.

Keep notes of how each photo (or at least the good ones) was shot.  Most software programmers allow you to attach a file to an image with brief notes on exposure etc.

Use the software you have to itís full advantage.  Crop, resize, sharpen, colour adjust etc can all help to get the picture your after. 

TRIPODS

Simple really always use one.  Even in bright light with a fast shutter you'll get better results.  Most digital cameras are quite light so you wont need an expensive heavy tripods like the pros use.  A simple desk top one like the one below can be a great help.  I use the light weight aluminum one on the right.

  

BACKGROUND AND PROPS

Before you start to take the actual photograph take a moment to think about the background and any props you might want to use.  There are no hard and fast rules really, just think about what you like.  Remember you are trying to photograph the watch so whatever you use don't overpower the watch with busy props and background.

If you want to shoot against a plain background try using a sheet of paper.  Look through magazines and books for pages that will make a good background.  I found a picture of some eggs in a works magazine that really works well.  Place the watch on the front edge of the paper then bend the paper up behind the watch.  This gets rid of and unsightly corners and gives a much smoother look.   Picture taken from the side so you can see the paper bent up.  A nice grey colour background will use the least number of kb's if you are concerned about file size.

If you are interested in other subjects try combining the two.  A watch laid across a bottle of whiskey, or a picture of something you do as a background can be most pleasing (see my arty lighting shot further down).  You can also use books that have pictures for suitable backgrounds.  The Vostok "dive" watch below is taken on a picture that spreads across two pages in a book.  The book is open at 90 degrees the watch placed on the page with the shell on it and the page with the net folded up behind.  Note I couldn't get my Ikea bin over the top of the book so this has no diffused light! (see lighting further down).

SIZE

Size isn't everything!  Most computers monitors are set up with a screen resolution of 1100 x 800 pixels.  It is therefore no point at all taking a photo in Tiff format at 8888 x8888 pixels if all you are going to do is display it on the web.  A pixel width of between 600 and 800 is ample for most watch pictures so set you camera up (if it allows you to do it) at a maximum size of about 1200 x 800.

Remember when you use ďsave asĒ on most software programs it will compress the jpeg file and this can lead to a loss of quality.  When you click on the save as option it should open another window with an options button at the bottom.  This is where you can change the compression.  Have a play around.  You can reduce the file kb size by quite a bit by compressing but watch the picture quality doesnít suffer.

LIGHTING

Probably the hardest to get right and the thing I struggle with the most.  You need to diffuse the light somehow. I use an upturned white plastic waste bin but pillow cases or tracing paper or even plain white paper will work.  Try and get the watch set up, then make a "dome" or "tent" around it with whatever you chose to use to diffuse the light, then make a hole just for the lens of the camera to poke through. Try not to have your light source shining directly into the watch. If possible bounce it off a white wall i.e. reflected light.

If it's a really bright sunny day you may struggle. I find the best room I have for photography faces due south but has a Venetian blind at the window, I can regulate the light coming in by twisting the slats on the blind.

A quick experiment below to show you the difference diffused light makes. I did not try to do the worst and the best possible just a couple of quick snaps to show how a little time spent on lighting can affect your results.  Both pictures have been cropped and resized and sharpened identically, i.e. what I did to one I did the same to the other. No colour correction at all. 

Both pictures were taken at night at 10pm I have a 3 bulb (25 watts each) overhead spot lamp in the room. The picture on the left was taken with that as the only light source. Although the crystal is scratched it's no where near that bad to look at.  The second was taken "inside" the Ikea waste bin. The room ceiling light was still on but I added a halogen desk lamp (also Ikea) as an extra light source and slightly repositioned the watch. I also blocked the aperture in the bin with my body etc to stop the ceiling light getting in. Note also how the lighting on the case looks far less harsh.

 

And a snapshot of the bin and desk light.   Itís a very cheap but effective solution.

 

ARTY LIGHTING

You can get very good effects by playing around with light.  This shot was lit using a 2 AA Maglight!  I basically took this at night.  No daylight at all, I used the halogen desk lamp but bounced the light  off the wall for ambient light.  The whole shot is in the open (no bucket) and the Maglight was placed to the right of the glass (you can just see the starburst).  The backdrop is a black tee shirt!  Exposure was about half a second so the tripod was essential.  As you can see the crown of the watch is in so I had to make sure the watch had fully stopped so the seconds hand remained stationary.

REFLECTION

When taking a picture of a watch ďhead onĒ itís easy for the watch to act as a mirror and you get a reflection of the camera and your head and hands in the picture.  The easy answer is not to photograph head on but this is not always desirable.  An answer is to cut a hole in a black piece of card the same diameter as the lens of the camera and poke the lens through the hole thus hiding the camera and you.  On modern digitals this works well as you donít need the view finder you can use the screen to see what your pointing at.  I also found a black 35mm film case was the exact fit on my cameras lens so cut a hole in the end and slid that over to stop the silver of the end of the lens from showing.

 

POLARIZE FILTERS

Sometimes these can be a great help to cut down glare in bright situations.  If you donít have a camera that will take a screw in filter you can buy or make an adapter to fit

LUME SHOTS

The best way to do these is totally manual if possible.  Set up the watch and camera in the light.  Manually focus as most auto focus will not work in the dark when you turn the lights out.  Set the aperture as wide as you camera will allow and then set the shutter to 10 seconds.  Now charge the lume with a torch without moving the camera or watch, then turn off all the lights and press the shutter release.  Have a look at the results and lengthen or shorten the shutter time as required if needed and try again.

MACRO

Some cameras have very close macro settings, mine goes down to 6cms.  However you can get closer by shooting through a magnifying lens.  I get good results by placing a jewelers loupe on the end of the lens.

The biggest problem I have with macro photography is dust!  It seems to be attracted to watch crystals especially the acrylic ones!  Try and be thorough in cleaning off dust (I find one of those cloths that have a static charge help) and fingerprints before you set the watch in position.  If you cannot get rid of every last bit don't be afraid to use the computer to "paint" over the odd speck.

ISO (ASA) RATING

This is the film speed setting.  You don't really need to know what it means just set your camera (if possible) onto the lowest ISO rating it has.  Pushing the ISO rating up means you can take pictures in lower light without a tripod but that's no use to the watch photographer as it will increase the grain on the picture and spoil the look.  So for close up's especially use a tripod and the lowest ISO you can.

HAVE FUN

Probably the only tip you need!

For a more in depth site on photography go to this great site.  www.ephotozine.com

You can see my watches at http://homepage.ntlworld.com/p.groom/watches.htm