Tricks To Great Watch Photography.
I have been putting together a portfolio of watch and jewelry images. These can be a challenge to photograph!
Here is what makes watches challenging.
- It is close up work with usually a macro photography approach; so minor moves make huge changes.
- The metal part of the watch is polished. To add to the challenge, they are often rounded surfaces; it’s a bit like photographing a mirror globe.
- The face of the watch is often sunk down a bit to allow for the hands not to interfere with the watch glass or plastic cover. This means the edges of the watch face can easily get a strange shadow that distracts.
- The glass or plastic covering is also reflective; easily getting a highlight sheen to it that can obscure the watch face numbers.
With the western watch I created a clamshell light approach with long thin soft boxes angled down. I moved them in until they overlapped at the top. Even with that the reflective metal “saw” the black hole at the back. A reflective card moved in tight solved that.
The lower part of the watch metal saw the large dark area in front. You can see the white fabric covering the front of the saddle in the setup shot.
Working a macro lens in close causes the depth of field to fall off fast. To make sure the critical part of the watch was in solid focus, I shot at F32 and 22. The saddle, only a few inches away from the surface, still went soft.
This works easier if your camera is on a tripod. That removes the minor lens angle change from the equation. As I make watch placement adjustments I can see the changes. The changes are a bit 3 dimensional. You have to adjust the watch face to stop glare, eliminate shadows inside the watch face. The face numbers are metal too so they need an even light to keep them uniformly lit.
You will need patience with the constant, tiny adjustments.
The easiest way to photograph a watch, as you see it in most commercial watch shots, is on white. It keeps everything clean. I wanted to solve a few more problems. With the watch’s strap giving a western vibe, I went with a saddle for the setting for the watch.
The shape of the saddle created two challenges, the leather color of the strap was about the same tone as the saddle. With the overhead light approach the strap was very dark on the lower side.
In Photoshop I addressed this by making a layer copy with screen mode. It lightens up the whole image giving me some nice separation on the lower strap. Then I created a mask just for the lower strap. This needs a light touch; it needs to be subtly separated from the leather saddle.
The light on the face of the watch was great but there were still some distracting dark areas in the watch metal. The bottom reflections were ok; most people’s minds can see what it is reflecting. The top had to be retouched out.
I understand with watches the preferred hand placement is either 10 and 2 or 8 and 4. I prefer doing the 10 and 2 but the watch battery was dead with the minute hand already on the 10 spot.
Working with this darker setting against the bright watch face I tried an HDR approach. For this I used the Macphun HDR program Aurora Pro. The tripod is critical for this. I took 4 shots 1 f-stop apart each. There were overexposed and underexposed images. The Aurora program blended them together, with some custom adjustment options after the blend.
This gave the watch a deeper, golden look. The watchstrap got more separation from the saddle with more detail coming up. I used Topez Impressions painting effect on the saddle It gave the saddle a nice worn look then introduced a color shift different from the watch strap.
The last step was to crop it square, making the watch the center of the focus.
Before you start the setup, here is a tip that will save you hours of Photoshop work. Clean the watch, strap and the set surface under a magnifying glass. With the macro lens each white dust spec, link and hair goes sharp and big. It’s much easier to remove them at the photography stage than the retouch stage.
As you approach your watch photography, the key is going to be working with the reflective surfaces on the watch. To get that clean polished look it has to “see” a smooth, even white surface.
The same lessons learned for watch photography will serve you well when you get into close up jewelry shots.
Once you master the approach to photographing watches, the next project goes quicker. The common, all white approach is easier, but if you are up for a learning challenge place your watch in a darker setting then solve the problems. You will get unique results!