Watch Photography – How To Photograph A Watch – part 2
You’re a part of The Watchmakers Club because you care about your creations and it’s imperative that after all that time you spent scrutinising the details, you do both yourself and your watches justice by capturing their beauty and depth, properly.
The classic mistake people with DSLRs make when shooting watches on people’s wrists is aperture. We all love, whether unknowingly or not, those blurry cinematic backgrounds. So, there is a temptation to have your aperture as wide as possible, which makes the depth of field of your focus, narrow. You’ll set this with the f-stop number, for example: f/2.8. The issue arises with just how much is in focus and this will become a problem when you get too close to the watch. It can be used for stylistic effect, but generally, you will want the entire of your watch sharp. Try an aperture of around f/5.6 for a happy medium between soft blurry backgrounds and fully sharp watches. Without getting too technical boring, another risk of setting your lens’s aperture to its highest or lowest f-stop number is it can result in “soft” looking final images due to diffraction.
This is typically not that important with watch photography. If the crown is pulled and the second hand isn’t ticking, your only concern is making sure the image is sharp. If you’re using a tripod and a remote, you can experiment with the shutter speed just to find the right level of exposure for your image. If you’re shooting handheld, then unless you’re moonlighting as a surgeon, sniper, or darts player, you won’t want to go much slower than 1/60th of a second. There are a lot of variables that could allow for a slower shutter speed while handheld (such as image stabilisation), but as a rule, avoid slower and aim for 1/100th or faster. If the image is too dark and you can’t brighten the scene, you can choose a wider aperture (a lower f-number) or you can boost your camera’s ISO.
Simply put, ISO is how much your camera will digitally brighten the image. The trade-off is in the form of your image looking slightly “softer” and, noise or grain. When I purchase my DSLRs, high ISO performance is important to me but honestly, ISO is the devil with watch photography. When you’re taking images that must have the greatest levels of clarity and will almost always have both light and dark sections on the subject, ISO is not forgiving. For shots where the watch is only a small percentage of the total frame, you’ll get away with it, but for close-ups I would avoid at all costs an ISO of above about 400.
This section will be off-putting for those of you who aren’t familiar with Photoshop, so I will keep it concise with general pointers, but you’re welcome to reach out to me for specific advice.
Correct Colours: Ensure you or your retoucher has a properly colour calibrated monitor and are editing in a darkened room.
Blues: The colour blue will creep in to lots of places it’s not welcome. Always be aware of what colour the silver and other lighter coloured elements of your piece actually are. Getting rid of these pesky blues can make the world of difference.
Sharpness: Although clarity is crucial, don’t over-do it. Try and localise your sharpening techniques to the watch face and remember that less is more; too much and you’ll be left with a gritty image that works against the luxury feel.
Exposure: Although the exposure of the frame ought to be correct in-camera, always check that the details on the watch aren’t overexposed; they’re often reflective and prone to being awkward.
3 Considerations When Making a Watch
It seems a little self-indulgent and back-to-front to suggest that you ought to consider photography when designing and creating a timepiece, but for the most part, the suggestions also affect the owner’s experience.
Glass and Reflective Coatings
Firstly, the anti-reflective coating of the glass. I have seen countless micro brands skimp and save in this area and it not only makes for a horrendously difficult watch to photograph, but irritating to read. It can make the most ergonomic face look busy and awkward and the camera will need filters and carefully controlled lighting just to shoot it. I won’t name and shame any brands here, most of which you wouldn’t have heard of anyway, but the glass and its coating is paramount. Domed glass also creates a lesser breed of this problem but can be controlled by limiting the number of angles you can shoot at.
The Finer Details
Brushed steel and the other various intricate treatments of the hands, details, or face are beautiful and never stop making the effort to do them. However, it’s worth considering that when the watch is photographed by anyone other than an experienced photographer (and sometimes they’ll even need a background in photographing jewellery as well), you’ll lose the detail. The dynamic range (by which I mean the darkest point through to the lightest point of the frame) is almost always larger than even modern cameras can handle. For styled product shots and macro stacking, you need someone who can expertly shape light, but for scenic images, it borders the impossible unless the light is handled to perfection. To achieve detail in both the lightest and darkest points of the frame (usually) requires a technique known as HDR (High Dynamic Range) which can swiftly lead to an ugly and/or flat final image.
Similarly, some of the most intricate additions to your piece will require perfect execution to capture. The best example I am allowed to show is one of your very own — Christiaan van der Klaauw — with their incredible Real Moon Joure. They expressed to me at SalonQP the frustration of photographing an engraving of Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens which was hidden on the back, and only visible to the eye from a certain angle. Special attention to detail requires special photography and I captured the microscopic engraving at their booth using the perfect angle combined with a flash gun and the torch from an iPhone. These little treasures make a watch for me and many others, but don’t be disappointed when a watch journalist can’t capture it.
Colours and Texture
Similar to the above advice on details, lots of different colours and textures will be lost by most photographers (amateur or professional) or captured inaccurately. To use CvdK as an example again, their Aventurine glass used on the face of the Real Moon Joure is so dynamic in colour and depth to mimic a starry night sky, that a still frame won’t do it justice. That said, it’s worth taking the time to find out how to properly light what you want captured correctly so you can assist watch fans and influencers. This is an example again of how you can capture the “look” the brand wants without much in the way of equipment. The below shot was taken just using a diffused flash gun and the trusty iPhone torch again. The flashgun is used as a “key light” to brighten the face and details, and the phone torch is angled along the face to create highlights and shadows on the bumpy texture of the Aventurine glass. In my studio, this could be executed with more finesse, but again, it’s great knowledge to have when those Instagram titans come knocking at your booth and want to share an image of your creation.
With regards to colour, my advice echoes that of my retouching: make sure you or your photographer have a colour calibrated monitor, a correct white-balance, and if possible, the product to hand with you/them when you’re/they’re editing the image.
Watch photography seems like an innocuous and straightforward sub-genre of product photography to the uninitiated, but it’s a complicated beast. With the complex creations that The Watchmakers Club members are designing and producing, it is worth taking the time to either experiment with the many variables involved in photographing the watch yourself, of finding someone who will. In the digital age, capturing the analogue is more important than ever and properly, thoughtfully crafted images can accurately represent the exemplary quality your pieces exhibit, and thus a worthy investment.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact me on Rob@acufocal.com — I am always happy to discuss both watches and photography, and advise where necessary.