Watchonista’s Guide For Taking Your Watch Photography To The Next Level: Part 1

Watchonista’s Guide For Taking Your Watch Photography To The Next Level: Part One

To help you get the best out of your next wrist-shot, here's Part One of Watchonista’s informative guide to watch photography.

By Liam O'Donnell

Anyone can take a photo of a watch, but leaving a memorable impression with your photography is something else entirely. Photographing watches is a niche and specialized form of photography that shares skills with other disciplines such as product, fashion, and macro (i.e. extreme close-up) photography. It requires attention to detail and sometimes a lot of patience.

But just as watch collecting can be a rewarding experience, creating images to share with like-minded individuals can be as well. Treat this guide, not as a how-to manual on creating cookie-cutter images indistinguishable from everyone else’s, but a guide to get you thinking about how to take the best images you can with what you have.

Phōtos·​graphé: Drawing With Light

When you learn to bend light to your will, you’ll soon discover you can take compelling images no matter what camera you are using. Learning to take good photographs begins with observation – the observation of light and shadow.

Before I pick up a camera, I often spend time walking the room. I move around the space I intend on photographing in, observing the light or lack thereof. The questions I ask myself are: What is the source of light? Is it natural or artificial?

What direction is it coming from? Can I control it? The answers to these questions will usually determine how I proceed with the photoshoot.

Given the current situation, most of us will be restricted to taking photos in our homes. So, let’s see how we can take the best possible images from our couch!

A Good Light Source Even At Home

Most homes have a multitude of lighting sources, ranging from lamps to downlights. Unlike a professional flash, you usually have only two options to control these light sources: on or off. My preferred light source, besides a professional flash, is natural light. In-home artificial light sources are often too harsh and need to be modified. Placing a modifier like a white diffuser or, in a pinch, a white sheet between the light source and the watch is the way to go.

Although, be careful! Mixing light sources with different color temperatures can make it difficult to color correct your images later. For example, using natural daylight as your primary light source while simultaneously using an LED lamp to backlight will give you post-production headaches. If you have a flash, try using a neutral colored wall or ceiling to bounce the light against making the resulting flash softer. However, the caveat to using this method is that your light is dependent on having that wall or ceiling close by, and where you can position yourself relative to it. Using multiple light sources and bouncing your flash can leave your images lacking contrast.

If you are using a flash, you may want to check for any unwanted reflections or color cast. To check for this, fire your camera without the flash to see how much it is affecting your image. If the screen is not completely black, then your shutter speed is too slow and/or your aperture is too wide. Increase these values until you see nothing on the next image you take. Bear in mind that as your aperture decreases, your depth of field will become larger.

Golden Hour

If the artificial light in your home office or living room just isn’t doing it for you, try using natural light. You know, the sun! There’s no way to control this light source, but there are numerous creative ways to modify it.

I find that light in the morning and afternoon is far more pleasing to look at due to its refraction in the Earth’s atmosphere. As light passes through the layers of the atmosphere, it diffuses the photons to create a similar effect as a soft-box or diffuser. Shooting in the afternoon also has the added effect of a warmer glow. If you’ve got your lighting just right, but there’s a reflection hitting the dial? Try using a dark, preferably black object to block the reflection on the dial, allowing you to see it more clearly. I use a thin black bounce card from Blick Art Supplies.

While shooting with natural light has many upsides, if you begin shooting too early or too late in the day, you’ll find that the sun’s intensity is significantly lower. This may require your ISO value (light sensitivity) to be increased. Again, be careful. Too high an ISO value will introduce a colored grain pattern, called noise, into your images. Depending on your camera, an ISO value of anywhere between 50 to 200 is considered safe.

Okay, so you’ve mastered light and bent it to your will. You now know to bounce your flash against a wall to diffuse it, or to block out the sun with a black card to prevent bothersome reflections. So, what’s next? Well, next week, we’ll be covering gear, post-production, and the rules of composition.

If you want to be sure not to miss Part Two of this guide, then make sure to sign up for our newsletter below!

(Photography by Liam O'Donnell)

And receive each week a custom selection of articles.

A Show Of Hands: See If You Can Identify These Watches Just By Their Hands

By Liam O'DonnellContributor
Many iconic watches are quickly identified by their easily recognizable hands. For many brands, this element can become the cornerstone of the watch. See how...

An Eye For Detail: Our Top Five Favorite Macro Photographs

By Liam O'DonnellContributor
Let’s take a closer look at some of our favorite macro photographs of watches released in 2019!

Watchonista’s Guide For Taking Your Watch Photography To The Next Level: Part Two

By Liam O'DonnellContributor
Learn to take your watch photography up a notch with these time-tested techniques, and how to transform your photos in post-production.