Watchonista’s Guide For Taking Your Watch Photography To The Next Level: Part Two
Learn to take your watch photography up a notch with these time-tested techniques, and how to transform your photos in post-production.
Welcome back to Watchonista’s guide for taking your photography to the next level. This two-part guide covers a range of skillsets for the photography of watches, but they can also be used more generally. If you haven’t read part one yet, I suggest you start HERE. Taking photos of watches can be difficult at the best of times, so use the following sections as a framework to get yourself thinking about your next shot.
Borrowing from the Masters: A Primer in Composition
Composition is arguably the most important aspect of photography and one of the hardest skills to master in art generally. This skill only improves with practice and reflection. Sadly, there are no shortcuts. Spend some time studying famous paintings, and you’ll soon realize that these rules are tried, tested, and true. Try using these visual composition techniques the next time you frame up your shot.
The Rule of Thirds
The Rule of Thirds is a theory that images are generally more pleasing to the eye when key objects are placed at these four intersecting points:
This will not instantly transform images into masterpieces, but it’s a good place to start. If your camera doesn’t offer a grid overlay of nine equal rectangles, try and imagine them as you frame your image. You can also place your subjects along the lines, too.
Studies have shown that people’s eyes tend drift towards these invisible intersections more often than not, so composing your image with the rule of thirds in mind will allow for a more natural viewing experience.
The Rule of Odds
The “Rule of Odds” states that using an odd number of subjects in a scene creates visual harmony. The theory is that a composition is significantly more pleasing to the eye when there is an odd number of subjects.
An even number of subjects in an image can create unintended symmetries. And, while intentional symmetry can be incredibly compelling and drive focus to the subject, unintended symmetry is often uninteresting or competes with the subject for the viewer’s attention. Moreover, human brains tend to subconsciously pair objects together. Thus, unintentionally symmetrical images can leave the center of a scene feeling empty.
Try pairing your watch with interesting objects from around the house: a quirky paperweight and a catchall or a nice pen and notepad. Placing them on either side is a good place to start, but make sure that there is always an odd number of objects in total, your watch included.
Negative space is the absence of high contrast elements in order to draw attention to the subject of the scene. This does not mean that you should use nothing behind your subject. Instead, use a minimally textured surface without any additional objects to add emphasis on the subject. Compositions using this technique can have a calming effect on the viewer. This concept has long been used by architects, designers, sculptors, and painters.
Try placing your watch on a marble countertop or a large plain notebook without any objects around it. Layering these surfaces can work nicely as well.
Zen and the Art of Equipment: Don’t Fall Victim to Brand Envy
Having the most expensive and advanced photography gear does not make you a good photographer. No megapixel value, prime lens, or low-pass filter will make your photos instantly great. It takes time, practice, and reflection. You can still achieve incredible images with average and entry-level gear. Personally, I hold off on upgrading most of my gear until it either falls apart or I exhausted every possible way to get more out of it.
More importantly, no one brand is better than another. They all have their pros and cons. Over the years, I’ve had numerous conversations where the topic of brand superiority inevitably comes up. And my eyes immediately roll to the back of my head. A truly good photographer is able to achieve incredible images with any brand or medium.
I ended up with the same brand that my friends were using because it made it easier to learn from them. Eventually, using the operating system and button layout became second nature, and I’ve never found a limitation so insurmountable that it forced me to consider another brand. Could I switch brands? Sure! But it would certainly cost a lot of money to ditch the gear I’ve accumulated over the years and replace it with another brand.
As a point of reference, here is a list of some of the gear I use when taking photos for Watchonista:
– Camera: Canon EOS 5DS R
– Lenses: Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS I USM
– Flash: Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT, Canon Speedlite 430 EX II
– Remote System: 3x PocketWizard Plus II
– Bag: Mission Workshop Integer Camera Pac
Lights, Camera, Post-Production!
Now, how I bring my images to life typically depends on where I’m editing and the type of project I’m working on. The purpose of the following section is not to have a template to copy but to help you think about your workflow and ways you can optimize it.
A quick side note before we continue: If you're not currently shooting in a raw format, you should definitely give it a go. The files will take up more space on your computer, but you'll have more control over your images.
Once I’ve selected the images I want to edit, I load them into Adobe Camera Raw. At this point in the process, the goal is for the images to have a consistent look throughout the entire selection. That is to say, no one image has more contrast, or more saturation, than another image.
To achieve this, you, first and foremost, want to ensure your colors are accurate. In Adobe Camera Raw, this can be as simple as either setting the white balance to the conditions you shot in like "Shade" or "Tungsten" or playing with the white balance slider until it looks the way you want it. Other times, you may need a target gray card and/or a color checker (to do this, you will need to have shot an image that includes a gray card or color checker). These nifty little color swatches enable your editing software to confirm that your image is, in fact, color correct.
Next, you need to make sure that none of the shadows or highlights are clipping due to under or overexposure. If your image has areas that are clipping, you will see two small triangles light up on either side of your histogram. To highlight what is being clipped in your image, you will need to turn on the clipping warnings in Adobe Camera Raw. The overexposed area will turn red, and underexposed areas will turn blue. As you use adjust the exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, whites, and blacks of the image, you can see how your adjustments affect the highlighted areas. By the time you're finished in Adobe Raw Camera, strive to have none of these highlighted areas.
Less is more here, so don’t go overboard! The result usually is a pretty flat image that lacks contrast, but that’s okay as all the information is still stored within the raw file. Keep in mind, the goal is not to have an Instagram-ready image yet, but to ready the image to be teased out in Photoshop.
Now that my selection of images has been prepped in Adobe Camera Raw, it’s time to load them into Photoshop. Here my editing is generally more selection based. Initially, I like to remove any unwanted aspects in the image using a blank layer above the original image and the healing brush. Sometimes the clone tool is more effective here, so be sure to have the sample set to current and below for this layer.
Next, I use adjustment layers to increase contrast and boost saturation and levels to ensure I’m using every bit of data in my image. If you want these layers to only affect certain portions of your image, try using a mask on the target adjustment layer. By now, you should have a handful of layers on top of your original image, and while it may seem overwhelming, think of them as layers in a cake: each stacking up to make the final product. Once you’re ready to export, make sure your image is small enough to be posted online! Images that are too large in size or dimension may get compressed and resized before being uploaded.
If an iPhone or Android device is your tool of choice, you’ll be limited to editing on a global level. They typically shoot in a compressed JPEG format, so your images won't have as much information to work with. When it comes to editing on a mobile device, several excellent apps can give these pro-apps a run for their money. Check out Darkroom, Snapseed, Lightroom, and Photoshop Express.
Hopefully, this two-part guide to becoming a better watch photographer has given you a few ideas to take away and make your own photographs. Now… Get out there and snap away!
(Photography by Liam O'Donnell)