This entry is going to start my small series of articles about watch photography in general, as well as some tutorials and tips&tricks on various watch photography related topics, such as how to do lume shots or how to do macro photography etc. The first part of the series will serve as an introduction to the topic and will contain general ideas, tips on how to get started, and how to improve quickly. I will also discuss what are going to need as a bare minimum and how can you build you photography gear and not to spend a fortune on it. Without further ado, let’s dive in.
Why and how?
First of all, I would like to let you know a little bit about myself. I’m not a professional photographer neither in watch related field nor any other field. All I know I’ve learnt myself by practicing or watching and reading tutorials on general photography in the Internet. Mind you, I don’t consider myself an expert by any means, I’m not really sure I should be writing such a tutorial. But hey, I’ve made a quite a progress and I’m proud of it, so why not to share my knowledge with others and inspire them to improve as well?
And what kind of progress am I talking about? Let’s see. This is the first photo I found on my Flickr photostream dated June 2013.
And here is a more recent photo from 2016:
Quite a leap, isn’t it? If I could do it, you can do it as well! All you need is some determination and a little bit of practice.
If you browsed my photos (you can do it here by the way), you probably noticed that I enjoy taking pictures in natural light and everyday situations. I don’t like studio photography with artificial light and tons of equipment. My greatest inspiration has always been work of Chriscentro, go check out his photography and follow his Flickr account! Chris has a great talent of taking watch photos in everyday environments and through some post-production is able to achieve great results, which don’t scream at you “I’m photoshopped!” And that’s something I aim myself at with my photos, I want them to look natural yet not boring.
But why on earth would someone want to waste their time on taking watch photos? Well, that’s something you have to answer yourself. For me, it was a need of bragging about my latest watch purchases and a need of being a part of watch community. If you browse watch forums, you know they are flooded with watch pictures, people just love to share. I’m also a competitive guy by nature and when I do something, I want to be the very best at it. And you can improve only if you practice a lot. As a result, taking pictures of my watches became a daily routine for me, and hell I’m loving it!
What will you need to start?
Three things: a camera, a tripod, a RAW files processing software. That’s it. And all of them are equally important, in my opinion that is. If you want to use you iPhone for taking watch pictures, then of course, you can. But that’s not something I want to focus on.
I also started taking pictures with my smartphone back in the past, but I quickly realized its functionality is extremely limited. If you want to improve, you will need a dedicated camera. Don’t get scared too much, however. You don’t have to spend a fortune to take decent pictures of your watches. If you happen to have a DSLR, that’s great but a slightly more advanced point and shoot camera will do just fine. I got hooked to watch photography when me and my wife bought a point and shoot Olympus XZ-2 for our holidays. We paid for it something about $300, and it was perfect for a beginner. It has a manual mode and, what’s most important, it allows you to save photos in RAW files. RAW file is a special file which allows you to adjust your pictures setting in post-production in a dedicated RAW processing software such as Adobe Lightroom. I can’t stress it enough, my “discovery” of RAW files was one of the breakthrough moments in my photography development (the second one was a “discovery” of a tripod, but more on that later). I know what are you thinking right now, “what, I don’t want to “photoshop” my photos, it’s cheating”. Yes, and no. Yes, you alter your photos, you can change things like exposure, contrast, temperature etc. And that’s a great thing, you have control on things that are really hard, if possible at all, to control during the actual shootout. No, because it has nothing to do with “photoshopping”, you don’t change the actually structure of your photo, you don’t add anything you camera didn’t record in a RAW file. All you do, is adjusting the setting that are already saved in your photo data. And let’s face it, almost every photo you see in the Internet is altered some way or another. There is no shame in that. But that was just a digression, let’s go back to the camera. My point is, that you can still learn, even if you are on budget, all you need is a camera supporting manual modes and RAW files. If you are interested, my current gear consists of an entry level DSLR Nikon D3300, Sigma 17-50 2.8 lens, and a kit lens Nikon 18-55 with macro extension tubes for macro photography. All together cost me about $800. It’s not extremely cheap but not really that expensive either. But the most important, it does the job. The only other thing I wish I had is a dedicated macro lens, which I plan to get later this year.
Besides a camera, you’re going to need a tripod. This one is absolutely essential. As I mentioned earlier, “discovery” of a tripod was one of the two breakthrough moments for me, next to “discovery” of RAW files. Again, I cannot stress out how important a tripod can be. I said it so many times that it even become a local joke at Polish watch forums czwarty-wymiar. A tripod allows you to take sharp images in slightly worse lightning conditions or when you want to take a lume shot and you need a longer exposure. Again, you don’t have to spend a fortune on it. I use a really cheap Camrock tripod, which I bought online for about $15 shipped! Some people may disagree with me saying that you need a better tripod to make sure is stable enough. The truth is, you don’t. I guess you will take most of your photos on the inside when you can carefully prepare for shooting. Unless you plan to take photos of your watches outside in a windy day, you have nothing to be afraid of.
The last piece of puzzle, we will need to get you started, is a RAW files processing software. As I mentioned before, a camera RAW is a special file format in which your camera save a photo. Then, such a file, can be edited in a software to adjust various settings such as exposure, contrast, saturation etc. Personally, I use Adobe Lightroom but you can use any software you want. There are some free programs as well, sometimes camera manufacturers, such as Nikon offer free software for RAW processing, in their case it’s Nikon View NX 2. Alternatively, you can use a 3rd party software, such as RAW Therapee. In the end, it doesn’t really matter which one are you going to use because they all offer similar functionality. Just grab one that you like and master it. Oh, and don’t be afraid that it’s over complicated, it’s quite easy actually. I will show you some examples based on Adobe Lightroom in other articles.
So you got you gear ready, you got your tripod, and you have your RAW software installed, what should you do next? Start taking photos obviously! I will get more in the details in the future articles of my series but for now I have a few tips for you.
Use manual and semi manual settings on your camera
That’s not something that can be explained in a few sentences. You need to now some photography basics such as ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. There are plenty of tutorials on these on the Internet, let the google help you. The main premise is; however, to know your camera settings and use them as often as possible. I work mainly in aperture priority setting and manual setting when I’m trying to take some shots in bad lightning conditions. As for aperture, 4.5-5 works usually the best for me. It allows me to take most of the watch in focus in a close up shots, leaving everything else blurred away. But remember, that’s the setting I use for my camera body and my lens. You will have to find your own settings.
Keep your ISO low
This one is crucial. No matter how you set up your camera settings, keep you ISO levels low. If you take your photos with high ISO levels you pictures will look bad, especially after post production when you want to adjust your exposure. Personally, I like to keep my ISO between 100 and 400. If I need more light, I prefer to use my tripod and decrease shutter speed to compensate.
Use your tripod
Unless you are shooting in a perfect lightning condition, use your tripod. It will let you take pictures with low ISO levels and it will make your photos as sharp as it’s possible. Also, if you want to take lume shots, tripod will be your best friend because you will need long exposure times to make that lume pop.
Keep your watches clean
Before taking pictures of your watch, make sure it’s clean! Get rid of dust and smudges on the crystal and bezel. This alone will improve your photos by a mile. I know it’s really hard to clean everything but don’t worry about every speck of dust. You can remove them in post-production in Adobe Lightroom. It’s really easy to do but it can also be time consuming, especially if you take macro shots and every bit is enlarged.
Master your composition
Have you ever heard of golden ratio or 2:1 ratio? It’s also often referred to as divine ratio. Basically, there is a theory that your composition should be set up in 2 to 1 ratio. For example, keep your watch in 1/3 of a frame and leave 2/3 of a frame empty. Or do it the other way round and fill 2/3 of your frame with a watch and leave 1/3 empty. Remember, that you don’t have to make your composition perfect on the spot, you can always crop your photo in post-production.
Try to avoid taking most of you pictures with your object being in the middle of the frame. It’s doesn’t mean you should never take such photos, there are plenty of good pictures witch such a basic composition. Just be open minded and try to experiment, photography is a great deal of fun after all.
Use your RAW processing software
And start doing it early. Just play around with the settings and watch a video tutorial or two to get the idea what are all the settings used for. You will be amazed how much you can get from your photos. I’m not going into details here because I plan to write a separate articles on my workflow process in Adobe Lightroom. Maybe just one tip for now, try using radial filters, which you can apply for just a dial of the watch and increase exposure and contrast slightly. It will make the watch dial really pop and will automatically focus the sight of a viewer on the details of your watch.
That will be it for my introduction to watch photography. I hope I got you interested in the topic because I plan to write more about it. I want to share with you my Lightroom workflow and maybe write a tutorial on how take beautiful lume shots of your divers. If there are any specific topics related to watch photograph that you would like me to address, let me know in the comments.
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