In the second part of my watch photography guide, I will present you my workflow of post-production in Adobe Lightroom. I will try to make it detailed; however, I’m not going to describe every single tool this software offers. If you need that, you can find plenty of phenomenal tutorials in the Internet. Instead, I will show how I work with my photos and what I focus on during post-production. I also want to clarify on thing straight ahead, the settings I will use in this tutorial are specifically applied to the single image we are going to work on. They might, but probably won’t, work with your own photos. That’s because every picture is different and you can edit it thousand ways. The idea of this guide is to provide you a general view of which elements and setting you should focus on. The practice is key here, the more photos you process, the better you will get at it.
My own workflow in Adobe Lightroom usually looks like this:
1. Adjusting global settings
2. Adjusting local settings with the help of a radial filter
3. Removing some dust with the spot removal tool
4. Applying camera + lens profile and fine tuning global settings
1. Adjusting global settings
This is how my picture looks like when I import it from my camera to Adobe Lightroom. Remember, that I’ll be working on RAW file because it allows me to adjust the settings the way I want instead of letting the camera apply its own settings. You can read more about RAW files and why you should be using them in the first part of my tutorial. On the right hand side, there are basic sliders that allow you to adjust exposure, shadows, highlights, and blacks. My idea for this image was to make it much darker and focus light mostly on the dial of this G. Gerlach Enigma. As you can tell, the original picture is quite bright actually, so we will have to make it darker by lowering exposure slightly.
Besides lowering the exposure, I adjusted a few different sliders. Remember, that all changes we are doing here will alter the whole picture. We will target specific elements with area filters in a moment. So, I lowered the exposure slightly to get the image darker. I also want to get more contrast on the image but I rarely use the contrast slider to achieve this. Instead, I use whites and blacks sliders to brighten up the elements that are already light and to darken the elements that are already dark. It gives you more control over the final effect than the regular contrast slider.
I also lowered highlights and increased value on the shadows slider. By lowering the highlights, I can minimize reflections on the crystal or on the stainless steel case of the watch. You will not get rid of all of them but it’s extremely useful tool nevertheless. You have to play with this slider and see what works for your picture. There are some photos when I want to increase my highlights slider to emphasize a specific reflection (for instance reflection on the chrome handset). As I’ mentioned, I also adjusted shadows slider. By lowering the value you get more shadows, by increasing the value you get less shadows. I increased the value on the slider to bring back more details from the picture. When I have more details at my disposal, I can easier manipulate them with whites and black sliders to achieve the look I want.
Finally, I increased the clarity slider. Clarity further increases contrast on the image but it also applies some sharpening, which makes the image pop more. It’s definitely one of my favorite settings in Lightroom but you have to be cautious while using it. It’s easy to overdo it. I try to not exceed value of 20-30 on this slider, at least on the global reach. I often use higher values but only on specific areas of the image when I want to emphasize something.
2. Adjusting local settings with help of radial filter
Alright, we darkened the image, adjusted highlights and shadows, blacks and whites, we also added some additional contrast with clarity. The next step we are going to do is to apply a radial filter in order to adjust setting only on the dial of the watch. We want to make it pop and catch the attention of the viewer. Radial filters are great for that and I use them literally on every single watch photo. You basically have to draw a circle and adjust the handles to fit it to the dial and/or bezel. When you press “o” on your keyboard, read tint will appear showing you the reach of your radial filter. You will also want to lower the feather value to make sure you are targeting just the dial and no the area around it.
With a radial filters, you get a similar set of sliders to the one you get on global settings. You can adjust exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows and clarity. To make the dial pop, I increased the exposure slightly to make it lighter. I’ve also increased the contrast a bit because I’m losing blacks and whites sliders in this radial filter settings. Furthermore, I increased highlights this time to emphasize this bluish tint on the right hand side of the dial that you get from anti-reflecting coating. I also crunched the shadows slider all the way down to increase contrast on the dial. Basically, I’ve done the opposite to what I did in the global settings. Finally, to make the dial really pop, I also pushed the clarity slider all the way to 100. I would never apply it to the whole image but when I target just the dial it’s actually fine because you want to focus viewers’ attention on that element.
3. Removing some dust with spot removal tool
In the first part of my tutorial, I said that’s really important to clean your watch before taking a picture. Increasing contrast and applying sharpening to the image usually further emphasizes any remaining dust that you left on your watch. Luckily, there is a spot removal tool which helps you to remove it in post-production. All you have to do is to target the spot you want to fix with the tool (the brush size should be slightly bigger than the element you want to fix) and click it. Most of the time Lightroom will do the job just fine by replacing that spot with a clear background from the nearby area.
It’s really simple to use and gives great effect but it can be tedious task if your watch was dirty in the first place and you have lots of spots to remove. However, it’s worth spending some time on removing these spots because it makes the image so much better in the end.
4. Applying camera + lens profile and fine tuning global settings
At this point we are basically done. I usually spend a few more minutes fine tuning some settings. If you use a DLSR camera, you might want to apply the profile of your camera + lens combo. If you do so, Lightroom will attempt to fix any distortion and vignetting issues you gear might have. You can do it in Lens correction section by choosing the lens you have from the dropdown menu.
To further fine-tune my image I adjusted a couple of things. First of all, I didn’t like the red-ish tint of my table so I desaturated red and orange colours in my picture.
I usually don’t sharpen my image with the sharpen slider (I tend to use clarity more) and I use the default value from Lightroom. However, I do use the luminance smoothing. When you increase contrast and clarity or when you bring a lot of details from the shadows, I will get some noise in the picture. The same kind of noise that you get when using higher ISO values in your camera. The luminance smoothing slider lets you counter it slightly. I usually set my luminance smoothing slider to something between 20 and 40. Higher values will make your image look flat and will diminish the results you achieved earlier.
We are almost finished with this picture but there is still one more thing I want to adjust. I wanted to get this effect that most of the image is dark but the light focuses on this dial of the watch. To achieve it, I will add a slight post-cropping vingetting which will darken corners of the image. I will also add two more filters, graduated filters to be precise. They behave in a similar way to gradients in Photoshop. You simply draw a straight line which will be the direction in which the filter graduates from strong effect to slight effect. You can add the same effects to that filter as to the radial filter. In our case, I just want to lower the exposure slightly to further darken the top-right and bottom-left corners.
So that’s my general workflow of post-processing watch photos. It might seem like a lot of information if you are not used to it, but in reality it’s easier than you think. Adobe Lightroom is quite an easy tool to learn, all you need to do is get some practice. I can go through the whole process in 5-10 minutes when have the idea in my head of what I want to achieve with a given photo. And as you can see, you can completely change how the image looks like. When I imported this picture to my computer it was washed out and pretty uninspiring. After few minutes in Lightroom I was able to bring back a lot of character to this photo by simply adjusting a few sliders and drawing a circle on the dial.
If you have any questions or you want more details on a specific topic, let me know in the comments, I will try to address that. I also want to create at least on more part of my tutorial in which I will focus on how to achieve some cool looking lume shots. But for that, you will definitely need a tripod, which I mentioned in the first part of my article.