Watch photography 101 on a budget
Hi there! So, my name is Mischa and you might know me on Instagram as @adutchwrist. Before you read any further, you might want to check out my Instagram account. Because if you do not like my style of photography, you might not find this article very useful.
As I went along, I experienced many issues. I have come up with (budget) solutions to solve them and I have developed my own style along the way. Make sure you use the tips & tricks in this article to create your own style, not to copy mine. #beunique, right?
I hope you enjoy reading and learn at least something useful! ;-)
Tools that will make your day!
Before we get into photography itself, make sure you have all the required tools! Let’s get real, we can’t talk about photography without a camera, right?
1. A good camera. Duhhh!! So, not everyone might have a Nikon or Canon DSLR, but if you have it.. use it! Now, this article is about watchphotography on a budget, so you might just succeed with your new iPhone as well.
2. A lens that will do the trick. For a long time I shot with the standard 18-55mm lens, but it just doesn’t have the greatest bokeh (yeah, it’s a word. Google it and you’ll know what I mean). I got myself a 50mm F/1.8 lens for about €100 and it works like a charm! If you don’t have the money, just use what you’ve got!
3. A tripod. It’s a must have. I started with a very cheap one for like €20. Cheap ones like this –link– for €11-12 will do. However, a more solid one is better if you can afford it.
4. An external shutter. Especially needed if you go for a cheap tripod. I bought mine on aliexpress for about €1,80 incl. shipping: link.
5. A UV blacklight. If you are into lume shots, the UV blacklight is a no-brainer. You can get it for €2,50 on aliexpress: link.
6. Photography backdrops. Also aliexpress is your go-to website. A good quality backdrop only costs you about €3-5.
7. At least two watch stands. Last time. Aliexpress. Less than €1 a piece. Make sure you saw off the stand of one of the two. This leaves you with just the C-shape. Insert the C-shape and your bracelet will be in perfect shape – in EVERY shot!
8. Props. Every good photograph has at least one ‘prop’. It can be an iPhone, a deck of cards or even a bloody shoelace. Make sure you come up with something creative to make the shot better! But, you don’t need it in every shot. Sometimes the cleaner shots are more appreciated by your followers.
Before you do anything!
1. Take a piss. Seriously! Once you start photographing it can be so bloody annoying and I often end up losing creativity, realizing the time or being called by my girlfriend because she hears me on the stairs. It’s a no-brainer!
2. Make sure your watch has stopped. It’s quite simple. With mechanical watches you will easily see the sweep of the second hand if the shutter time is too long. You want to avoid that.
Pro tip: Your watch hasn’t stopped yet, but you really want to shoot it? Some watches will stop the second hand (hacking) when you pull out the crown. Just Photoshop the crown back in when you’re editing in the end!
3. Clean your watch. The bracelet, between the lugs... everywhere! If you do not do this thorough, you will hate yourself later. I’m not only talking about fingerprints and earwax (god knows how it got there), but especially all those dust particles.
4. And set it to 10 past 10!Check any watch in a magazine or website. It’s called a smiley face or happy face. A perfect 10 past 10 will “make you happy in pants”...
I always play around with the settings on my camera, but these are some guidelines to a good to go setup:
1. Mode: Set your camera to Av or A depending on the camera brand. This setting allows you to determine aperture value while your camera does the rest (determining shutter speed based on lighting conditions). Do not worry if your shutter time is increased, it’s supposed to happen!
2. ISO: Set it to 100. It will increase your shutter time, but that’s what you’ve got your tripod for!
3. F-stop: I always enjoy a good bokeh (yeah, you know what it means now huh!? Haha!!). So play around with a F4.5 up to F15. The higher the number, the longer the shutter time and the sharper the surroundings of the watch. Take the F-number down to under F4.5 and you will see that it becomes very hard to get sharp results!
4. Tripod mount: I always mount it vertically, which makes it better for my portait size posts. Mount it correct and it will save you a headache later on.
How to photograph during daytime
When it comes to photography, the most important element is always light. I am not a big fan of shooting in daylight, because I often end up having to photoshop reflections. Here are some points to pay attention to when shooting using daylight:
1. Never shoot towards the light. Always make sure the lightsource (window) is on your left or right side and hits the dial of your watch.
2. Reflecting light.When shooting in daylight you will most likely have a window on one side of your watch. That part of the watch will be lighter than the other side. The solution is to reflect the light by placing a reflector on the other side. You can simply use a (shiny) white book cover or a piece of styrofoam. Want to go next level? Take some aluminium foil from your kitchen and wrap a book or a binder to use as a reflector.
Are you still experiencing issues because e.g. you have a floral motive wallpaper (happy wife, happy life), you can use an IKEA laundry basket (like @theblackdial does for his topdown shots) or you can purchase a lightbox (also aliexpress). If you buy a lightbox, make sure you get one that’s big enough and never use the crappy built-in LED strips.
3. Reflections. Look around you and eliminate all elements that might cause unwanted reflections. Don’t you just hate all those photographs on Instagram where you see the reflection of the camera or a tripod? You can solve this by paying attention to your shot before taking it and holding a piece of black paper (or a black book, binder or whatever) to kill that unwanted reflection.
Is your lens in the reflection? Then simply slightly change the angle of the shot.
4. Trial & error. If your camera setup is good and the light is good, everything has to do with trial & error. Change the position of your reflector, add a reflector or diffuse the bright sunlight using old white bedsheets. Don’t expect your first shot to be perfect, but keep trying and you’ll finally get the hang of it. For example:
How to photograph using artificial light
This is where the budget photography really comes alive. When you think of artificial light, it is likely that you think of expensive studio lights, diffusers, remote flashlights and more..! I’m going to tell you that all you need is a tablet, smartphone or both! How awesome is that?
It might be good for your muscles to purchase a (universal) tablet table mount.
1. Download these wallpapers (1 fade from back to white and one full white). And save them in your favorites on your light source. It will make sense later on, I promise.
2. Set the brightness. Select the wallpaper and set the brightness of the tablet or phone to 100% (and make sure to turn off ‘Night Shift’ on Apple devices).
3. Mount the tablet. You haven’t bought the table mount for nothing. Mount the tablet and if needed use a second smartphone or tablet to take away shadows or just because you prefer the results.
4. Make sure the room is dark. Or even better pitch black! Any light source may cause reflecting colors that can mess up your shot. Trust me, even a blue light from a wifi amplifier can mess up all your shots! Because you’re shooting in the dark you do not have to worry about unwanted reflections.
5. Set your camera and start shooting!I will share some behind the scenes and explain the results with both wallpapers.
It’s not bad, right? Now if we lower the iPad, we can create a nice flecto.
And last but not least – editing!
Now it’s time for details that will make or break your shot. I use Adobe Photoshop for all my photographs for some fine tweaking. This takes about 5 minutes per image. All I use it for is:
1. White balance. You may have noticed that the white balance is off. I actually forgot to set it, but it’s good for the tutorial! This results in a blue-ish photograph. We will fix this in Photoshop by using Hue/Saturation and taking out some cyan and some blue. Sometimes I use it to increase colors, but I prefer to keep it real.
2. Dust cleaning. Even though I cleaned my watch properly, some dust particles landed on the bezel and dial. I take these out using the Spot Healing Brush Tool and the Clone Stamp Tool. It’s that simple!
3. Adjust levels. By adjusting the Levels you can bring up the white in the picture and increase the contrast.
4. Canvas size and Transform. Last but not least. The best size pictures for Instagram are 1080x1080 px for square and 1080x1350 px for portrait mode pictures. Make sure you change the size of your canvas and then use Transform to shrink your photograph and tilt it for the best photogenic result!
That’s all folks!
Thank you for reading and I hope my article inspires you to take some next level photographs of your watches and give the #watchfam on Instagram another boost!
If you wish to show your appreciation, feel free to follow me on Instagram and if you have any questions, do not hesitate to send me a DM. I am more than happy to help!
All the best,
Mischa (a.k.a. @aDutchWrist)