In this article, I’m going to show you how to photograph watches for professional results. This step-by-step tutorial will guide you through the steps required for amazing watch photography.
I’ve also made a video of this tutorial at the end of this article.
Photography Gear and Camera Setting for Watch Photography
When I’m working with a small object, like the watch, and I’m up close I tend to use f16 to get the depth of field I want. For the shoot today, I’m using a Canon 100mm 2.8 macro lens. I want a lot of focus, up close so I don’t normally go higher than f16 with the lens because any higher and it’s less sharp.
Your Photography Equipment
Quality product photos can often be challenging. The correct equipment and setup can make the difference between good photos and great photos. Your equipment needs will vary depending on the products you are shooting and it can take years before you have a wide range of equipment. In the beginning, making your own equipment might be the answer.
As an example, I’m going to cover some of the equipment I’ve made and the setup I use to photograph a watch.
You will need something to support the product you are photographing. In the case of a watch, I use clear plastic watch stands. They are the type of stand used to display watches in jewelry cases. They’re inexpensive and can hold a variety of watches because they are very adjustable. The ring that holds the watch can be removed from the stand as well.
Most products will have some sort of stand or method of display. You should be able to find something that works for you for not a lot of money. When looking, keep in mind the color of the stand and try to find clear or neutral items.
Diffuser for Watch Photography and How to Make Your Own Diffuser
A diffuser is essential, especially when the product has shiny surfaces such as the metal on the watch or glass. Without a way to diffuse the light, you will end up with harsh highlights. Although you can purchase a diffuser specifically made for product photography, they are quite expensive.
Years ago, I made my own cone-shaped diffuser. My homemade cone was fairly inexpensive to make and has lasted many years. I started with a piece of semi-transparent plastic which creates a nice diffused light. I used Translum and it is available in rolls that come in a variety of lengths and widths. While diffusion paper or fabric is nice to have in the studio, Translum has the advantage that it is stiff enough to hold its shape.
I started with a piece of irrigation hose to form the circle base and used gaffer tape to attach the Translum cone. The cone can completely surround the product, diffusing light on all sides. The hole in the top gives me room for the camera lens.
I use studio strobes for lighting. At the end of my reflectors, I use a grid to restrict the light and stop it from spreading too far. With a narrow range of light, I can highlight just the right spots on the product. You don’t have to have these but you’re going to get a better quality photo with some nice highlights if you do have these.
You can also use a snoot with the grid on the end. These are really good to use when you want a very narrow beam of light and really want to control the light. The disadvantage of the snoot is it really does take a lot of the light power away so you will need to turn up the power to overcome that.
Cleaning the Watch for a Better Photo
Any product photography will come out better if you clean all the dust or other small particles before shooting. Yes, you can normally fix small blemishes by retouching but you’ll save yourself a lot of time by starting with a clean product.
Especially with something metal or smooth and shiny, you want some white gloves to wear so you don’t leave fingerprints on the surface. No matter how careful you think you are being, it’s simpler to wear the gloves. Next, use a microfiber cleaning cloth to clean all the surfaces you can, making sure there are no fingerprints, scratches or dust.
Staging Watch Photography
In the case of the watch, we need to set the time. The industry standard is to use 10:10. Most watch manufacturers have their logo around the 12:00 mark and the 10:10 time setting allows for the hands to nicely frame the logo. For watches, I pull out the crown so the time doesn’t change during the shoot. I can easily move the crown back into position in editing and the time will be consistent throughout.
Manufacturers are pretty particular about the small details, they want to show off their design. Make sure that you can capture small details and that logos are visible.
The Best Angle for Photographing Watches
Set up the angle you’d like for your product. With watches, I like to shoot them with the face of the watch parallel to the surface. I separate the two pieces of the watch stand and set the loop by itself on the table. You may be using small blocks or another type of stand. With the cone I’m using, I’ll be shooting from straight overhead so this stand works perfectly. Most of the stand won’t even be visible and, if any part does show, it can be taken out during editing.
Today I have a piece of foam core board as the surface. I use a lot of this foam core since it’s light, cheap and easy to find. In addition to shooting surfaces, I also use the foam core for reflectors. It’s also easy to cut and size for whatever you need.
Lighting for Watch Photography
I like to start with one light and slowly add lights as I go. Today I’m going to use two, maybe three lights. I’ve worked with watches many times before and have done this enough times to know about where I’m going to want the lights for the look I want. In some cases, you might use four or five lights or you could also just get away with one. Each light is going to do something different.
Again I am using the grid on my lights to focus the light and give me more control over the location of highlights. You don’t necessarily need studio strobes or flashes, you can also use speed lights. The studio stripes have a lot of modifiers that create options to shape your light differently. Speed lights, generally, have fewer options.
I’ll start by positioning one light at about where I think I will want it, then take a photo to give me a base reading. In addition to the highlights, I also check to make sure the position and angle of the watch is good. For the watch, I want to make sure the amount of band on each side of the watch face is even.
If you are using a cone type diffuser, you need to make sure that the camera hole is in the right spot, especially with a highly reflective product. Any reflective surface should be reflecting the white of the cone. If the surface is reflecting your camera lens instead the reflections can appear dark or black instead of bright. Reflecting the white will help bring out the details and make them look nice and shiny. You might need to move your camera around or tip your lens very slightly. Try different heights and directions.
You can move the lights around to change the location of the highlights. If you don’t have multiple lights, you can mount your camera on a tripod and take a shot with the light where you want it for the first highlight. Keep the camera steady with the tripod, move the light to the second highlight location and take a second shot. Then you can layer them together and paint in different lights in editing.
You will, of course, have your own preferences for setup and lighting. You will know how you like your highlights. With the gridded lights, I’m able to really be precise with the highlights. Moving the lights closer creates a smaller, sharper highlight and moving them further away makes a softer, spread out light. You can use the modeling light to let you know if you have the light in the right spot. If the modeling light is off, the only way you will know if you have the light in the right spot is to take a photo.
Watch Photography Results
The below photo shows the before and after photos of this watch photo. Later I’ll show you how to edit watch photos for the best results.
I hope this tutorial is helpful and you can now feel confident in photographing watches. Finally, don’t forget to watch the video below to see how all these steps to photograph watches are put into action. And please give the video a like and subscribe if you would like to see more videos, and article like this one, in the future.