Still Life Photography Secrets | How To Photograph Watches
I wish I could explain all the intricacies of photographing watches in one single, concise article. Sadly, that would be less of an article and more of a lengthy book, and I don’t have the patience for that. There are, however, many books currently available, like “Light, Science, Magic” which I always hear good things about. Instead, I’ll be giving you three still life photography tips to help you not only photograph watches effectively but many other objects as well. Understand the following three concepts and your photography will come along in leaps and bounds.
The Ultimate Still Life Photography Tip
The angle of reflection. Excited? Yeah, I didn’t think so. The angle of reflection is less a tip and more a concept. I make no apologies however as this single tip is THE most important thing to master in still life photography. If you can understand this, you can photograph the most complex of objects, like, surprisingly enough, watches.
What is the angle of reflection? I’m sure there’s lots of complicated maths which defines this concept in a far better, albeit more confusing, manner. I’ll keep it simple. For photographers, the angle of reflection concerns the way light travels once it hits an object. I’ve always found the best way to explain this is to imagine a pool ball rolling across a table and hitting the edges. Light moves in the same way. When it hits an object it bounces off at the same angle it originally hit that object, just like a pool ball.
The reason this is so important for still life photographers is it allows us to know (or guess) where to place our lights and scrims. Take the photo above, you can see my lens, a watch, and a light on the scrim (camera left). I’ve drawn a line to give you a visual representation of this concept. The light leaves the strobe, hits the watch and bounces off at the same angle. As you can see, that line then reaches my lens. This tells you that the face of the watch is being illuminated by that back light. Reverse the process and you’ll have a good idea about where to place your lights. Once you’ve truly mastered the concept, you’ll be able to create photos like the one below, with multiple reflections and very elaborate lighting.
Glossy Surfaces Must Appear Glossy
You know it’s glossy, but does your photo communicate that to the viewer? It’s very easy in still life photography to make glossy surfaces appear matt and this is especially so when photographing watches. This tip is all about being true to the surface you’re trying to represent. We all like a nice gradient and don’t they look beautiful reflected in the glossy metal of a lovely watch?! Yes, they do. But, don’t get carried away. For a surface to appear glossy it needs hard edges, preferably some hard black edges interrupting your pretty gradient. Sorry.
The image above was shot using what’s called a shooting cone. At first glance, you may think, “wow that looks great!”. I know I did. And, guess what? It took about 30 minutes to get it looking like that. However, it’s not good. I’d go so far as to say it doesn’t accurately represent the product and actually looks pretty amateurish.
Now, that’s better. Look at the difference between those two shots. The metal in the first image looks matt, not glossy. Whereas, the metal in the second image looks very glossy, the strap has loads of texture and you can see every detail in the watch. When photographing glossy surfaces, be true to the surface and add some dark hard-edged lines. Any product photographer can grab a shooting cone and create the first image in 30 minutes, it takes time and effort to craft a good image of a watch.
The Greatest Watch Photography Tip
Advertising level still life photography demands perfection. To achieve this, every surface, detail, and angle of our products need to look amazing. Attempting to do this all in one shot is a fool’s endeavour. Therefore, this watch photography tip is all about compositing.
Why is it a fool’s endeavour? Watches are small, very small in fact. When you’re trying to light the face (the largest section) even the slightest move of your light will result in a drastic change to the image. I’m talking moving your light by centimetres here, maybe even millimetres. In addition, you may need multiple lights for each section; a couple for the face, strap, crown, metal ring. Attempting to do this all in one shot would be, at best, an absolute nightmare, if not impossible.
The photo above shows 6 of the 7 images that I used to create the composite. The process is very simple, lock off your tripod and photograph each section, one by one. I don’t advise making drastic changes to lighting as it becomes very obvious to the viewer that something is awry. Instead, make subtle changes, use black and white card, and get a good shot of every section of the watch. In Photoshop it’s very easy to combine all the shots together, so long as you didn’t knock the tripod!
These watch photography tips are applicable to all still life photography. The angle of reflection and composting are two of the most important concepts for any still life photographer to wrap their brain around. Trouble is, while I’ve made it sound easy, it’s not. My advice is to practice, practice, practice. Eventually it will begin to click and you’ll find your photography will improve AND you’ll become quicker at the whole process. Good luck!