Photographing a watch is a meticulous work especially regarding focus and lighting. Because the dial (also called face) must be sharp (probably, depending on the mood you’re going for but for the sake of simplicity, most times it is excellent to go with a dial fully in focus, it is the most significant part to recognize a watch by after all).
The bezel and crown are often made of shiny materials that reflect light creating bright spots you need to control. The glass over the dial needs to be visible as well (maybe tangible is a better word), without obscuring what’s going on underneath it, the dial with numbers, multiple dials even, maybe a moon etc. Nice!
For this blogpost I will dissect the photograph I took of this excellent Seiko Kinetic Perpetual I borrowed from Juwelier Geerling (thanks!!!!).
First to set the mood I put the Seiko around a male mannequin arm I had laying around in my studio and fixed that horizontally in such a position that I could put the Cambo viewcamera above it so as to make it look like the viewer is raising his left arm to look at the time. I then created a relatively even dark background using ashes from our fireplace to make the arm with the watch stand out, and make it easier for any text or logo’s to stand out as well above of below the arm (should it become a print ad &c.).
There are two reasons to use a mannequin arm. First of all, I did not have a spare real arm even though I could have enlisted someones arm. But second of all: by using this artificial smooth hairless arm with a few scuff marks the watch itself stands out even more (being less smooth than the surroundings) and the image might stick in your mind better, because there is something ‘wrong’ with it. OMG, the arm is fake!
I used the live-view capability in Capture One with the Leaf Aptus 22 to align the plane of focus exactly with the watch dial. As I photographed with the lens fully open the depth of field (DOF) was rather thin. Therefore it was imperative to line out the plane of focus perfectly, which is of course only possible with a view camera such as the Cambo Ultima. I love the look a large format lense gives on a large sensor with the aperture wide open. I love especially how you can see the focus fade away already on the bezel compared to the razor sharp dial.
To have every part of the photograph perfectly lit I shot three photographs. One with tracing paper (see above) for the dial and upper part of the bezel. One directly lit with the beauty dish for the case, the crown, wristband and the fake arm. And a third one later with the darker background slightly underexposed also blended with the arm to give that a more round appearance.
I use Photoshop to blend the shots together as well as correct color and contrast. Often I find product photographs, especially watches that are often neutrally tinted (white, black, metal) benefit from converting to black and white and then manually bringing in the correct colors. All in moderation of course. As you can see I manipulated the contrast on the upper left of the dial to make the glass a bit more tangible to the viewer without losing clarity on the numbers and patterns of the dial.
Crops to judge focus
With such sharp focus and no anti-alias filter on the fairly large sensor of the Aptus 22 (it’s 36 x 48 mm) these images can be blown up a lot. In a magazine the 4000 pixels width are more than enough to make a spread. These crops are a lot larger than the original watch, which may account for artifacts you see in the printing of letters (these are tiny letters irl!).
The final result: Seiko Kinetic Perpetual
This Seiko Kinetic Perpetual is now my favourite watch. Goes to show the more time you spend with something (someone?), the more you appreciate it. The way marketing works as well.
Bonus: Tissot watch
Should you need a watch photographed, don’t hesitate to contact me, I work on assignment as well. Other jewellery or (small) products are also possible. Large products do not fit in my studio so I shoot them on location.