A Guige To Watch Photography

Anyone who delights in watches and has a presence online will at some point want to take a few photographs of them. The problem is watches aren’t the easiest thing in the world to photograph.. Why? Well, for a couple of reasons:

Firstly, you’re generally shooting in macro mode, meaning you’re very close to the watch and the resulting image will be larger than life-size. This means you’re capturing an incredible amount of detail and if you don’t do it right it’s going to be very noticeable.

Secondly, watches are made up of lots and lots of shiny, reflective bits, meaning capturing them as you would like to can be quite a challenge. Everything looks set up nicely, you’ve got your light tent set up around the subject but what about you, the tripod, the camera and lens and the red sofa in the background. Al those things are likely to reflect off the watch if you don’t get the set-up just right.

CAMERA GEAR

First off, to capture great images you don’t need great equipment. You can easily take wonderful images for the web or for up to A4 size prints using a basic point and shoot camera and a tripod. You’d probably be wise to only pay very brief visits to photographic forums and go to them with specific goals in mind. It’s too easy to get caught up in equipment hype and if you do you may never surface. 
The megapixel race is a myth as far as amateur photographers are concerned. Only a few years ago professional photographers were fulfilling the requirements of multi-million dollar commercial contracts using cameras such as the Nikon D1. The D1 came packed with 1 million pixel capability and was the professional digital camera of choice, convincing many a professional to part exchange their trusty F5s for one. Why? Because they produced stunning images that could be blown up to billboard proportions. So why on earth would Jack need 34 million pixels to take a decent shot of his Submariner to show the guys and gals on the watch forum which only allows images posted that are max 1000 pixels wide?

OK, you get my point. I don’t think 1MP cameras are even produced any more but if you’re worrying about spending an extra 300 bucks on 4 mega pixels more and your pictures will be used predominantly online or for A4 prints or smaller then you can take a deep sigh of relief in the knowledge it will make little or no difference to your images whatsoever.

Do you need a DSLR and interchangeable lenses? In short, no. If you’re asking that question then you don’t yet know enough to answer it so there’s no point in shelling out thousands at this point. A decent point and shoot camera will produce stunning images in the right hands and a good one will have all the manual controls you need to learn how to shoot and decent image and to understand why a decent image was produced because of the settings you programmed in. Once you can do that then you’re beginning to understand photography and only then will you know if it’s something you’d like to take further. Now would be the time to decide if you want to enter the magical and ruddy expensive world of Digital SLRs.

VIBRATION

So, you’ve bought you’re first Nikon compact camera (ignore me, I’m biased) and you now want to take a few decent shots of your watches. If you take a shot of anything whilst moving the camera up and down you’re going to get blurry results. The best results will come from a camera and subject that are both totally still. Being as watches are not animate objects it’s easy keeping them still; keeping the camera still is a whole different ball game. Basically you need two things:

Firstly, a tripod (with tripod head).

Secondly, a remote or cable shutter release.

Look on the auctions sites and you can easily find an old Gitzo or similar tripod for £50. A decent ball head of Kirk or Arca Swiss type can also be sourced reasonably. I now use the Kirk ballhead below on my Gitzo G1098 travel tripod. On my Gitzo G1201 Mk2 “studio” tripod I use the Burzynski “Protec” ballhead. This combination gives rock solid performance and even with longer lenses and heavy camera bodies there is zero creep or movement. If you’re going to really get into photography don’t make the mistake of skimping on your camera support. Keeping the equipment still is just as important as the equipment itself so investing a few hundred pounds/dollars into good kit is just as well spent as investing in good lenses. In fact, if you don’t, you’ll render those pro-grade lenses useless and you’ll never know exactly how good they can be.

TRIPOD & TRIPOD HEAD

Keep in mind that if you’re using a compact point and shoot camera you don’t need the heftiest of tripods or tripod heads. Only if you’re going to support a big DSLR plus lens will you need something a bit chunkier. 

A remote or cable shutter release will allow you to release the shutter without touching the camera. You gain an obvious advantage by not touching the camera at the instant you’re taking the shot, so these are always useful when shooting macro/close-up images.

CABLE RELEASE

If you’re considering expensive SD or CF cards think again. A decent standard run of the mill Sandisk card will do perfectly. The expensive ones are liked by pros as they have huge capacities and the write to card time is quicker. None of these are necessary attributes for someone taking pics at home of their watches.

SETTING UP

To avoid reflections buying a light tent will prove a worthwhile investment. They can be bought cheaply enough through the auction sites or online retailers and they fold away for easy storage. It‘s possible to make your own tent or light box using either pieces or white polystyrene or even a 25-50 litre see-through container with the pouring side cut off.

LIGHT TENT

Another cheap accessory worth getting is some coloured cards from your local hobby shop. Buy the matte ones which will provide good backgrounds for your watches. Try to keep these in good shape, though, or you’ll spend hours trying to airbrush the scratches and marks from your pictures in Photoshop.

OK, you’ve got your camera set up on  a sturdy tripod and pointed at your watch which is now sitting within your new light tent. Your remote shutter release is at the ready and it’s time to shoot some pics!!

LIGHT

The one thing that all images require is light. That can either be natural light or artificial. I personally prefer to use natural light whenever possible so I’ll often shoot at the weekend, in the middle of the day and in my conservatory where there is light in abundance.

If it’s late evening or when the light is poor you’ll need to provide some light yourself. What we want to try to avoid here is getting too little or too much light and also getting that yellowy incandescent light that blights so many amateur pictures. You can either buy some proper photographic lights to do the job or you can try and ad lib and use spot lights or desk lights. It really doesn’t matter as long as you have enough to cast the light you want. Ikea sells a range of desk spot lights which can be bought cheaply and which will do the job. Ideally you’d want one light on each of the three sides of your light tent and one shining from above. Most people will position these on the outside of the light tent shining effectively through the material with the material preventing glare by diffusing the light. Lights can also be placed within the light tent shining away from the subject, usually up and into the ceiling of the tent where the light will again be diffused and reflected back down onto the subject. What you’re trying to do here is to evenly light the tent rather than focusing all the light onto  the subject.

One of the things I love about amateur photography is learning to innovate and to make do with what you have. Achieving good results in your own home whilst your wife and children whizz all around you is a challenge and forces you to use some real initiative with both your space and your equipment. But, hey, that’s half the fun of it for me! Can I achieve results, comparable to a professional in a studio environment, with just a basic, home-made setup stuffed into one corner of my spare bedroom? Well, I think I can!!

Below is my latest and greatest set up which is still quite basic and not too expensive yet very effective indeed. It consists of a light tent, above which is a single Electra Masterlite 1000, supported by two simple backdrop stands. I had to fashion a crossbar out of a spare bit of wood but 15 minutes in the garage with a drill and a sander and job done! The reason a crossbar was needed was simply because I wanted the light shining down from above the light tent and a one stand solution would have left the light angled slightly from one side or the other. I also needed the light up and out of the way as that spare bedroom is not big..

SPARE BEDROOM STUDIO

You can also buy electrically powered light boxes which have built in lights and are normally made of some kind of plastic. Auction site sellers peddling jewellery will often use these and there’s no reason why they wouldn’t work with watches if used correctly.

Now if you want to really complete your setup and have all lighting bases covered you just need to add a couple of side-lights. These can be purchased for about £40 for two from the auction sites/online or you can even use simple desk lights with a high wattage eco type bulb like the kind you get from Ikea. Once installed you want your setup to look something like this:

SIDE-LIGHTS

FLASH

The other way to gain light is by using a flash gun. You don’t want to use the built in flash so if you’re using a compact camera this is not normally an option as they don’t normally have a flash shoe which you’ll need to connect a flash gun. If you use your built in flash you’ll be flashing straight at the watch and that will result in unwanted reflections and glare.

The best way to utilize a flash gun is to either connect it via the correct cable or use it in remote mode if it has that function. Put the flash into TTL mode and point it into the roof of the light tent, away from the subject. I’ve also managed decent results by firing it up into the ceiling of a room which had a quite low and white ceiling. The light tent will generally work best, though. What you’re doing here is again diffusing the light using the ceiling of your tent and reflecting a much softer and consistent light across your subject. If done correctly you’ll also be able to eliminate all or most of the shadows around your subject, too, giving the feeling to the image that your watch is hanging in mid-air.

MANUAL MODE

The best way to shoot macro images is always going to be manual mode as that gives you complete control over your results. (If your camera doesn’t have this setting then you can just move on to the next stage of the guide) Flip your camera into manual mode and if you’re using a point and shoot you’ll also want to put it into macro mode. Macro mode is normally represented by a small tulip/flower in the menu.

From now on this section will relate to people using DSLRs. For those using compacts if you have the ability to follow these steps (if your camera includes these manual controls) then go ahead and follow them.

Firstly, make sure you’ve set your White Balance setting to Auto and chosen which image format and quality the camera is to use. If you’re using a DSLR I’d suggest using RAW if you’ve got an image processor that can deal with that format or JPEG Fine if not.

The next thing to set is the f-stop. Generally speaking an F-stop between f8 and f16 will give you the best results if you want the whole watch to be sharp and in focus. If you’re using, say, a lens with a lowest f-stop of 2.8 and you use it at f2.8 you will be allowing in the most light that’s possible but the only part of the watch that will be in focus is the part your lens is focused on. So lets say you’re taking a picture of a Rolex Sub and you focus on the Rolex crown logo, the crown logo will be nice and sharp but the rest of the dial and watch will appear blurred. By using f11 instead you’ll have less light coming in so you’ll need a slower shutter speed but the whole watch will be nicely sharp and in focus.

The next thing to set will be the shutter speed and only you can do that as it will depend entirely on which f-stop you’re using and how much light is available or produced around the image. The great thing about digital photography, however, is it doesn’t really cost anything to do some test shots so focus your image and get everything just right and then fire off a shot. On the screen at the back of the camera you’ll soon see if there is too little or too much light. If there’s too little you need a slower shutter speed and if there’s too much you need a quicker shutter speed.

Alternatively you could buy a light meter but what I’m really trying to do here is to provide a quick guide for the beginner who will normally have minimal equipment and will probably want to keep the costs down as much as possible until he or she knows without doubt that he or she wants to take the hobby further.

PROCESSING YOUR IMAGES & PHOTOSHOP

MY HOME OFFICE

Right, you’ve taken the shots you were after, slotted your card into your computer and it’s now time to process the images. Rarely will your images be perfect straight out of the camera. For a start they’ll probably be huge so you’ll need to re-size them.

With film cameras we used to take a roll of film and tweak the results by using different kinds of chemicals and times whilst developing it. With digital images we do exactly the same thing but instead of using chemicals we use software.

I’ve heard some people bleating that the best photographers get their images right straight out of the camera without the need to process them. That’s basically rubbish. Nikon cameras, for example, do not apply a great deal of in-camera sharpening to the images, instead leaving the photographer to apply the right amount and type of sharpening to the images during processing. I rest my case..

My personal preference is to use Photoshop and the version I currently use is CS4. Photoshop is a brilliant image processor but it’s also very big, rather expensive and overkill for most image processing. If you think you’ll take the hobby further it can be a good investment, though and it’s easier to learn to use one program than to learn one now, get used to it and then learn to use another one later.

If you don’t want to spend the money you need to download and install one of the free processors like Gimp. Gimp is perfectly usable and will do pretty much everything you need and then some so it’s well worth giving it a try, especially as it’s completely free of charge.

http://www.gimp.org/

As a simple guide to getting your images looking good you can get away with doing the following:

    1.  Crop the image. Select the crop tool and cut away the parts of the image you don’t want. For example, you may want to only show someone the condition of the lume on the dial of the watch. OK fine, select the part of the lume you want to show then from the menu at the top click “Image” and then “Crop”. You are now left with the composition and image you’ve chosen.
    2.  Size the image. For the purposes of the internet you’ll generally want to size your images to between 640 and 1000 pixels wide. Decide how big or small you want them, then from the menu at the top click “Image” and then “Image size”. This will result in a box in which you can select both the width and height of your image. Make sure it’s set to autosize the rest of the image proportionately once you enter the width. In other words, when you enter the width the height should change automatically to maintain the image size parameters.
    3. OK, nearly there. Now do the following: from the menu at the top:a. Click “Image” then “Auto Tone”
      b. Click “Image then “Auto Contrast”
      c. Click “Image” then “Auto Colour”
      d. Click “Filter” then “Sharpen” and sharpen between 30% and 50% or as required to look life-like and natural. You can also select “Unsharp Mask” and use that to sharpen, resulting in a softer, more subtle sharpening effect or you can combine the two in a two stage process. Only you can see how much or how little sharpening is required, if any but try not to over sharpen.
    4. Now from the menu at the top click “File” and then “Save for web and devices”. Save the image as either a JPEG or a PNG file on your computer. A PNG 24 file will contain more info and therefore be larger. For the web a JPEG will be just fine. Save the file at maximum quality as often the image quality will be automatically reduced when you upload them to certain sites for viewing and you can always make a lower resolution copy later. What you can’t do is increase the quality later if you only saved it at 50% quality from the start.
    5. OK, now you want to show that images on, let’s say, a watch forum. Before you can do that your images will need to be uploaded to the internet. There are various free sites you can upload and save images on including sites like Photobucket and Flickr. Choose which one you want to use, register an account and then login to that site. Let’s assume you chose Photobucket. Once you’ve logged in click the “Upload” button and in the resulting new page click it again. Up comes a box from which you need to find and select the image(s) you’re going to upload. Once you’ve selected the correct image click “Open”. Your image will then upload to the site and once done click “Save and return to my album”. Finally, hover your mouse over the thumbnail image of the one you want to show. A menu will drop down. Click on the last one of the four image codes and that code will automatically be copied to your mouse. Go to the forum, login, start a new thread and in the editor simply paste in the image code. Post your thread and there for all to see will be your picture of your much treasured watch!

LUME SHOTS

You’ll often see what are commonly known as “Lume Shots” posted within articles describing new watches that have entered the market place and it’s common place for forum members to post such shots of newly acquired watches. What the posters are trying to show is the intensity of the luminosity of the material used on the indices or plots of their watches. In other words, how brightly those plots will glow in the dark. The visual effect of such shots can be quite impressive to the point that you might presume that they’re quite difficult to take but, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Lume shots are some of the easiest to master and require minimal editing/post processing.

The basics are the same as above. Set up your camera and lens on a sturdy tripod. Put your watch on some kind of watch stand or improvise and then place it within a darkened light tent. I use a standard light tent over witch I drape a blanket to blackout any light completely on all sides except the one I’m shooting from. If you don’t have a light tent then a large cardboard box or similar will suffice. Switch the lights on around you so that you have a clear view of the watch and frame and focus the shot. Your camera should be in manual mode and using an f-stop of f8 -f11. If you’re camera does not have manual mode then you’ll have to rely on either Program mode or Auto mode and your resulting image may need a wee bit of tweaking in Photoshop or similar to get the desired final result. For the purposes of this guide, though, we’ll assume you do have manual mode.

OK, you’ve now focused and framed the shot. Set the shutter speed to a 15 second exposure. Now take a small LED torch (or whatever decent torch you have to hand) and shine it for about 10 seconds on the dial of your watch. Once done you’ll see the indices shining quite intensely. Turn off all the lights in the room so you’re preferably now in complete darkness. Using your cable release, wait for a 5+ seconds for any vibrations to settle and then fire off a shot. Having looked at the resulting image, if you would prefer a slightly lighter or slightly darker image then either increase or decrease the shutter speed respectively.

Once done place your memory card in the computer and transfer your image to your image editing software. Carefully remove any unwanted reflections and crop the image to where you want it. Using auto-adjust settings (tone, contrast, colour) will normally not work in this instance as the program will often be fooled by the luminosity but you should find that those settings should be just about spot on straight out of the camera. The only adjustment I apply is a little bit of sharpening (max 50%) and that’s because Nikon cameras deliberately apply minimal in-camera sharpening so you always need to apply that during post-processing.

Your results should look something like this:

15 secs

8 secs


COMBATING REFLECTIVE CRYSTALS

Now, here’s an interesting tip: the crystals on watches are generally very reflective, even ones with AR coating, especially when we’re taking a picture at an angle with the watch face taking light from a direct source, even daylight. One method of combating this is to use a circular polarising filter. However, it’s a wee bit more complicated than that as the CPF will generally reduce the overall light in the picture requiring a stopping down of the lens and may also cause colouration to the watch case and bracelet that may not be wanted.

Here’s what to do:

1. Following the usual steps above to set up the image you want to capture.

2. Take the first shot as normal and check to make sure you’ve got the shot you want. Your first shot, reflections and all, will look something like this:

With reflection

3. Attach your circular polarising filter to the lens, stop the lens down about 3 stops (say from f11 to f16) and take the shot again.

4. Import both images into Photoshop.

5. Post process the first images so it’s as good as it can be.

6. Open the second image and with the lasso tool mark around the outside of the dial of the watch. Once done, copy the section to your mouse, open again the first image and paste that dial into the first image.

7. Position the “new dial” correctly so that it sits right within the first image.

8. Colour correct it and sharpen it to your taste.

9. Save that image and you’re done.

The resulting image will look something like this:

With Circular Polarising Filter


IPHONE & CAMERA PHONES – ARE THEY GOOD ENOUGH?

Well, the simple answer is “yes”!! If you’re only planning on publishing your images on the net or printing to A4 or less then your newer camera phones now produce images that far surpass the original digital cameras. There are, however, three vital areas that you need to concentrate on:

1. Keep the phone still!!

There are very few solutions for keeping an iPhone still but keep it still you must!! Manufacture what you will but some kind of tripod for your phone will increase the quality of your images 10 fold. There are little tripods available on the auction sites which will do the job but I find a Magic Clamp works well and gives me a little more flexibility.

Magic Clamp

If your camera phone has a shutter release delay function then use it. No matter how you hold the camera still when you tap the screen to take the shot your phone will vibrate a little. If you use a 3-5 second delay the phone will have had time to stop moving by the time the shutter fires.

2. Try to maintain enough light!

Light is your friend with camera phones. Whilst the camera itself might be OK the f-stop of the lens will not be great so add some light as above or your photos will be grainy at best. 

3. Know how to process your digital negatives!!

Doesn’t matter how good your camera is, if you can’t process the digital negatives it produces you’re in trouble. Make yourself au fait with Photoshop, Gimp or similar and your images will come alive.

IPHONE 5 IMAGE:

iPhone 5 Pic

I HOPE THIS HAS HELPED

This guide is intended for beginners to show them how to quickly take a decent image and post it on the internet. There are a million other things you can learn whether we’re talking about image composition, technique or post processing. However, once you’ve mastered the basics, taking photographs becomes a lot more fun and rewarding and the likelihood is you’ll then want to take it further and learn the rest. Many people fall at the first hurdle as they simply feel overwhelmed and their shiny new DSLR just sits in its’ box until it’s eventually sold at a significant loss. I hope this guide will help you get past that first hurdle and into what can be a very exciting and rewarding hobby.