Photographing watches is at once rewarding and challenging, though they do not always coexist: one can be deep in the challenge phase for some time before feeling any accomplishment. Watches require meticulous attention to detail and patience both when shooting in the studio and also in post processing. I spent long solo hours in the studio & in post for each of these watches, and it was well worth it.
There are certain traditions for commercial watch photography: you may have noticed the chief one among them — placing the hands at 10:10, 8:20, or 4:40. As with many traditions, it is best to understand the underlying reason. In this case, those hand placements typically framed the brand name on the watch face, keeping it visible to potential customers. Modern watches often have non-traditional branding placement and/or additional features present that should also be presented as clearly as possible. I found it necessary to bend the rules a bit here and there in order to best present the design features and branding.
Each watch presents a unique challenge in lighting design. There is not a one size fits all solution for a proper presentation of each unique piece. (I wish there was!). Shiny versus matte surfaces, curves, facets, textures all need to be lit and presented in a way that the consumer instinctively knows color, shape, finish. Finally, the timepiece needs to feel desirable, aspirational.
A fairly common approach to this type of product in the digital era is to make several images of the timepiece, with varying focus points and different lighting for specific features. These are blended in post processing to create a single final image. I chose to capture these images in one in-camera image: I’m not sure it whether it saves or increases the amount of time and effort, but it does seem to increase the challenge. Post processing then becomes more traditional, too: basic crops and color corrections, adjusting brightness and shadow. One interesting discovery for me was that new in box watches can have a significant amount of dust inside the bezel! Not at a level one would see with the naked eye, but when enlarged on a 27 in monitor, well, let’s just say that a fair amount of time is spent inside the bezel as well as outside.
As it happens, the experience gained shooting these Android, Police, Citizen, Stuhrling, and Oakley watches paid off in a recent shoot: As part of the Seattle Goodwill Glitter Sale shoot, a donated, used Marc Jacobs watch was among the items that needed to be shot rapidly in an on-location product shoot scenario. The hours spent on these watches helped me get to an acceptable image within twenty shots made in 12 minutes.
I have a couple more watches still new-in-the-box waiting to be photographed before I can start wearing them, but all of these watches are now ready for me to wear as the occasions arise, so that’s another win.
all images/content © Bret Doss, all rights reserved