Sharing can be as fun as owning… In fact, what would be watch collecting if there was not the fun of sharing it with other watch enthusiasts? These days, the best and simplest way to do it is by posting photos on Instagram. The watch community is undeniably strong on social media and it really can be great fun. But, in the middle of so many dull and uninspiring photos, you want to stand out and do justice to that new and cool watch you just gifted yourself. First try… It’s often a failure. And then you imagine that taking that killer shot requires incredible skills and expensive gear. In reality, it doesn’t. With modern smartphones (really, how capable can they be…), a few tricks and some practice, you can make that one photo to rule them all. With the help of Niklas Englund, an awarded product photographer from Sweden (here on Instagram), we’ll be looking at a simple, step-by-step method to improve your watch photography, by using your smartphone, without having to invest thousands in gear.
This article has been written by Niklas Englund (@englund.photography), a product photographer based in Vaxjo, Sweden. “My passion is in lighting, and I love the creative part in the process of making a very attractive image that stands out. I always strive to make the photos come to life with the product as the central piece.”
If you scroll through Instagram and look at your feed, you’ll see that most of the photos out there – by that, I mean those taken by amateurs and private collectors, not specialised media – are often the same uninspiring wristshot or a watch simply lied down on a table. It somehow does the job and is accepted by most, but there are ways to provide much better photos to your friends and followers. As said, it doesn’t require you to invest in an expensive DLSR and complex studio lights. Modern smartphones are already extremely capable machines, and with the help of a simple LED light, some diffusing elements, one or two simple tricks and some practice, you’ll be able to drastically improve your watch photo skills.
The idea and preparation
The first thing to do is to take a good look at the watch. Try to find something special to enhance. Does it have an interesting shape, colour or material? What is the strap made of? With that in mind, it’s time to think about a matching background, props and so on. Colourwise I usually try to find a background or props with matching tonality, to enhance the watch’s colour. It is also important to clean the watch carefully with a microfibre cloth or similar before photographing it. Fingerprints and dust are sometimes hard to see beforehand but are easily visible in photos. Believe me, it’s much easier to clean a watch than to remove dust on an editing software…
Next, lighting. Oh, the lighting! This is, by far, the most important thing in all photography and with watches, it’s no different… It’s actually even more important with a watch, a small object full of reflective parts.
Most watches have a lot of different shapes, materials and colours to take into account. When it comes to lighting shiny objects, it’s a bit tricky. Reflections, a blessing and a curse. The shiny object will reflect the light exactly as it hits it. So to make it pleasing to the eye, we have to soften or diffuse the light.
A simple, basic and affordable way for this setup is:
- A table lamp with led light – here, we want white light (a.k.a. daylight) and not the warm yellow tone of your house bulbs.
- A diffusor. For this example, I have used a thin, white baking paper. I made a frame of cardboard to mount the baking paper on. Tracing paper is also an efficient alternative.
A go-to position of the light is about the same angle as you photograph from. So, if you photograph the watch from a 45-degree angle, you can place the light source at a 45-degree angle behind. If you use a diffusor, the diffusor counts as the light source and not the table lamp itself. There is no exact right or wrong here of course. Move around to see what you like the most.
Since we only use one light in this picture, there will clearly be a darker shadow on the opposite side of the watch (picture 2). To counter this and to get some light into those darker parts, we can bounce light with something white. In this case, I used simple white paper which I folded as a screen (picture 3). Also, a very important thing is to get the room as dark as possible. Since I use continuous light here, all ambient light will get into the shot. By making the room dark, we have control over what the light does.
Depending on the scene, we normally want to compose the image with the watch within the “rule of thirds“. This is an old photography trick that’s been around for years, but you can still apply it to smartphones. According to the rule of thirds, an image is split into nine equal blocks that form a three-by-three grid. You want to place the important part of the image where the lines meet or cross. Because of the clean scene here, I chose a simple composition with the watch’s face at about a third of the image. Here we can see the amazing help of the bouncing light that fills the shadow part with light (pictures 4 and 5 below). These photos were taken and simply edited with a smartphone.
The next steps… Play around, try different angles and get a feeling of what’s possible or not. Keep it simple at the beginning, just to gradually improve your photos, with neutral backgrounds. Don’t start too soon with props and accessories. Not only they won’t make your life easier at the beginning of your journey, but they’ll inevitably add some reflections and disturbances. Once you get a good feeling of light and angles, then adding the props will yet once more elevate your photos.
Below are some examples of what’s possible to achieve with advanced gear such as a digital camera, flashes, props, thoroughly retouched and with a well-thought idea. In these images, I have used multiple images put into one. I often stack multiple images into one to make the entire watch sharp due to the limitations of depth of field. But this is clearly advanced level… Not for today. With what’s above, you’ll already be able to create that inspiring, catchy photo to make your new watch stand out from the crowd. And, of course, if you already have a DSLR, these rules equally apply.