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Watch Photography Tips

Learn how to photograph professional watch photos using key photography concepts and equipment

1. Watch Photography in a Nutshell

Simple steps for photographing jewelry watches

As you may know by now, jewelry watches are very difficult to photograph because they reflects in many cases up to 99% of the light they receive. They are very shiny, highly polished and above all this they may contain diamonds that make the job even harder.


In many cases, photographing a piece a jewelry watch is like taking a picture of a mirror – you will see all kind of items being reflected into the piece – the lights, the camera, yourself, the table etc. Also if you try to use your new digital camera to do the job, two major things may happen. If you use a flash, you will either wash out the item (over illuminated) or it will be under illuminated with lots of dark areas and uneven lighting from one side to the other.


The solution to watch photography is the use of an enclosed lighting system. The reasons are many. The enclosed system wraps even and balanced light around the entire product you’re photographing. The advantages include an even distribution of light, consistent natural lighting, elimination of glare, and illumination of hard to reach spots.


Tips for photographing watches:
  1. Use a closed photography setup with soft wrap-around lighting
  2. Perform a custom white balance according to the light you are using
  3. Be sure you have set your camera to manual mode
  4. Set your maximum aperture to the highest f/stop in order to get the maximum depth of field.
  5. Turn off the flash on your camera, and if you can, connect the camera to the wall using a power adapter. This will ensure that you not run out of batteries during the shooting session.

2. The Basics -Key elements in watch photography

Fine jewelry watches are hard products to photograph because of the nature of it's components. The metals, precious stones, diamonds and other elements that most fine watches are made up of, have reflective qualities that can easily show reflections, shadows and hard spots in photographs if the right tools are not used


Therefore, understanding the nature of jewelry watches and obtaining the right tools for photographing them is essential for producing high quality watch photographs. In our opinion, here are the six most important elements in watch photography:


  1. Continuous natural daylight lighting: To evenly reproduce the colors in jewelry
  2. Diffused lighting: To eliminate shadows and hard spots
  3. White Balance adjustment: To adapt your camera to the lighting enviroment used to photograph
  4. Depth of Field & Focus: To get a sharp and clear image
  5. Shutter Speed/Exposure time: To control the lightness and darkness of your image
  6. Stable camera mounting (tripod): To ensure your camera is stable to avoid a blurred photo.

1. Continuous Natural Daylight Lighting

Watches are very difficult to photograph because their shiny highly polished surface reflects, in many cases, up to 99% of the light it receives. If you use flash photography, you’ll usually end up with glares and hot spots. The key is to use continuous natural light which has the ability to evenly and accurately reproduce all the spectacular colors found in the different elements of watches. Therefore, for photographing watches we will be using fluorescent daylight light.


Remember: all of our photography lighting systems contain continuous fluorescent lighting in at least the bottom, right and left sides of the box. Other lighting systems, like the MK "The Box"™ also contain light on the back, top and doors. Other features include LED lighting, rotating platforms, halogen lighting and more.



2. Diffused Lighting

When illuminating jewelry watches, you have to make sure never to expose it to light directly, as direct light will be reflected on the watches, and will create hot spots and shadows. What you need to do is expose your watches through diffused lighting, which is light that has passed through some sort of light diffuser.


The diffuser should evenly spread the light, and eliminate all hot-spots, shadows and reflections. Remember, that all of our photography lighting systems already include natural daylight that is exposed through the boxes’ acrylic walls that act as light diffusers.

 

 

3. White Balance

A key element of successful product photography is white balance. You need to be able to program the white balance setting on your camera. Although many cameras will come with pre-program options or presets you need at least one custom white balance option. This means that the camera can "read" and self-adjust itself to be able to take pictures under many light conditions. This feature is very important.


If your camera cannot perform this custom adjustment, it’s very likely that you’ll end up with badly colored product pictures, especially if you are trying to take pictures of products against a white background. You’ll likely end up with all kinds of color variations: yellow, blue, magenta, green etc.


Do not misunderstand the white balance feature to mean that the background is going to be always white. White balance means that the camera needs to adjust itself to the ambience light you are using, to give you accurate and true colors of the items being photograph.


Want to learn more? View our tutorial on Setting the Custom White Balance



4. Depth of Field & Focus

Setting the Depth-of-field in your camera is an important element in photographing watches. The first thing we need to do is to take advantage of the maximum depth-of-field that any camera has to offer. The camera should be set to manual mode so that the smallest aperture (biggest "F" stop number) setting can be selected. This will allow us to focus the entire watch, rather than only parts of it.


The second thing we need to do is to focus the lens to get an image as clear as possible. Most digital cameras have an auto-focus option which can be used, please select this.


Want to learn more? View our tutorial on Setting the aperture and focus



5. Shutter Speed/Exposure Time

Cameras need to control the amount of light so that an image is not too bright (over exposed) or too dark (under exposed). Similar to our eyes, light enters through the lens and strikes the inside of the camera. Digital camera uses a charged coupling device (CCD) to capture the light of an image. Think of a CCD as 'film' in a conventional camera. Therefore, term exposure generally refers to a combination of aperture and shutter speed control to obtain the correct amount of light.



6. Stable Camera Mounting

When photographing jewelry watches, we recommend you to mount your camera to a stable surface (either a Tripod or our lighting systems' "L" bracket) in order to get the sharpest photographs possible. If you hold the camera with your hands, it is very likely that you will slightly move the camera while photographing (even if you don't notice - because we as humans can't perfectly hold it still) , and your photos will come out blurry.



3. Positioning your watches - using various watch stands

There are two major accessories you can use to hold watches while photographing, deciding which one to use depends on the type of photograph you want, or simply your preference. Watch accessories will help you position your watches in various positions and angles in order to get a photograph from the perspective you desire.

Watch Photography Accessories you can use:
1- Watch stand within a Tilting Kit, and 2 -Horizontal watch stands (shown below)


Positioning your watches correctly is essential for getting a professional photograph. When shooting photographs, you have to remember that you want to get the best shot possible of your watches, as it is your photographs the ones that your customers will look at and judge, rather than actual physical watch you sell. Thus, taking photos from the correct angles and perspectives is the key to successful shots.


1. Watch Stand within a Tilting Kit:
To photograph a watch with its natural look (as when it is being worn in someone's hand), we recommend you to use a translucent vertical watch stand. This watch stand will be almost invisible in your photographs, and will give you the freedom to shoot photos from many angles.


There are two ways to photograph a watch from many angles. One is to have a standard (non moving) watch stand and the other one is to have a watch stand within a tilting kit.


The standard watch stand (not pictured here) will not tilt, or rotate easily and effectively, and would force you to manually change the position of your camera every time you want to get a different angle. In the other hand, the watch stand within the tilting kit will allow you to have your camera in a stable position, while allowing you to easily rotate, and tilt your watch (rather than your camera); and thus allowing you to take photos of various angles of the watch.


Watch photographed with the translucent watch stand of the Tilting Kit

Watch photographed with the translucent watch stand of the Tilting Kit
This picture was photographed with a Photo-eBox™ lighting system and a Canon A650 IS.
Note: The photo's brightness and contrast were edited, then it was cropped. Nothing else

Titling Kit used for photographing watches


Full view of Tilting Kit
Bottom view of Tilting Kit
Side View of Tilting Kit
Full view of tilting kit Bottom view of Tilting Kit Side View of Tilting Kit
Click images to enlarge

2. Horizontal Watch Stands
When you'd like to take photos of the complete view of a watch, or when its fully open, we recommend you to use the horizontal watch stands. These stands may be simply used by opening the watches and placing them on top of the stands.

Horizontal Watch Stand
Photo using a Horizontal Watch Stand
Horizontal Watch Stand
Photo using a Horizontal Watch Stand
The set of two watch stands may be used for watches as well as bracelets by simply placing the watch or jewelry on top of the stand.
A photograph using the watch and bracelet stands. Done inside a Photo-eBox & Canon A650 IS

4. Shooting watch photographs without shadows and reflections

When photographing watches, there are certain shadows and reflections that might be necessary to create a three-dimensional look, or that you may simply want as a personal preference (View example). Yet, there are other reflections and shadows that are unnecessary and that you want to avoid in order to have a photograph that presents your watches in the best way possible (View tutorial on avoiding reflections).


The first thing you need understand about reflections and shadows is how they are produced and why they appear or exist. Though it may seem obvious, shadows are created when an object is exposed to direct lighting (which can come from light in a room, the sun, or through the use of a regular lamp); while reflections are created in any object that is composed of high-polish reflective materials such as metals, plastics or glass.


What you need to do, is to avoid this direct light that creates shadows, and avoid those surroundings that create reflections in your watches. Please read the following steps on how to avoid shadows and reflections in your watches.


Steps for photographing watches without unnecessary shadows and reflections:

  • Step 1: Get a photography lighting system with wraparound and diffused natural daylight. Learn why this is important and view various photography lighting systems.
  • Step 2: Place your jewelry item inside the enclosed photography lighting system. At this point, you are making sure that the surroundings of your jewelry are nothing but natural daylight and white backgrounds.
  • Step 3: Adjust your camera settings (Learn How) and begin photographing. The correct camera settings will allow you to take photographs with the correct exposure, focus, colors and qualities of your jewelry.

Note: All the following photographs were only adjusted for brightness and contrast.

Watch with shadows,
hard spots and reflections
Watch with no glares, shadows, hard spots or unnecessary reflections
Click image to enlarge
Watch with shadows, hard spots and reflections
Click image to enlarge
Watch with no glares, shadows, hard spots or unnecessary reflections

This watch was photographed outside of a lighting system box. It was shot using the room's regular light (ceiling and others).

Note: Please enlarge the image and look at the reflections and hard spots of light on the small round beads of the watch. Canon S5 IS used.

This watch was photographed inside the Photo-eBox II™ using a Canon S5 IS camera. As you can see, this image contains no shadows, hard light spots, glares or unnecessary reflections. This is due to the wrap-around fluorescent natural daylight that our lighting systems are made of.


Example 1: Watch on black background
Example 2: Close-up of image above
Click image to enlarge
Example 1: Watch on black background
Click image to enlarge
Example 2: Close-up of image above
Both photos were taken inside the Photo-eBox II™ lighting system with a Canon S5 IS.

5. How to avoid or create reflections on watches

As previously mentioned above, reflections are simply caused due to shiny and high-polish surfaces of metal, glass or plastic. As for jewelry watches, most of them tend to have highly reflective surfaces. When photographing a watch, you must remember that all of the surroundings of your photography location will reflect on the watch; therefore, photographing it correctly (by avoiding reflections) may be a hard challenge in the absence of the necessary tools. Learn more about the basics of watch photography.


In order to efficiently and correctly photograph jewelry watches you'll need to use a product photography lighting system, such as the Photo-eBox™ used in this tutorial, that will provide you with fluorescent natural daylight, wrap-around lighting technology, a shadow-free & glare-free environment and completely illuminated white surroundings for perfect white backgrounds in your photographs.


Once you are using an enclosed product photography lighting studio, and place a watch inside (while the systems is turned on), you will notice that the white walls will reflect on the watch. Yet, if you leave the front of the photo studio or box opened, you'll notice that there will be reflections on the watch as well. To illustrate what we are talking about, we have provided you with a visual explanation of how the openings of a photography studio/lighting system will affect the outcome of your photograph.


Learn how to take watch photographs without reflections: The following images illustrate various photos taken with and without reflections by covering and opening various openings of the Photo-eBox lighting system.


MAIN TIP FOR AVOIDING REFLECTIONS: Simply cover as much of the openings of the photography lighting systems as possible. Remember that you can't cover the opening for the camera, but you can minimize the opening as much as possible.


Note: All the following photographs were only adjusted for brightness and contrast, they were all taken using a Photo-eBox lighting system and a Canon A650 IS


Perfect Photograph of a Watch
This photograph has minimal reflections, no shadows, no glares, and no hot-spots
 
Same photo as above. Perfect!
This is how we took this photograph
Click image to enlarge
Click image to enlarge

This watch was photographed with the least amount of reflections possible, by covering all the openings of the Photo-eBox™ (except the camera's opening). The black reflections you see on parts of the wrist are the reflections of the camera, something you can't possibly avoid.

As you can see, the top of the lighting system is covered, the door is closed, and only the door's opening is open. To avoid the reflections on the watch due to this opening, we placed an extra piece of plastic on the bottom half of the opening. (As you can see on the photo)
Good photo, some reflections
Average Photo, many reflections
Click image to enlarge
Click image to enlarge

This watch was photographed just like the one above it (Perfect), except that in this photo we did not add the extra piece of plastic on the bottom of the door's opening.

This watch was photographed with the top opening of the Photo-eBox™ uncovered, and the door's opening open (through where we shot the photo).
   
Bad Photo, too many reflections
Bad or Good photo? It's up to you
Click image to enlarge
Click image to enlarge

This watch was photographed with the top of the Photo-eBox™ uncovered and the door completely removed (which caused many black reflections on the watch). Enlarge photo to see details.

This photo was simply taken to give a visual understanding of how the openings of the box affect the reflections on the watch. In this example we used yellow and green reflections.
   
Photo with red and blue reflections
This is how we took this photograph
Click image to enlarge
Click image to enlarge

This photo was simply taken to give you a visual understanding of how the openings of the box affect the reflections on the watch. Whether this is a good photo or not is up to you. One may consider it artistic, one may consider it patriotic.

The photo to the left was photographed using this setting. By placing a red cloth on the top opening of the box, and a blue cloth on the front. The door was removed for this photo.
   
Visual Guide for understanding the Photo-eBox lighting systems

6. Giving Sparkles to your watches using white natural daylight LEDs

Watches presented in jewelry stores do not sparkle as intense as compared to being displayed in the sun. While the sparkle produced by illuminating jewelry with metal-halide, halogen, and florescent lighting are good, it could be better.


New advances in technology have created a unique opportunity for the jewelry business. A scientific breakthrough in light emitting diodes (LED) has produced lighting that matches the full spectrum of the sun. As a result, retailers can now display their jewelry with maximum radiant potential.


Watch With LED Lighting

Watch with No LED Lighting

Click image to enlarge
Click image to enlarge

This watch was photographed inside a
Photo-eBox PLUS
while using the Mini-Lite
350-2 LED light with a Canon A640 Digital Camera. To view the sparkles and detail of the diamonds in the watch please enlarge the photograph.

This watch was photographed without LED lighting. This is a good photo, but you cannot see the "fire" and sparkles in the diamonds. It make the watch look more simple.

Watch With LED Lighting

Watch with No LED Lighting

Click image to enlarge
Click image to enlarge

This watch was photographed inside a Photo-eBox PLUS while using the Mini-Lite 350-2 LED light with a Canon A640 Digital Camera. This is a great photo, as it allows you to view the sparkles and detail of the diamonds. Enlarge photo to view in detail.

This watch was photographed without LED lighting. This is a good photo, but you cannot see the "fire" and sparkles in the diamonds. It make the watch look more simple.


New LED Natural Daylight Technology for illuminating watches:

Utilizing the new LED technology, MK Digital has crafted the SparkleLite™ product line. With MK SparkleLite lighting your customers will be amazed at the fire and brilliance of your watches. Using specially calibrated and color corrected super white LEDs, your jewelry has the ability to out-sparkle the competition.


While super white LEDs are great, SparkleLite products offer an additional design advantage. By placing the LEDs on a precise angle, the effect creates multiple points of light, which brings out even more surface sparkle.


Proper LED light illumination:

When illuminating your watches with LED light it is important to only use the right amount of light, not too much and not too little. Most LED natural daylight products will not allow you to control the intensity of the light with a dimmable switch, but in this example we have used the Mini-Lite 350-2, that does contain a dimmer switch and allows you to control the light.


Steps for proper illumination:

  • Step 1: Turn off the fluorescent light on your lighting system box - View boxes
  • Step 2: Turn on the Mini-Lite 350-2 or other LED light, and direct it towards your watch. Once you have the light box turned off, you will be able to see only how much LED light you will be using.
  • Step 3: Now turn on the fluorescent lights on your lighting system box.
  • Step 4: Take a photograph of your item. Check the photo to see if you like it.
  • Step 5: If needed, adjust the intensity of the LEDs to a proper level. The correct amount of intensity, is the one that begins to show sparkles and brings out your watch to life, but it's not excessively strong that it is too shiny. View the first photo shown above.

7. Artistic watch photography by using black and white acrylics

Have you ever seen and wondered how those fancy watch photos on magazine ads are photographed? - Well, here's one artistic effect that you can easily achieve.


Most watch jewelry photographs that are used for catalogs, online stores, eBay, or other forms of marketing, don't really look fancy - but they should. Because when it comes to having that cover or front page photo, or photos that will make a sale, you want to make your watches look very special.


A popular watch photography effect, is the use of a product's reflection on the surface that it is being photographed. This is a technique regularly used for photographing a very special and unique item, as it has as a purpose to make the product stand out and look "twice" as nice (the reflection).


Here's a photo of what we are discussing . Then we'll show you how to take it.

Watch photographed using a black & reflective acrylic

 
Watch in a white reflective acrylic
This is how we took the photo above
Click image to enlarge
Click image to enlarge

This is another example of an artistic photo using a white reflective acrylic. Although you can see the reflection on the white acrylic, this reflection is less visible than when using the black acrylic. This photo was shot using the

Photo-eBox II and a Canon A640 digital camera.

In this photograph you can see the way in which we positioned the Canon A640 camera, and the Photo-eBox II. Please note we had the door closed in order to avoid reflections on the watch. View how watch was set-up

Steps for photographing in a reflective white surface:

  • Step 1: Turn on the fluorescent lighting on your lighting system box
  • Step 2: Adjust your camera's white balance to the white fluorescent light. More
  • Step 3: Place the white glossy acrylic inside of the box.
  • Step 4: Take photographs, and enjoy the look of the photos!

Steps for photographing in a reflective black surface:

  • Step 1: Turn on the fluorescent lighting on your lighting system box
  • Step 2: Adjust your camera's white balance to the white fluorescent light. More
  • Step 3: Place the black glossy acrylic inside of the box.
  • Step 4: Add a black velvet or black plastic at the back of the box. This is done in order to get a completely black reflection on the black acrylic. Otherwise, the acrylic would reflect the white walls of the box, and would end up looking gray. See below
  • Step 5: Place your jewelry near the edge of the acrylic and the black velvet.
  • Step 6: Take photographs, and enjoy the look of the photos!
Please Note: You can add your own backgrounds when photographing watches in order to create uniquely artistic photographs.

Set-up for photographing with black or white acrylics

To set-up, place the black or white reflective acrylic on the bottom of the lighting system box. Then place the black velvet piece on the back of the box. Refer to the image below.


Visual Guide for understanding the Photo-eBox lighting systems

8. Tools & Accessories used in jewelry photography

Lighting Systems used:

Photo-eBox Plus™
Photo-eBox™ & Photo-eBox II™
Photo-eBox PLUS
Photo-eBox
   
LED Lighting used: Cameras Used:
Mini-Lite 350-2
Mini-Lite 350-2 LED lights
View product info
Canon A650 IS
Canon S5 IS
Canon A650 IS
Canon S5 IS
View product info
View product info
   

Note: The Canon A650 IS and Canon S5 IS with the necessary accessories may be purchased along with an MK lighting systems as a package.

Please view a lighting system's product info to view package specials that include a photography lighting system, a camera and essential photography accessories

   
Accessories used:  
Titling Kit
Black and white Acrylics
Black and White Acrylics
View product info