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Vintage Heuer Discussion Forum
The place for discussing 1930-1985 Heuer wristwatches, chronographs and dash-mounted timepieces. Online since May 2003.
Often we see pictures of watches on the wrist of the wearer and for good reason. It allows you to easily move the watch into the best position to take the picture. Try it and you will see. The trick is to really look at the watch and not just admire it and try to find the best position which eliminates reflections, minimizes bright spots and gives good overall illumination. When you achieve this you take the picture with the other had. You will need an attractive wrist (bracelets optional), auto focus camera, a steady hand and good amount of light to keep the shutter speed as high as possible (minimum 60th of a second) to maintain sharpness.
I prefer to position the watch with some background interest, use a tripod with cable release for sharpness and strive to find the best lighting to achieve the same basic principal: eliminate reflections, minimize bright spots and get overall illumination. So this is how I do it:
Lighting – This is the hard bit. Get the lighting right and you are almost guaranteed a good shot. You need an even light source that illuminates the dial without creating bright spots on the reflective/metallic surfaces. I use natural light. Either indoors with strong window light or outdoors in the shade. Avoid direct sunlight which creates too much contrast. My current system relies on a fairly bright to sunny day. Finally and the best tip I can offer, I use a reflector to balance the light. So if I am using window light I place the reflector on the opposite side of the watch/scene to the light source. This illuminates the side of the watch that may be in shadow. I covered an A4 size piece of card with ordinary kitchen aluminium foil and it works perfectly.
I have not used artificial lighting (diffused flash or reflected spotlight) but I am working on a lighting set-up with daylight fluorescents. If successful I will certainly share this with you. Obviously a good artificial lighting system affords you the convenience of taking pictures at any time of day or night.
Set-up: This is where you can get creative by using props (watch boxes etc) and backgrounds to add some interest. Or, keep it simple with the watch on a watch stand and a plain background. Here are some examples:
Plenty people photograph watches successfully with a simple point and shoot camera. My objective is to produce the highest quality images possible. If you want my technique read on. If not at least try everything above and definitely make an aluminium foil reflector (and tell me how you got on).
Equipment: I use a Nikon D300 with either a 55mm or 105mm f/2.8 manual focus macro lens (the old pre-auto focus lenses). As I am mostly shooting indoors with window light and because I want to control the aperture (for dept of field/focus) I use a tripod, cable release and set the camera to mirror lockup. This eliminates camera shake when firing the shutter resulting in maximum sharpness. (Mirror lockup is a feature on some DSLR that helps to reduce camera shake when the shutter is fired).
Camera Settings: I use the lowest ISO (200 in my case) and picture quality is set to RAW. If you use RAW as apposed to JPEG or TIFF you will need RAW converter software. This would have come with your camera’s image processing software eg Nikons Capture NX. I use the manual setting on the camera but you can use aperture priority to simplify the process.
Taking the picture: Once I have the watch in place on the background I compose the picture through the viewfinder. This can be a time consuming process and will depend on what part of the watch or angle I wish to show and how complex or simple the composition. I then set the aperture depending on how much of the scene I want in focus eg f/11 or smaller for maximum depth of focus (front to back), f/4 or bigger aperture for minimum depth of focus (background with be blurred) and f/8 or f/5.6 for a mid range of depth of focus. If you use aperture priority setting on the camera the shutter speed will be set automatically. Finally, I will look through the viewfinder, focus the lens and position the reflector to give the best lighting without reflections. Finally, I take the picture.
I do not generally bother with the histogram but I do check the image on the screen for reflections and general composition. I zoom in for a better view and check for depth of focus. If the composition works, bearing in mind that the most time consuming step is the set-up, I will bracket the exposure i.e. on manual setting I will take multiple images at slightly faster and slightly slower shutter speeds just to ensure I get the best exposure. Its digital and it cost nothing to take multiple images.
Image Processing: My photographic background is film, the darkroom and lots of chemicals. I have given all that up for a digital camera and the computer has replace the darkroom. Getting the picture right in camera is essential and that has been explained above. However, that is just the beginning. The next step is to process the image in Photoshop or some other image processing software. Basic image processing includes rotating the image to get the vertical and horizontal planes correct, cropping, increasing or decreasing contrast, getting more shadow and highlight detail, sharpening, removing dust etc, etc, etc and that’s just the basics. I use the advanced version of Photoshop called CS3 but there is also the very reasonably priced and simpler version called Elements which is excellent. The image below is a compilation of nine separate pictures all shot using the same lighting and set-up to get the consistency. Each image was then cropped, resized and dropped onto a background that had a simple effect applied to it. All done in Photoshop. I pre-visualized this image and knew what I wanted before I started. It helps when you know what you want to achieve before you start and then execute the process with the tools that you have available.
Explaining how I set-up and take the picture is easy compared with explaining image processing so I would recommend buying a good book and take time to learn the programme. One point I will make. When you take pictures in jpeg file format the image is processes by the camera. In RAW format, the image is unprocessed and post processing in Photoshop is essential. A RAW file is much larger than a jpeg and consequently it holds more information which implies more detail and quality of the final picture.
If you made it this far I am impressed. I am more than happy to take emails if you have any questions or require more information on any of the points I have covered.
By Paul Gavin