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Pylyp Sukhenko
May 12, 2021

Watch Photography That Works Time After Time again

in this article

Ecommerce is still on the rise – even though it probably is in its early adoption stage. Yes, online sales are still below 1/5th of all retail sales according to Statista.

There are more and more tricks and new norms invented by this multi-billion industry by the day, that are designed to bridge the gap between online and offline. But none is as effective as a good old professional attention-grabbing image.

The best thing is that, unlike shoes, suits, or dresses, wristwatches don't have to deal with the major deal-breaker of ecommerce – the size. Most of the timepiece items will fit most of the hands on earth – so watch ecommerce is so much more reliant on photography than any other fashion segment.

Squareshot, a professional photo studio in New York and Los Angeles has shot dozens of watch brands. We know what to zoom in on to get those sales flowing into your CRM. 

We thought our readers can’t roam this Earth unaware when we have all this insider knowledge to impart. Not on our watch anyways. It’s high time we shared it with you.

Key peculiarities of shooting a watch for an online store

Let’s start with some heavy lifting here. Down to business from the very first paragraph.

There are a dozen reasons why watches take a separate shelf on the medal stand of any professional product photography studio. Long story short: they are a pain to shoot. Here are some of those hardships:

A mix of textures and materials

Watches are made of an array of materials with different textures: glass, wood, leather, steel, gold, crystal, diamonds, plastic. They may all reflect and absorb light with different intensities as well as require varying light exposure.

A small object with yet tinier details

The watch is small as it is – with even smaller parts inside it - while the lights are quite big in comparison. So, a photographer often needs to use a macro lens and take multiple shots to get a specific detail in focus to further edit it in the final post production stage.

Glossy surfaces & multiple facets

Pretty much every watch has at least one glossy material in its design, but most of them would have several reflective materials combined, that are positioned at different angles in a piece. This particularity of this ecommerce product makes it impossible to shoot a watch in one go, but many shots need to be merged ultimately for a perfect outcome.

Specks of dust & scratches: the usual suspects

Needless to say, that specks of dust are to be expected on the image irrespective of how long you have been polishing the watch and if you used gloves and canned air just before the shot. Their removal will take some time at the post-production stage. That said, we still recommend using a cloth in gloves and canned air to clean the item just before the shoot to minimize the workload for the photo editor anyway.

If you plan to shoot a used watch, scratches are an additional hassle to address at the photo editing stage.

Setting time: 10 past 10 as the industry standard

When tasked to make a picture of a mechanical watch, one will have to take into account the time on the watch, which is complementary to design.

Just by googling “premium mechanical watches” in image mode, you will see that the majority of the luxury watch photography is made with 10 minutes past 10 and the second hand somewhere on the 30-33 seconds. This creates some symmetry and rhythm for the image. It does depend on the model of the specific piece though, as one of the hands may cover a vital crystal or design element when positioned at 10 past 10 – this is when a photographer may decide to deviate from the classical positioning.

In order to achieve this timing some models will require a crown to be pulled so that to stop the time with hands in the complementary position to the composition.

Shooting a timepiece: time-consuming endeavor

Oh, yes, due to all of the complexity factors above watches product photography service is so time-consuming and expensive. As it requires so much skill and time to produce a commercial watch image.

It's not uncommon that one shot takes 3-4 hours and another few hours in post-production.

Shooting tethered: what pros do 

In most cases, a professional product photographer will choose to shoot tethered when it comes to the image of a timepiece. When you shoot tethered, you have all your equipment talking to each other and synchronizing during the process: your camera, lights, PC, and software.

This setup is perfect as you need to take a series of shots when the only things that are moving are light and reflectors – or when you change the focus – but the camera and the object stay at the same very spot.

Focus stacking: the must-use hack to post-production

The stacking or focus stacking technique is often used in watch product photography. This method allows to end up with several shots, the only difference between which is the prominence given to a specific part of the photographed item due to change of focus, lighting, or reflector.

As there are so many parts in mechanical watches, a photographer will change focus to capture each layer in maximum focus. These images can later be processed in Photoshop or with specific software, like Helicon Focus – to combine all layers into the image, where all of them are sharp.

What is important for watches product photography?

Equipment used in watches product photography studio

While DIYing your product images is an option too many entrepreneurs resort to for reasons of limited budgets, watch photos are no good object to practice your skills.

Yes, it’s possible to take AN image of a wristwatch with your iPhone, but a proper shot takes a day, expensive gear, and a versed photo pro.

The minimum equipment requirement is as follows:

  • DSLR camera
  • Lens – or macro lens
  • Tripod
  • C-Stand / stand
  • Strobe flash or continuous lighting source
  • Reflector or diffuser
  • Helicon Focus / Adobe Photoshop/editing software of choice

Props: from water drops, smoke, leaves, ropes, and furs to slate

OK, when it comes to props and background choice – you can go as wild or as restrained as the design of the watch and technical task demands.

Commercial images, hero shots, social media images will benefit from both: textured backgrounds and creative props – as well as from human intervention in the shape of a hand or wrist.

Consider using textures like weathered wood, slate, a heap of metal details, or rope for men's watches. Female watches may benefit from silky or even furry textures, petals, leaves, a book, a purse in the background.

Is it a divers’ watch? Get yourself some diving gear to shoot against. A pilot timepiece? You guessed it – some pilot memorabilia or clothing will work well.

If you are shooting a premium item, consider giving the product a creative spin with the help of water drops, smoke, spray in the air, or ink in the water tank.

Plenty of time is just about enough to produce a picture-perfect watch image

You have to be prepared for a marathon when going into a watch photoshoot. If you are not trying to DIY it and use a professional photo studio, the mere equipment set up will take you anything from half-hour.

A few test shots before you find the right place to position your object, lighting, and reflectors will take another 20-30 minutes.

You haven’t even started yet though.

Allow a few hours to shoot just one watch and another few hours for post-production – considering you are working with a professional product photographer well-versed in making a commercial image of wristwatches.

Special Software for tethered photography & focus stacking

In the best-case scenario, you will be using tethered photography set up to produce a series of mergeable images for easy post-production. This means you will need the software that allows tethered photography and the software that merges them in one image ultimately [We recommend to use CaptureOne].

Courtesy of PhaseOne

Skills and experience will translate into quality work

You can DIY watch images, sure. But the resulting visual is going to be so much less appealing than that of a T-shirt or a bag. Due to the complexity level conditioned by a mix of materials and multiple facets of the item, it does take lots of expertise to produce a mouth-watering picture.

Types of watches: gazillion classifications that set the mood 

We are not about to go into detail on the classification of watches, as WatchRanker did a great job on this one.

These are the major types as a quick overview:

  • By style: luxury, fashion, casual, sporty, classic
  • Watch display: analog, digital, touchscreen, tactile
  • Movement-wise: Solar, kinetic, quartz, mechanical automatic
  • Power-source classification: solar, quartz, battery-charged

Why does a photographer need to take it into account? 

Luxury watches will call for a different angle, background, props, lighting than sports ones. 

The analog display may require a dozen shots to get each layer of parts with the right depth of field for further focus stacking, while an LCD screen may only need one shot. 

Touch Screen watch calls for a shot with a finger reaching out the screen. You get it.

When you start working on a new piece, it’s good to check out Google and Pinterest for some inspiration – specifying the same very class of watches in your search for more relevant examples. 

… and types of photos popular in watch product photography

An ecommerce entrepreneur looking to get some visuals for an online store selling watches should consider getting some of the below images:

Positioning: flat lay, hanging, ghost mannequin effect or on a human wrist

How many objects: solo object, a group photo of a series or lifestyle with other items & colorful props

What’s in focus: an entire piece, a part or detail, mood & emotion [isolated image of the watch against a white background is perfect for online shop product page, yet a model wearing it in context is preferred for commercials or social media distribution]

Angles: front, ¾, side to show the thickness of the metal, backside to feature the engraved series number.

We recommend getting at least 4 shots against the white/black background for the ecommerce outlets like marketplaces and an online store. If you sell through Instagram and Facebook ads, a couple of ambiance-filled eye-catching hero shots are a must on top of the basics.

Factors to take into account when planning a watch photoshoot 

Half the success of any shoot is in the planning. One saves a load of time and money by thorough planning. Here are things you can't afford to overlook when planning to shoot a Rolex or Omega.

Insurance and security 

If you are shooting premium timepieces, remember to take care of special transportation, security, safekeeping, and insurance well ahead.

Inventory management

Limited edition or signature series require extra coordination in terms of taking them out of stock without loss of potential revenue.

Cleaning, fixing, and reflective gear

Lint removal cloth and canned air should be on top of the checklist for the set.

Also ensure to have some nylon string, double-sided scotch, clippings to fix things in place if need be.

Get yourself a pair of scissors and some black and white cardboard on the set – in case you need to create a round shadow just over the screen, that you can place on the reflecting white screen and the like scenarios.

Be on the lookout for hand models. Always

Any photographer knows that models are not universal. Beautiful hands and nails are as rare to come by as the model face. You may come across as weird, but keep collecting the numbers of such models in a separate folder. Until the time comes.

Tethered setup gear

Shooting tethered reduces the post-production so much, so you want to make sure you have every cord, strobe, and C-stand available for the shoot day.

Goes without saying, one gets better, leaner pre-shoot check-lists with time, so we recommend you hire a professional photo studio for your first session and learn from them extensively for future.

Watches product photography costs: not designed to be cheap

One thing to remember when it comes to deciding to start an online watch store is that there is no such thing as cheap watch photos.

As one of the most complex, daunting, time-, and skill-consuming types of ecommerce photography, even run-of-the-mill white-background product page watch images are priced more than your regular fashion photos.

Then there is a meticulous watch photo editing service as the post-production stage.

While generalizations only give a rough idea, it's safe to allow anything from $50+ per image with no upper limit for premium timepieces that require models, props, and art direction. 

On the other hand [yes, we did intend the wristwatch pun again], who cares for the costs when the ROI is through the roof?

Looking for a professional product photography studio to take images of your watches? Allow our expert team to show how time can be working for you with every passing day converting more clients with our timeless imagery.

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May 12, 2021

Watch Photography That Works Time After Time again

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