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Discussion Starter #1
I posted this information elsewhere in response to questions I received about these photos of the Erroyl Heritage Rose (seen here with a different strap choice that I tried on a whim... and love)...

ErroylRose_black-strap-sm.jpg

ErroylRose_black-strap2-sm.jpg

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The question was about how I shot these, and the answer is simply with an iPhone and some knowledge of light. Figured I'd share that here as well given our shared propensity to document our timepieces. You can literally do this right now with spending a dime (assuming you already have access to some photo editing to for post-processing).

You'll need...

1) A camera, any camera, absolutely any camera... but in this case I'm using an iPhone
2) A clean, continuous lightsource... yes, a simple table lamp will work, but you will absolutely be best off with a daylight temperature or LED bulb
3) A large slice of translucent white material (could be anything from paper to a bed sheet to a big napkin)
4) A couple or three sheets of printer paper
5) Your choice of background

For that last part despite being a photographer (enthusiast, amateur) I have no clue about organizing some of the great still life compositions you often see in the great watch shots. I keep it simple, in this case a black fabric but really could be anything. Just remember the focus is on the watch, not the background.

There are a couple of key things to remember here:

1) When photographing a shiny surface, you are not shooting the surface itself but rather what it reflects, which in this case will be the white paper.
2) The bigger the light source relative to the subject, the softer the light. And soft is what we want here.

With that in mind, all you need to do is set your light source behind your watch with the translucent material in between to soften it up. Backlighting the watch obviously leaves it dark in the front, and for that you just need to strategically position some tented sheets of white paper for fill. Move them around and you will immediately see what is happening. But remember it's not so much the location of the paper but rather the relative location of your lens. You can fine tune in real-time as you look through your camera's LCD. The goal is to get as much even fill to light up the shiny/reflective surfaces as possible. It is these reflections that you are photographing.

With that set up, all you need to do is shoot. Play with the camera angles and you'll see how your position changes the look of the light. That is it. Of course you can invest in external flashes and softboxes and such, but for purposes of speed and simplicity this will get you where you need to be. Below is a production shot from another image for reference. In this case the diffuser is a 5 in 1 photographic panel that is a big white silk in a frame. You don't need this. Anything that the light can shine through and get big and diffuse is your ticket.

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This is the result following post-processing:

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When I say post-processing this doesn't mean creating the light. The foundation is the original photo. I'll clean up and apply selective contrast. Typically with Photoshop, but lest you think you have to make such an investment the above photo of the Deep Blue Daynight Recon was processed entirely on the iPhone with two great apps: Perfectly Clear, which magically just makes every photo look better without any further input from me; and Snapseed, which is a deceptively powerful image editor that allows global and localized adjustments.

This is obviously over-simplified. Make no mistake that the professional photos you see have a lot more going on. But this is the fundamental approach that you can play with. And, critically, you need no special camera and can assemble the rest of the gear with items around the house.

TIP: Your iPhone's earbuds also act as a remote shutter release. Just press the volume + button. This helps keep the camera more stable for sharper images.

TIP: Photoshop is unbelievable cheap now. Anyone who has an interest in photography can now easily have it. $10/month subscription to Adobe. And you get Lightroom as well which is arguably the de facto standard for asset management.

TIP: For Photoshop search up the following topics and you'll find a gazillion tutorials to set your straight: layers, adjustment layers, curves, selections, spot healing tool, masking. Sounds ominous. It's not.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Very cool! Thanks for the tips. Would this apply to video as well?
Yup. Big light = soft. Filming reflections. Light applies to everything. So many online "review videos" are so poorly done in this regard. And if you're doing voiceover use a proper microphone. The camera mic is purely for reference to sync a proper audio track. Do these two things and your video presentations will immediately have more polish than most.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Going to add a couple points that I missed earlier.

1) Depending on how bright your light source light levels may be pretty modest, which means shutter speeds get necessarily longer, which means it's very easy to take blurry photos. Where possible use some measure of support to stabilize your camera. And make sure you use the earbud cable release.

2) The iPhone camera, and all smaller cameras in general, have lousy dynamic range. That being the range from light to dark. So it's exceedingly easy to blow out highlights which looks awful. Make sure you understand how to reduce brightness on your camera (exposure compensation) so you don't lose important highlights. Better to underexposed and bump up the shadows afterwards in post. You can even do this with the iPhone camera app. But there's a limit as gets noisy fast.
 

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I've been taking pictures of my watches in natural daylight so far, with very mixed results.
This was exactly the kind of tutorial I needed, though I am considering buying a light tent cube for a few bucks on amazon.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
I've been taking pictures of my watches in natural daylight so far, with very mixed results.
You can still use daylight. Just get something big between it and your watch and reflect back. Another age old trick is to use the light coming in from a north facing window. Will almost always be nice and soft. Great for portraits as well.

This is an older shot but done from a window. Just didn't do a good job managing reflections on the crystal.



But hard light can also look cool. Was parking one morning and looked down on my console. Nice warm light pouring through. Laid down the Magrette and quickly shot this:

 

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Great tutorial. Part of the secret is to mess around with bits of paper (tin foil is good too) just out of shot. This was taken with an inexpensive Sony point and shoot with similar lighting setup.

PRS-53_1.jpg
 

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Discussion Starter #18
Great tutorial. Part of the secret is to mess around with bits of paper (tin foil is good too) just out of shot. This was taken with an inexpensive Sony point and shoot with similar lighting setup.

View attachment 8741282
Definitely. You take a look at a full blown commercial product shoot and there will be reflectors all over the place filling in the gaps. If you want to cheat and your camera is locked down on a tripod you can also grab a few frames and move the reflector around. Than stack them in Photoshop and mask in/out the spots as necessary. Pain the ass though.









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Thanks Jay I was going to drop hard earned on a light box and what not to do the same thing? I have fooled around a bit with different lights it works not too bad! Cheers Turboharm
 

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Discussion Starter #20
Thanks Jay I was going to drop hard earned on a light box and what not to do the same thing? I have fooled around a bit with different lights it works not too bad! Cheers Turboharm
Yup - this is nothing more than a deconstructed light box.

That said, you can easily make your own box at home with readily available supplies! Find a box of suitable size. Remove the flaps and lay it on its side. Cut out windows on the left right and top sides. Tape sheets of printer paper or wax paper or tracing paper over the windows.

{tangent: anyone think it's funny that auto correct in iOS changes "windows" to "Windows"?..

Get a sheet of paper or card stock or such and tape it to the inside top/rear of the box. Then let it roll down on a smooth curve and secure it at the front bottom edge. That forms a gradient. With your watch inside position lights at each of the windows and voila... Instant soft box. You could go a step further and make a front cover as well, lined in white, and cut out a little window to poke a camera or smartphone lens through. You can experiment with different colored backgrounds or bases.







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