The vintage watch market is booming and, according to the New York Times, Instagram is to blame. In recent years, the hobby of collecting watches has expanded form stuffy old men in tweed to young professionals wielding hashtags, ready to flaunt their collections. But for every decent photo of a watch out there, there are plenty others strife with glared-out crystals, blurry dials and cases covered in reflections or flanked by gnarly wrist hair. Watches, as it turns out, are actually pretty difficult to photograph well.
That’s where Atom Moore comes in. Moore’s made a career out of snapping pictures of watches. He’s worked in watch and jewelry photography for years, has had several art exhibitions showing off his watch portraits and currently works as the art director for Analog/Shift, an online vintage watch retailer respected for both its unique curation and excellent photography. Here is his advice on mastering the deceptively tricky art of shooting wrist watches.
1Staging. If you’re going for a little more than just a wrist shot, the background and props you choose can go a long way. “You want to choose things that sort of go with the theme of the watch,” Moore says. “Is it an aviation watch? A racing watch? A dress watch? Is it vintage or more modern?” Since Moore mostly shoots vintage watches for Analog/Shift, he uses vintage props or aged pieces of wood or metal. Moore also says that if you are out and about and don’t have access to props, look for a textured surface to use as a background, like a quality wood or granite table top. And of course, before you start shooting, wipe the crystal and case to get rid of any fingerprints and dust.
2Positioning. “Glare is a huge problem when trying to light a watch,” Moore says. “You’ll see a lot of people putting their photos online and they’re like ‘how can I do better?’” His solution is actually pretty simple: “Just move the angle of your watch around even if its just only slightly.” This will also help avoid catching any reflections of you and your camera.
3Lighting. While natural lighting can yield good results, creating your own lighting setup offers more control. It’s also pretty simple. Moore suggests buying a single LED light (panels with multiple LED lights will reflect each individual LED light) — this could be an LED flashlight or a professional lighting rig. Further, he recommends using a couple pieces of folded white computer paper or a small white card to use as a makeshift bounce board to produce more diffused light. “Diffused lighting is great because it will give you this nice soft look, as far as the light goes, so you can see all the details pretty easily,” Moore says.
4Shooting with a DSLR. The complex dial — the hands, indices, logos and fonts — makes getting everything in focus difficult. Moore suggests going for a greater depth of field to get everything looking crisp. Most of that will depend on your gear. If you’re shooting with a DSLR or any other camera with a larger sensor you’ll need to remain further back and, ideally, shoot with a longer lens. Also, if your lighting allows for it, shooting with a higher f-stop (a.k.a., a more closed aperture) will also help increase the depth of field.
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