Lighting within the World of Watch Photography - Part One
Photographing watches is a huge hobby for a lot of people, and many watch collectors fall into watch photography to capture their favourite pieces or collections. The rise of social media has created a place for collectors all over the world to be a part of a like minded community, and a place to share images of their own collections.
Lighting is one of the most important aspects in photography to get right in any image. Sometimes you have no choice but to embrace terrible light conditions. Whether you’re in a room filled with warmer tungsten light, or out and about in winter time when light is extremely dull, rest assured there are ways to tackle challenging lighting! Although some of which may take a bit of practicing…
So, where to begin? The camera’s main settings that will alter lighting in your image are the aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. Your camera’s white balance can also be used to remove any incorrect colouring or temperatures that may be created by the lighting in the environment.
When experimenting with lighting you want to ensure that you do not overexpose or underexpose your image. Overexposure is when too much light is let in during exposure, resulting in the image being too bright. Below I've used an example of an overexposed image for reference.
Underexposure is the polar opposite of overexposure. The outcome will mean your image looks too dark as not enough light was let in during exposure.
There is a lot of creative freedom in photography, so although these rules of exposure in photography exist, I have also met many who experiment with exposure to create unique artwork. Never be afraid to think outside the box or experiment with photography. Creativity and unique styles is what keeps the world of photography alive!
If you’re wondering if your image’s exposure is right just make sure the image looks natural and correctly represents the subject matter. Strong use of shadows, complemented by lighter areas which maintain their colour and details means you’re doing it right!
Artificial lighting is hard to avoid in this day and age, from tungsten to fluorescent lights, it’s everywhere! On many occasions I have found that artificial light has either been my best friend or my worst enemy...
Tungsten refers to lights from lamps and ceiling bulbs that emit a warmer temperature, with yellow and red tones. Personally this is my least favourite light source to shoot with, especially for watches. It can change the natural colours of the subject matter, and additionally make it trickier to edit afterwards.
Fluorescent and strobe lights usually produce a cooler temperature, which additionally can create difficulties when photographing. Certain lights can also cause interference where the light will flicker and appear differently in each image. This is due to the lights frequency, where the light source changes in intensity or colour. To avoid this interference you can set your shutter speed accordingly to the bulbs current. For example, if the bulb is 50hz then try setting your shutter speed to 1/50 sec, ensuring that the lights current cycle is fully caught. If possible, you can also try introducing other light sources, such as natural light, to reduce the flicker.
One major advantage with artificial light is that it can give you a lot more control. At Geckota I use three Interfit soft boxes in the studio. Each soft box is fitted with daylight bulbs which have three settings, allowing me to choose how bright I want them. Additionally, I’m able to move the lights and direct them wherever necessary.
The use of daylight bulbs means that colours in images are more accurate. Certain details of watches can be a nightmare to light properly. A domed crystal or interesting dial texture can easily affect the colour or look of a watch completely through the camera lens compared to how it looks in the flesh.
We all love a bit of natural light, there’s no doubt about that, but it can be very unpredictable and unreliable. For me, the positives of natural light out way any negatives. Natural light provides a one directional source of light which is realistic and gives images a more organic look, rather than unusually lit or edited. Most photographers prefer overcast days where the light is a lot softer. Shooting in direct sunlight makes it easy to overexpose an image, which is why I try to just avoid it!
Diffusers and Reflectors
Diffusers are used to help spread light in photography. They enable you to get softer lighting, avoiding harsh, direct light. In the images below I have taken the same photo, the left without a diffuser, the right with.
Diffusers are a lifesaver within watch photography! Not only do they produce a soft light, but they are great to use for polished and reflective surfaces. I often use a diffuser to light the case and lugs, and of course, for flectos. If you are already an avid watch photographer you may have heard of the term flecto, if not then don't worry, I'll go into that a little more in a minute!
In the images above the strap on the right has been lit with a diffuser, and the light across the lugs is less defined, creating a gradient of light compared to the harsh lines on the left image. This has additionally helped reflect the polished hands making them stand out against the dial.
Although it certainly has it's advantages, every watch is different so you'll want to experiment with what works best! Another thing to consider here is the lighting on the crystal. The right image is a lot softer than the left which, I feel, draws away from the depth of the watch.
Reflectors are perfect to use when you want to bounce light onto a certain area without having to use an extra light source. I often use a small mirror to help do this, too.
Top tip: paper also works well as a reflector/diffuser. Maybe even get yourself a mix of white, grey and black card to practice with!
So, what is a flecto?
The term flecto refers to the light on the crystal of a watch. Personally, I love the use of flectos, especially as they add a subtle bit of depth to the watch. I avoid having a flecto across the whole dial as it can dilute colours or take away important shadows.
Below are two examples of how a flecto can be used to create two different looks. The left image is created with a diffuser giving it a soft gradient of light. The right image is without a diffuser and has a much stronger look. Each of these work well, so it's completely up to you on which style you prefer or what represents the watches details best!
Hopefully part one has been a useful insight to help get you started in watch photography. If you are wondering more about lighting then keep your eyes peeled for 'Lighting within the World of Watch Photography - Part Two'. We'll continue to talk more about flash, continuous lighting, placement, techniques, and lighting styles!