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Behind the Scenes - The 'classic' watch shot
“There isn't a way things should be. There's just what happens, and what we do.” ― Terry Pratchett What does a watch mean to you? Is it a tool which informs you of the time? An accessory which denotes your status? An adornment which brings a look together? I have a passion for watches, and have been collecting them since my grandfather gave me his fob watch. It was the very first treasure I was able to touch and connect with personally, and the feeling which I had then is one which I still experience when I am photographing a watch. I seek to capture the passion which such a treasure inspires in me, as well as the watch itself, the design, intricate details, the craft and workmanship which has gone into its creation, which is easier said than done. Watches are one of the most complex items to shoot because they are mostly reflective surfaces along with very small 'macro' detailing and it is therefore imperative to eliminate all outside reflections that might disrupt the lines. In the case of this beautiful Vintage Jean Paul Gaultier watch the final image needed to be clean and classic, emphasising the simple lines, beautifully finished strap and the contrast of silver dial detailing against the stark white hands.
The first task is to set the hands to ten past ten. The watch is then thoroughly cleaned of dust and fingerprints. To do this I wear fine cotton gloves and use a dry lens cloth to wipe down the watch. I never use any form of liquid cleaning agent that can damage the surfaces of the watch. A blower removes the final specks of dust. The watch is then placed on a black reflective riser upon a specially designed product table. If the watch requires fixing to keep it from moving, I use prop wax which holds the watch firmly in place without damaging the strap. The watch strap is kept in a wrist-formed circle with specialist C-clips. I chose to shoot this watch on a black background as a strong contrast to the stainless steel case and strap, and to complement the watch's black face.
The camera is tethered to a high definition monitor to enable me to review the photograph as I set it up, ensuring that the lighting and positioning is perfect before firing the shutter. At SDDP we use continuous lighting as opposed to flash because this gives us greater visual control over the composition of the shot. Every subtle movement of the lights is instantly reflected in real-time on the monitor. We have 3 large 500w sculpting lamps and one very large 1000w lamp for flooding as well as two smaller 250w lamps for modelling to control highlights and shadows. The main two lights at either side of the table are set behind large fixed diffuser panels which soften the light and avoid hard reflections that spoil the flow of the watch. The lights can be shone at equal intensity or in the case of a watch dial with raised detailing, one can be turned away to accentuate this detail.
With the Vintage Jean Paul Gaultier timepiece I used an additional hand-held LED panel light to bring out the face of the watch, held at an angle that reduces the risk of flattening the details by over exposing them. If the watch has gemstones then a special 'sparkle' lamp is used which makes the stones pop. Once the setup is complete, I fire off a number of shots at varying exposure times and depths of field, adjusting the lighting to best capture each element of the shot. In my experience the best watch photographs are rarely captured in a single frame but are a composition of several frames. I shoot in raw format and edit the images in raw software as this allows for rebalancing of colours, subtle adjustment of the whitepoint, sharpening and clarifying the image before it is converted to Photoshop format.
No matter how much care has been taken in the initial set-up of the watch shot, you are effectively taking a small object and potentially blowing it up to fit on a 4 metre exhibition panel. At this size, or even at A4 magazine size, every tiny flaw and speck of dust, invisible to the naked eye, will be there for all to see. This is where Photoshop comes in to its own. To create the final, high resolution image that will appear in the magazine, flier, brochure, advert, exhibition panel, Photoshop is the software which I use to combine the shots taken, retouch any dust which might have been missed and smooth out the lighting if required. This is often the most time-consuming part of the entire process, however to achieve a desired result, attention to detail, precision, and dedication, is of the essence. I am unsure what Terry Pratchett would make of the final image, but this is what happens and it is, undeniably, what we do.