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Pugwash's "How to photograph watches" - part one

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(This article first appeared on Tea-Are-Sea and is reprinted here by request)

Introduction

We've all seem the amazing photos dealers put up (yes, we're looking at you, Neil) to hock their wares and we've seen the eyecandy specials that make us drool inexplicably over yet another Panerai even though it looks just like every other one. We've also seen technical breakdowns with sharp details that truly are worth a thousand words.

And then we've all seen the rest. The blurry good-enough-for-ebay pics where you ask yourself if they make an orange Sub or a green PO, because honestly, it could be either.

And you sheepishly realise that you took one of those pics and you posted it here and got the mickey surgically extracted for your efforts. Or, you didn't post it because you realised the scorn that would be heaped upon your person if it ever saw the light of day. If this is you, this article was written with you in mind.

Everyone wants the quality of pictures to go up here, so I've decided to help people to take better pictures of their watches to increase the average pictures on this board, one reader at a time. I don't pretend to be the best photographer here, but if nothing else, you should be able to learn to take photos at least as good as this:

5328-6238.jpg

We'll get back to taking this kind of pic in part two, so let's speed through the essentials before we get there.

Equipment

What do you need? Well, let's start with a digital camera. Oh, and a watch. The question always arises about which camera to get, and the answer is usually the same: It doesn't matter, as long as it's a camera. No, not a phone, a camera. That's better.

There are several kinds of cameras, but I'll keep it simple and use three groups: SLR, SLR-like and Snapshot.

SLR is the one where you look through a viewfinder and it bounces through a prism and shows you the view through the same optics that the camera uses. It's the big fancy one with changeable lenses and the high price-tag. Common models are the Canon EOS-350 and ... the others. Yes, the Canon is that popular.

5328-6239.gif

SLR-Like, or Prosumer, high-end or any of the other titles is the pricey one with a big lens on the front and all the toys. It's not quite as flashy or expensive as the SLR, but it's nearly as good. Models include the Fuji Finepix S9000, the Sony DSC-R1 and the Panasonic DMC-FZ30.

5328-6240.gif5328-6241.gif5328-6242.gif

Snapshot cameras are the sort everyone has. Designed for carrying around and taking the occasional pic, the lens on the front is much smaller than the SLRs and Prosumers, but hey, at least they take pictures, right? In fact, in the hands of most users, these cameras will take pictures that are just as good as their more expensive brethren. There are too many of these to mention, but we'll assume you have one.

Controversially, for the purpose of this article, I'm going to lump the SLRs and Prosumer SLR-alikes in the same group and not even discuss them yet. If you believe you can tell the difference in quality of photograph between those two, this article is not for you. We're talking to the beginners here. You'll get your turn in the comments section.

So, let's start on a snapshot camera and take a pic of a watch. No messing straight into it! I'll grab my FinePix A204 snapshot camera and snap away!

5328-6243.jpg

Yeah, rubbish, isn't it. What went wrong? I pointed the camera at a watch and pressed the button. The flash went off and everything!

Where do we start?

Firstly, out of focus. Reason? Not enough light for the auto-focus.

Second, boring! Reason? No background or anything interesting apart from a watch at a flat angle. If you're determined to just have a picture of a watch and nothing but a watch, you can either do a TTK and use lots of black, or you can go press shot and use white that can be photoshopped out later. Or, you can go for an interesting angle, composition or detail.

Third, the shadow is too harsh and the metal too crappy-looking. Reason? Flash. Eww, flash. Horrible things that should be avoided wherever possible unless you really know what you're doing. How this happens is, once again, not enough light. Spotting a pattern here?

Yes, light matters, especially with close-ups like this.

If you don't have enough light, get some. There's very little you can do in low light levels... or is there? In photography you can trade time for light, so we need to keep that in mind, however we need to remember that slower pictures are also blurry as your hands wobble, and we don't have a fancy tripod just yet.

So, what we need to do is cheat. Set up your camera with the flash turned off and on the best resolution possible. If you need to, you may need to turn macro mode on, but let's not do that just yet, as it's a distraction. Next, set the self-timer on the camera to ten seconds, put the camera on the surface close to the watch and make sure it looks ok in the viewfinder. Now, press the button to take the pic and stand well back. In ten seconds, it will take a picture on a slow setting due to the lack of light, but this is ok as it's solid on the desk and won't wobble.

5328-6244.jpg

And there you have it, one picture to crop to a nice, simple picture of your watch. Sure, it's not perfect, but it's a thousand times better than the last one.

In part two, we'll deal with ... um, more stuff like reflections and composition, but you have the basic secrets of how to take an acceptable picture with an average, cheap camera.

ps. In case anyone is wondering, the camera I took the picture of the camera with is my regular tool, the amazing Panasonic DMC-FZ20. I used the cheap-ass camera because there's nothing I hate more in articles than the writer saying "it doesn't matter what you use, but I'm going to use something much better than you have and you'll never really know if it's me or my equipment."

pps. In the Irony section, I noticed afterwards that the watch glass had a smudge on it, but because I wanted to show you the actual pic taken with the camera pictured, I decided not to take it again. Mea Culpa.

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Now, that was an informative thread! Good posting!

Agreed. It also reminds me of The Zigmeister's recent post concerning people not finding information in the Experts area.. in this case, the Tips area... or in others the Knowlege area...I guess he is right... areas outside of general discussion just do not get the traffic... this thread was bumped and looked at all day. Makes you wonder if there is someway to get more visiblity around the all the usefull information on the other threads...

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Bump an amazing tutorial series for a sea of newbs.

Look at Puggy's signature to find the other parts to this series.

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I just bought a new camera DSc-H55 and I am re-reading this tutorial as to hone my photo skills. Thanks Pug!

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