Friday, March 20, 2009

Watch Photography

The key to good photography is lighting. Most often you want diffused, even light rather than point sources.

My wife bought a "portable studio" that included a light tent, a background cloth, a tabletop tripod and 2 small daylight filtered halogen lights. This was an improvement, but it was also a pain to set up--In our house it is hard to find a big flat area other than the floor that isn't already occupied. I'm too old to lie on the floor. I made my own version of the studio suited for my work area.

My watch workbench has track lighting, giving me 6 movable halogen spotlights. This wasn't meant for photography--it was a cheap way of getting lots of light to the small area where I fix watches. By themselves, the lights are lousy for watch photography--lots of reflections, hard to see detail. However, they did make a good base for lighting a light tent.

I took a square wire grid from shelving, draped sheer white fabric over it, and attached a magnet. The magnet sticks the grid to a shelf bracket mounted in my work area, and the sheer fabric diffuses the lights. Sometimes the windows will add undesired reflections. When that happens I clothes pin a dark cloth with a hole for the lens. The hole is cut off center, so I can get various heights depending on how I clip it. The camera's white balance is set for incandescent--otherwise chrome cases are likely to look gold. The kit my wife got included a background cloth, I use it.

This setup isn't perfect, but I'm looking for decent results with little effort--it succeeds at that. It is far easier to get good pictures with this setup than with others I have tried, and it sets up and stores quickly. The next addition is probably going to be an adjustable light that I can set up in different positions

For a point and shoot without good native macro ability, I velcro a jeweler's loupe to the front of the lens. Focus is essentially done by moving the camera--you have to use the LCD screen. I'm using jeweler's loupes, available from Harbor Freight. a 2 or 3x is about right for a wristwatch, the 10x for individual parts. . In this case, I cut the front half of the loupe off, to avoid shadows on the pictures.

My current Kodak has a bigger, better lens than most point and shoot cameras, but that gives its own problems--The lens is too big to attach a loupe, and when holding one in place, the depth of field is about 1mm--If I'm focused on the top of a part, the bottom is out of focus. You can see here that one arm of the balance is almost in focus, the spring below blurry, as is the pivot above. This can be controlled by manually selecting a higher F-stop number, giving a greater depth of field. Cameras with smaller lenses typically have a wider depth of field, so this isn't as much of a problem.

A tripod makes all of this much easier, and is essential when the shutter speed gets low, as often happens when I change the f-stop. You don't need a fancy tripod, a tabletop model will work OK, although a floor model gives more flexibility. My floor tripod has a rack to carefully adjust the height, which makes focusing by distance easier.

A quick and dirty alternative to the light tent is a flash diffuser. I used to use watch paper held in front of the flash. (watch paper is similar to wrapping tissue) Anything sufficiently translucent will help, even just plain white paper. This eliminates white balance problems, cuts the flash power down so it doesn't overexpose, and softens up the shadows compared to raw flash. The tripod is less necessary to prevent blur from camera shake, but may be useful to assist in holding the position for proper focus.


  1. Sev,

    Great, great, great! That is what blogging is all about! Sharing ideas that work.

    I've been struggling with my picture taking, but you have hit upon a fantastic solution to the lighting issue with point and shoots.

    Thanks again for posting it!!!

    Albert A Rasch
    The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles
    The Range Reviews: Tactical
    Proud Member of Outdoor Bloggers Summit

  2. That was quick. ;-)

    It's actually somewhat simpler than I had feared. The jeweler's loupe trick is pretty neat.

  3. Albert:

    Without the Internet, I never would have learned to fix watches, so it's even.

    I've never liked on-camera flash, even a separate unit on a 35mm. Back then I avoided using flash even when it would have been better.


    I was already contemplating a post on this, and I'm trying to avoid getting posts half started and abandoning them for months. I'm glad I did, because resurrecting my old Fuji mostly solves the problem of not having a lens I can stick to the Kodak for extreme closeups. Without using it as an illustration, I never would have thought to use it as a dedicated macro camera.