Photographing Watches for Ajwain

Vikram Narula is a watchmaker and watch customization enthusiast based out of Mumbai. His company AJWAIN has come out with a number of unique designs and concepts for watches. Past concepts include Kakori 8 Down, Break Free, Sholavaram, San, and त्रि.

The Backstory

Vikram is an old friend whom I met while I was part of the Chennai Parkour group, and we had trained together a few times. He quit his cushy corporate job to follow his passion for making watches, and as his expertise grows, so does the intricacy of his watch concepts.

I am also a fan of beautifully made watches, and while some designs can be very elaborate, intricate, and even ‘loud’, I personally favour simple, clean designs. Vikram found out about this when I posted a photograph of a Seiko 5 watch the SNK809 that I had purchased a few years ago. It’s a simple watch design, introduced sometime around 2005, and considered a beginner’s automatic watch by many hardcore watch collectors.

Fast forward a few years, and I was in need of a watch with which to practice a technique called Focus Stacking. I reached out to Vikram, and he obliged by sending me his watch “Break Free”. I was happy to see that this watch features a very simple design – a steel case, blue brushed metal dial with green lume dots for each hour, and steel hour and minute arms with blue lume in the middle of them. The watch came packed well in a beautiful wooden case.

Focus Stacking for Watch Photography

To photograph smaller products, one needs to use a macro lens. This is especially important because the camera needs to focus from a very short distance. In the case of a watch, there is a need to capture all the detail of the watch face, the movement (if visible through the back), the crown, the case, and the arms.

Lighting Watches for Product Photography

Being made of metal, it’s also very important to control the light that falls on the watch, and the way in which this light is reflected. This can be rather complex, but it makes sense to start simple.

Many watches are photographed with a soft backlight, and large, soft foreground lights. It’s important to use flash so that you can get a lot of light in, and thereby use a small aperture.

You may be able to see in the image below, that I had two lights in the foreground, with a very soft back-light. The backlight is important – it is responsible for illuminating all the flat reflective surfaces.

When anything in the studio, remembering a few physics lessons can be invaluable. It will help to guide light placement. The one to keep in mind, especially for product photography pertains to the laws that govern the reflection and refraction of light.

The angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection.

The Law of Reflection

Highly polished surfaces act like mirrors, so one must be wary about where anything in the studio is placed, as it will be picked up in highly polished steel surfaces. The backlight was diffused with a large diffuser, which is what the logo, the rim of the case, and watch arms pick up. Without this, they would all be quite black. There were other reflectors placed at camera left, and behind the subject, on its right. These fill in other excessively dark areas while allowing some of the texture of the brushed metal to show through.

In the photograph of the box, the AJWAIN logo, as well as the polished surface are brought out by the reflection of this backlight diffuser.

The Process of Focus Stacking

Once all the lights are set up, we’re ready to start the basic process of focus stacking. If you look at the images above, you’ll see that every part of the image is in sharp focus. This goes contrary to most macro photography, and a keen observer will notice that this is quite unusual.

Focus stacking involves combining the in-focus parts of multiple images to obtain an image that has a deeper depth of field than is typically possible.

In the images above, even when photographing the watch with an aperture of f/16 or f/22, only a small part of the watch is in focus. Combining multiple images where different parts of the watch are in focus allows us to create an image that is quite surreal in the amount of detail it offers. These images were created out of 7 images that were focus stacked in special software to create the resulting images.

Showcasing the Lume

The watch has two different colours of lume. “Lume” is a shorthand term for the luminescent paint that is responsible for the glow of the watch arms, and the hour markers. While the glow from the lume was rather bright, it was still relatively dim compared to the output of the flash. As a result, we needed to create another set of images which were taken with dimmed lights. The two sets of images were then combined to create the final result that you see here. The colour and shape were also enhanced in post production.

Finishing the Images

In product photography, the actual capture of the image is only the starting point of creating the final result that is seen by shoppers. The final step involves post-production in the RAW converter, the focus stacking software, and then the cleanup, retouching, and final work in Adobe Photoshop. These processes take many hours to complete and are a different story – to be told at a different time.

Get in Touch

The ColoursAlive team is always happy to face a challenge, and each product photograph poses its own unique challenges. We address them as appropriate, taking lessons learned in previous challenges, and adding to them the lessons that we learn as we shoot. Join us on our journey by connecting with ColoursAlive.

Connect with Vikram on Facebook.

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