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19 Oct 2013

I had seen several YouTube videos and read various articles on how watches are beautifully captured under studio lighting. Most of these videos and articles have one thing in common, which is the extensive hours needed on the setup and control on the lighting, and the post-production work to touch-up.

I had an everyday Rolex Explorer II which I've not worn for about a month, and this gives me the perfect opportunity to try out and experience on my own.

Choice of Watch Affects Composition of Photograph

From the start, I had a clear idea on how I want my Rolex watch to look like in the photograph - upright, standing and with white gradient background. However, problem is that I don't have a watch that could "stand upright" as the metal wrist strap of my Rolex watch is the soft and flexible type (so is my other AP watch).

I ended up spending almost an hour making the metal straps oval in shape (i.e. looks as though it is worn round the wrist) and then of course standing upright with the watch bezel facing at 45-degree angle. I do so by twisting and bending a bunch of metal wire and attached them behind the wrist strap.

The Watch Hand Should Not Be Moving

As I will be focus stacking a couple of shots to ensure a sharp end-to-end picture, the watch hand should not be moving at all. Since my watch has already stopped moving, I was extremely careful in not to accidentally shake it and cause it to move again.

Accident does happen - the watch was waken up by minor accidental "shake" while trying to attach the wire frame behind the wrist strap. Since it was just a minor movement on the watch, I know the watch will stopped moving again in less than an hour. While waiting for the watch to stopped moving again, I proceed with lighting setup and test shots.

Note: I'd noticed that most watch pictures have the hour and minute hand at around 10 past 10, with the seconds hand at around 25-seconds position. I do not know how to get the seconds hand to stop exactly at 25-seconds position, and thus have to do with where it had stopped.

Diffuse Light Reflection on Watch

My initial setup produced a disastrous outcome with the test shots. Lights were bouncing unevenly off either on the glass surface, the metal bezel and the straps. It was lucky for me that Rolex Explorer II has a relatively matt metal bezel and strap surface, but there are still a lot of efforts to control just the sufficient and even amount of light falling on them.

I had to do major shifting of my lighting at least 3 times into the right position that I wanted before starting to fine-tune them. I had to use a lot of diffuser (e.g. translucent papers) to stop-down (or eve block) some of the lights falling on the subject and reflectors to illuminate areas that strobe lighting could not reach. Some of which I had to self-made on the spot by cutting both white and black cardboards, and placing them in different positions around the watch.

I take test-shots as I fine tune the control on the lighting. I zoomed in at 100% on every single part of the watch to look at the details of the lighting. Special attention were paid on bent surface (e.g. the area around the turning knob) as I find that controlling lights on bent surface were the hardest.

The entire lighting adjustment took me around 4.5 hours with about 50 test-shots taken before I ended up with the final one where I think it is the most satisfied and best I can do with the lighting equipment that I have. This is the most extensive studio lighting setup that I've done so far.

Cleaning the Watch (It's Not a New Watch!)

While zooming in at 100%, I noticed there were dirt stains on the watch and glass surface had my fingerprints! I cannot described how disgusting it felt to see dirts collecting at places that are not visible to the naked eye. There were also couple of minor scratches.
I took out the watch carefully from the shooting position and tried my very best to clean it with cleaning agent a couple of times. Obviously I will not be able to clean off all the dirt stains in the small little edges and corner which will appear in the photo which I have to live with it - after all this is a everyday watch which I've worn for years.

I'll keep in mind to photograph my next new watch (hopefully I get it as a Christmas present ^.^) before wearing it.


In my post-processing, I did almost no adjustments - just the curves to give it a little bit more contrast. I could if I want but chosen not to clean up the scratches or dirt stain on the watch and leave it as it is.

After about 6+ hours of hard work, I finally had my very own product photography of a Rolex watch! No words can describe how I felt seeing the final picture given the amount of efforts that I've put in. Perhaps, it may not be the greatest Rolex watch picture to you, but it is definite a great experience for me.

At this point, I think that those professional product photographers had really done a great job behind the scene with their pictures to bring out the branding of these luxury watches. Each time, you walked past a watch poster ads, you should stop by for a minute to enjoy the amount of details that was captured in the picture :)

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