Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Getting Tritium to glow

Ok you have to be into Panerai (or other watch brands) to know what the heck Tritium is. But if you do, you know that Tritium is no longer used and that newer watches are fitted with Luminova dials instead. The purpose of both Tritium and Luminova is to make the indexes, numerals and hands glow in the dark for improved legibility. An important difference between the two is that Tritium always glows... until it so to speak runs out. Luminova is charged by light and lasts much longer. Tritium develops a nice patina when it ages but Luminova does not. The patina is what makes these watches loved so much by collectors.

I could have sworn that the Tritium on my 2A (1998) was very dead. I love the watch but you can forget about trying to read the time in the cinema or some place like that. So getting a nice lume shot (a photo that shows how the hands and numbers glow in the dark) is out of the question according to most. Sounds like a challenge to me...

Luckily my SB-800 has a little button called "strobe". If you press that button the flash starts to fire until you let it go. We're obviously talking very very bright light here.

If you do this in front of your t-dial for about 10 seconds in a darkened room... Tritium back from the dead!

© 2009 M.Wilmsen

The ten year old Tritium in the above photo really glows this bright. No Photoshop boosting or anything like that. Oh... you have to be quick to take your photo because it lasts about 30 seconds or so.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Lighting setup for a PAM326 wristwatch

Although most people ask about what camera gear I use, I do get e-mails from people wanting to find out the particulars of the lighting setup for photos that I post on watch boards. It feels a little bit funny to write a tutorial type of post because I'm just a photography enthusiast and by no means a professional. But I'm happy to share what I've found after quite a bit of experimenting.

The lighting setup to use will vary largely depending on the result that you're after for a particular photo. And it also depends on the type of wristwatch that you're going to photograph. Stainless steel watches are of course very reflective and besides reflecting objects in the room, such watches also reflect the light. That can cause very distracting so called bright spots or hot spots. A setup with low power flash and either diffused or bounced light will get you better results for such a watch. PVD or ceramic watches however require much more light or there will be hardly any detail visible in the dark cases of such watches.

Titanium watches are quite easy to photograph. No reflections in the case and not too dark. And so the lighting setup for this picture of the titanium PAM326 Luminor Chrono Daylight was actually really simple and a good starting point for an explanation about a lighting setup.

Click for large size photo © 2009 M.Wilmsen

I made the diagram below to show how I took the above picture. Note that the watch in this photo was placed on a piece of stone but I used a small piece of cloth underneath the case to prevent scratches. Because of the camera angle (approx. 20cm above the watch and pointing down) you don't see this in the photo.

As shown in the diagram I positioned one speedlight low and behind the watch on the left of the camera to light the watch from behind and to bring out the structure of the stone underground. I placed a second speedlight at about the same height of the watch and slightly behind it, on the right of the camera. This second speedlight was used to light the dial and crystal of the watch with bounced light.

I cut a hole in a large piece of white glossy cardboard. The watch was positioned in such a manner that the white cardboard was reflecting in the crystal. The light from the second flash was bounced of the cardboard onto the crystal. There was no need to shoot the speedlights through a diffuser. Two more pieces of white cardboard were placed on the left and on the right of the watch but I probably could have done without those for this particular photo.

The camera (Nikon D700 + Nikkor 105mm VR) was set at manual and I used an SU-800 to remotely configure and trigger the speedlights. The speedlight behind the watch was fired with a power output setting at 2/3 and the second one at 1/2 power.

Most of what I've learned about off-camera flash photography can be found on

This "how-to" is also available in a slightly different version in the archives of

Related posts

PAM Zero and another off-camera lighting setup example

Please leave a comment if you have questions or if you find this information useful.

All photos © 2009 M.Wilmsen

Freezing water droplets

After seeing some really nice pictures of water droplets frozen in mid air, I thought it would be cool to take a photo of a wristwatch (what else) with water splashing from its crystal. What watch would be better suited for that than a 243. I mean at least I wouldn't have to worry about the watch being water resistant. It doesn't say 1000 meters on the dial for no reason right?

You can click the photos for a larger version.

My first attempt some months ago didn't involve flash photography. I figured that plenty of light and a very high shutter speed would do the trick. The results were of course very disappointing. It turns out that if you want to freeze water droplets in mid air, it's not the shutter speed that matters, it's all about the duration of your flash bursts. Having just bought a new Nikon SB900 I gave it another go. One speedlight on the left and one on the right. Watch in the kitchen sink underneath the dripping tap and just fire away... The aperture was f9 and the shutter speed probably 1/125th but I can't remember.

Here are two more pictures from my 1st attempt at this, with off-camera flash:

The results are not that great and I didn't care about the background or composition in these shots. I just wanted to try the technique. But it's a start and the two shots in this post came out relatively nice imo. I'll come up with some proper results some time after experimenting some more...

Update 8 May 2009: Have a look at my photos of this watch being dropped into a watertank

All photos © 2009 M.Wilmsen

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Wristwatch photography strobist style

I have been taking pictures of wristwatches for quite a while. Mostly to post pictures on watch boards like and I was introduced to off-camera flash photography by a fellow Dutch Panerai and photography enthusiast a few months ago and I think I haven't taken a watch photo without using this technique ever since.

The website is dedicated to taking photos with small flash units. I've picked up many of the things I do there. Their site is about off-camera flash photography in general, not about watch photography in particular. But, there are a few interesting posts about that subject too.

I've found that one of the biggest advantages of using flash for wristwatch photography is that the white balance is always spot on. For some reason I never seemed to get it right before and I always had to tweak the white balance in Photoshop Camera Raw.

Have a look at this if you want to jump on to an example including a lighting setup diagram.

Nikon SU-800

Basically the technique is quite simple. You need some form of triggering for your speedlights and there are many options for that. I personally use a Nikon SU-800 on my camera's hot shoe to fire my flashes through infrared signals. The SU-800 is a great little gadget that has one big advantage over using other means of wireless triggering: the flash units (provided that these are Nikon made) communicate with your camera's metering system. Nikon calls this CLS, which is short for Creative Lighting System. There's much information available about CLS on Google.

You can control 3 different speedlights from the unit without having to touch any of your speedlights during a shoot. There's a great tutorial about how to use your SU-800 on Ken Rockwell's website also has a good tutorial about this subject.

An example

Off-camera flash offers far more creative possibilities too. The results just look more professional and more three dimensional. Have a look at the picture below. To achieve this effect, I placed the watch (my PAM127) on a sheet of gold colored glossy art paper. There's a wine glass on the right and slightly behind of the watch and I fired one of my speedlights through that glass to create the lighting effect on the background. A second flash was positioned on the left of the camera to bring out some detail in the strap and a third flash was positioned on the right of the camera to emphasize the sides of the domed crystal of the watch.

© 2009 M.Wilmsen

Camera settings

I always set my camera (a Nikon D700) to manual and I start with selecting an aperture that allows me to get the result I'm after for a particular photo. Basically it comes down to a small aperture (f16 or smaller) for more depth of field or a wide aperture to throw the background out of focus. Of course the actual aperture setting that you need also depends on other factors, for instance the distance between your subject and the lens. I've found that the shutter speed really doesn't matter that much when photographing a still object with off-camera flash. I use a slower shutter speed when I'm using a small aperture or when I want more of the background to show, usually 1/30th. With a wider aperture I sometimes go up to 1/125th. I also adjust the output of my flashes depending the aperture settings that I'm using. With a small aperture you need to increase the output power. It's really not that complicated.

It goes without saying that I use a tripod. I'm using my 105mm VR most of the time for my watch photos. You should turn off the VR function on this lens when you use it on a tripod. Something I had to find out the hard way...

The slideshow below has images that I've stored on All of these wristwatch photos were taken using the technique described in this post.

I hope this is useful information. Don't hesitate to ask if you any questions.

Ceramic Panerai Luminor 1950 Chrono monopulsante

The new Ceramic Chrono monopulsante (PAM317) is about to make its way to the AD's soon. I had the opportunity to take photos of this wonderful watch a few weeks ago. The 317 features the new hand-wound mechanical calibre P.2004 which is completely manufactured by Panerai. Panerai calls the in-house movements Manifattura.

The watch offers an impressive number of functions: hours, minutes, seconds, second time zone, 8-day power reserve, 24h indicator, second reset, horizontal power reserve indicator and single-button chronograph (hence the name monopulsante).

The production process of this watch is extremely complicated because of the hardness of the ceramic. Drilling the hole for the stem apparently takes two hours. This must be one of the reasons that it has taken longer than expected for these watches to hit the AD's. BTW there's no need to go to your AD now because all units are sold already.

All parts of the watch are ceramic. Contrary to what I've read elsewhere, the crown guard is ceramic too, not PVD steel.

The only thing that is PVD coated are the bridges that you can view through the sapphire crystal case back.

I would have expected that the 317 was an easy watch to photograph because of its black ceramic case. I was wrong. Ok I didn't have to struggle to try to prevent unwanted reflections in the case, but finding the right lighting setup wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. I ended up using mostly dark backgrounds and 3 Nikon speedlights to make the watch look 3d. Being a Panerai enthusiast (understatement of the year) I absolutely love this watch. It looks relatively small because of its color.

As you can see in the picture below, I lit the watch from two sides to emphasize the domed crystal and I used a third Nikon speedlight to create ambient light, but the case still doesn't show enough detail.

Imo this is one of the nicer pics I took of this watch because it shows just enough detail in both the case and the strap and the domed crystal is showing nicely too. The watch comes with one of the nicest OEM straps I've ever seen, a black buffalo strap which is extremely comfortable.

The watch was photographed on a black glass background. I created the bright spot by aiming one of my speedlights at it from above. Two other speedlights were used to light the watch from the sides.

You can view the rest of the photos I took here.

All photos © 2009 M.Wilmsen

Panerai 127 (Fiddy) and 233

Panerai introduced their first in-house (manifattura) movement in their PAM233 Luminor 1950 8-days GMT, the hand-wound mechanical calibre P.2002/1. The name of this watch model includes the year 1950, which refers to the style of the case.

You can click the photos for a larger version

The movement has an eight days power reserve. Winding the watch takes quite a few turns but it is very smooth. According to some the actual power reserve is even closer to ten days, so even with the indicator at zero the watch may run another day or two. The PAM233 is showing on the right next to the PAM127 on the left.

The 233 is a limited edition regular production watch which means that a limited number of watches is produced every year. Panerai made a unique edition of 1950 watches in 2002 (PAM127 aka Fiddy) that first had this case style - albeit in 47mm.

The 233 certainly has design elements that clearly show that the PAM127 was a a source of inspiration. Most importantly the cushion shaped case and the domed crystal. Panerai included a few interesting complications in their new movement, a horizontal power reserve indicator (knows as "the fang"), a second time zone (GMT) including an AM/PM dot inside the sub seconds dial, a date and a seconds reset function that allows you to accurately set the time.

Both watches are fitted with a sapphire crystal case back that allows you to see the movement. The 127 is a sought-after watch. Being a unique edition watch, it was produced in 2002 only, so just 1950 pieces. Its price on the used-market has more than tripled in the last few years.


The Fiddy in these photos is mounted on a Panerai OEM Nubuck alligator JV strap (Jules Verne). The PAM233 is mounted on a Vintager Straps Z-matten strap with green stitches.

About the photography

The photos were taken with a Nikon D700, Nikkor 105mm VR and two SB900 speedlights both shot through a diffuser.

The background in the photos is a square piece of black glass. The watches were lit from above with a SB900 shot through a honeycomb grid attachment and from the side with a second SB900 to emphasize the domed crystal.

To see all of the pictures comparing these two watches click this link

All photos © 2009 M.Wilmsen

New Cujo strap by Kaktus Straps

Kaktus-straps are introducing a new strap for Panerai wristwatches. The new strap is called Cujo. The leather is thick but very soft and supple. It has a brown - almost orange - color and comes with either a polished steel or brushed steel buckle.

The pictures below show how some of my photos are used on the Kaktus-straps website and for other promotional purposes.

Here are a few more of the pics that I took for the website, the strap is mounted on my Panerai 1BT. FYI this is a non commercial entry and I took these photos for fun, not for money.

You can order this strap on the website.

Click here to view all the pics from this shoot.

All photos by © M.Wilmsen 2009

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Panerai 327 Luminor Chrono Daylight

Introduced at the SIHH 2009, the new Panerai Luminor Chrono Daylight (PAM327) has a beautiful blue dial and a titanium case and bracelet. The edges of the bracelet links are polished which is a very nice detail that sadly no one will see when you are wearing the watch.

Because of the material used the watch is extremely light considering its size. I'd say it's about half the weight of the earlier PAM236 which is entirely made of stainless steel, including its hefty bracelet.

The watch is also available as a version with a blue crocodile strap as opposed to a bracelet. This model is the PAM326. The picture below shows both the 326 and the 327 next to each other:

Click for a large photo

Most hard core Panerai enthusiasts (the paneristi community) may dismiss this particular model because the dial is rather busy. Unlike the famous Panerai watches with a very simple dial layout. In my opinion pictures do not do this watch justice. You'll change your mind when you see it in person. It definitely has the characteristics and that unique look and feel that Panerai fans love so much about this brand.

The picture below shows the new style titanium bracelet. Quite a changeover compared to the earlier style bracelet links:

The PAM327 offers the following functions: hours, minutes, small seconds, date. Chronograph with three counters, tachymeter scale. The size of the case is 44mm and it has a 2.5mm thick crystal made of corundum with anti-reflective coating. The watch is water resistant up to 100 meters.

There's a post titled Panerai Luminor Chrono Daylight - photo essay in the archive section on that shows all my photos of the 237 at a large size. The post also includes pictures of the earlier Panerai 236 Daylight chrono.

You can view all the pics I took during this shoot on

All photos by © M.Wilmsen 2009

Monday, April 20, 2009


An overview of entries on this blog about wristwatch straps and strap makers

Alligator strap by Korean strap maker Yunjin Roh
Special Edition wristwatch case by Zeugma straps
Ten more new straps from Simona di Stefano (Mosaic, Gamekeeper, Gator, True Grit, Polar Expedition)
Vissuto straps by Maikel Lau
Ammo straps for a PAM360 by Septimus straps
Simona di Stefano Saddle straps and Nile crocodile straps
K99 strap by Kostas Veni
Vintager Straps by Micah Dirksen
Straps by Julien Landa - Part I
New Kaktus Straps contemporary line
Gunny straps
French military strap by David Lane Design
French ammo strap by Septimus straps
Swiss ammo strap by Septimus Straps
Brushed bridle strap by David Lane Design
Yugoslavian ammo strap by David Lane Design
Lau & Van Leijden dark brown alligator strap
The coolest way to store your straps
Lau & Van Leijden Sienna strap
Straps by Jason & Sharon
Swedish Gustav ammo by Kevin Rogers (PAM127)
Atelier du Bracelet Parisien (ABP) special tannings alligator
Panerai OEM Cashmere strap
The StrapSmith - straps for Panerai by Rob Montana
New vintage crocodile straps by Simona di Stefano
Nineteen strap combos for a Panerai 243
Twenty strap combos for a Panerai 233
Simona di Stefano crocodile straps for Panerai - Vintage green Fiddy strap
Kevin / BigB ammo strap in this entry about composition
New Cujo strap by Geneva based Kaktus Straps
Gallery photos for the to be announced strapworks website
Justin Chen Fiddy strap
Six different straps for a PAM127


An overview of entries on this blog about (mostly) Panerai wristwatches

PAM389PAM389 Luminor Submersible Amagnetic

PAM00439PAM439 Radiomir 42mm Oro Rosso

PAM00425PAM425 Radiomir SLC 47mm

PAM00384PAM384 Radiomir 8 Days Ceramic

PAM00194PAM194 Luminor Submersible 2500m 47mm

PAM00386PAM386 Luminor Composite Marina 1950 3 Days Automatic 44mm

PAM00356PAM356 Luminor Chrono Daylight 44mm

PAM00371PAM371 Luminor submersible 1950 Regatta

PAM00376PAM376 Radiomir 3 Days Oro Bianco

PAM00380PAM380 Radiomir Black Seal Logo 45mm

PAM00375PAM375 Luminor Composite 1950

PAM00372PAM372 Luminor 1950 in detail
PAM00373PAM373 Radiomir Platino 47mm

PAM00322PAM322 Radiomir Titanium brown dial (Minerva)

PAM00382PAM382 Luminor 1950 Submersible Bronzo

PAM00378PAM378 Radiomir Oro Rosa 42mm

PAM00372PAM372 Luminor 1950

SIHH 2011SIHH 2011 photo report
PAM00360PAM360 Luminor DLC
PAM00114PAM114 Luminor Base white dial
PAM00176PAM176 G Luminor Base titanium
PAM00055PAM55 Luminor Base
PAM00026PAM26 Luminor Marina Left Handed PVD
PAM00277PAM277 Pink gold Luminor Chrono Monopulsante
PAM00219PAM219 Luminor Base Destro
PAM00231PAM231 Radiomir Base 45mm in pink gold
PAM00351PAM351 Luminor Marina 1950 3 Days Automatic
PAM00359PAM359 Luminor Marina 1950 3 Days Automatic
PAM00330PAM330 Radiomir Tourbillon GMT
PAM00112PAM112 Luminor Base 44mm
PAM00210PAM210 Radiomir Base 45mm
PAM00319PAM319 Luminor 1950 8 Days Rattrapante 47mm
PAM00307PAM307 Luminor 1950 Pangaea Submersible
PAM00270PAM270 Luminor 10 Days GMT
PAM00355PAM355 Radiomir GMT Alarm 42mm
PAM00323PAM323 Radiomir 10 Days GMT
The PAM323 and PAM28 compared
LW OktopusLinde Werdelin Oktopus DLC and Titanium
PAM00024PAM24A Submersible
PAM00346The new 8 Days Radiomir PAM346
PAM00029The new Panerai PAM29
PAM00339PAM339 Radiomir Composite Marina Militare
PAM003002010 Special Edition Mare Nostrum
PAM00335Black is beautiful, the 317 vs the new ceramic 335
SIHH 2010An overview of new Panerai watches presented in Geneva at the 2010 SIHH
PAM00341PAM341 Radiomir Egiziano
PAM00267PAM267 Marina Militare
PAM00268PAM268 Radiomir 8 Days
LW SpidoliteLinde Werdelin SpidoLite All Black
PAM202/APre Vendome Panerai PVD steel 202/A
PAM00232Panerai 232 Radiomir 1938
PAM201/APre-Vendome Panerai 5218-201/A (Logo)
LW 3-TimerLinde Werdelin 3 Timer black dial
PAM00001Panerai 1B t-dial
PAM00249PAM249 Radiomir 1936 "California dial"
PAM0031648mm Radiomir Tourbillon GMT
PAM00000PAM000 Luminor Base Logo
PAM000 in lighting setup example
PAM002A vs PAM000 Logo
PAM00021PAM21 The grail of grails
PAM00292PAM292 Ceramic Panerai Radiomir Blackseal
PAM00002PAM002A vs PAM000 Logo
PAM00233PAM233 Twenty strap combos
Panerai 233 and 127 compared
PAM00127Fiddy with Simona vintage green croco strap
How about some Fiddy photos for inspiration?
Panerai 233 and 127 compared

PAM328 and PAM329 - P.9000 models with a bracelet
PAM252 Luminor GMT North Pole
PAM321 Luminor 1950 GMT Power Reserve
PAM320 Luminor Marina 1950 3 Days GMT
PAM312 Luminor 1950 Marina 3 Days Automatic
PAM305 and PAM243 compared
PAM2A in this post about composition
PAM104 and PAM312 compared
PAM104 Luminor Marina Automatic
PAM305 Luminor 1950 Submersible
Panerai 1950's style case: PAM233, PAM127, PAM2A
PAM275 Stainless steel Panerai Luminor 1950 Chrono Monopulsante
PAM311 Titanium Panerai Luminor 1950 Chrono Monopulsante
PAM236 Panerai Luminor Chrono Daylight
PAM28 Panerai Luminor Power Reserve
PAM317 Ceramic Luminor 1950 Chrono Monopulsante
PAM327 Luminor Chrono Daylight
Various Panerai watch photos for a Timezone masthead poll