Saturday, May 9, 2009

Yeah sure, but what if you just have a simple point & shoot...

All that strobist stuff, speedlights, expensive cameras and all that stuff. Pretty cool, but pretty intimidating too... I'm sure that there are quite a few people that really would like to give this whole wristwatch photography thing a go, but what if you have a simple point and shoot camera?

With a few simple pointers you can in fact take a decent wristwatch photo with any camera. Admittedly, your results will be better with a DSLR. Mostly because of the quality of the lenses and maybe more so because of the size of the sensor. But after all, it is the photographer that takes the picture, not the camera. Don't you just love a cliche? Seriously though, I've seen quite a few amazing watch photos that look like they've been taken with a full blown DSLR and all the bells and whistles. Micah Dirksen is one of the paneristi that gets exceptional results with a p&s time after time. I'm a big fan of his Panerai watch straps ( btw.

Macro mode

Anyway, almost any p&s will have a macro setting on it. This is usually indicated by a small flower icon. That's the mode you'll want to use so that you can get close enough for a frame filling photo.

The problem with the macro mode is that it usually requires a long exposure. No problem, unless you try to do this without a tripod. Longer exposures without a tripod are your guarantee for a disappointing blurry photo. So if you can, use a tripod. But don't despair if you don't have one, just read on...

Using the self-timer function to fight reflections and camera shake

Ok so what if you don't have a tripod? I've never come across a p&s that didn't have a "self timer" function. Sometimes called self-portrait mode.

That's a very handy feature to enable you to get sharper pictures and for a few other reasons that I'm about to explain. You can position your p&s somewhere in front of the subject, set the self-timer to 1 or 2 seconds and press the shutter. The actual exposure will take place after the number of seconds that you selected. This is in fact something you may want to try even if you do use a tripod. And that's because one other advantage which is that you can step away from the camera. So you won't see your hands or face reflected in the crystal or case of your watch. No kidding, I've even seen pictures on the watch boards where you could see the photographer reflected in the watch... sitting in his underwear.

And what about the reflection of the camera itself? Well, the simplest solution for that is to look through your viewfinder (or at your LCD display) and slightly turn the watch until you see no reflection. That's true regardless of the type of camera you use of course. Use a piece of white or black cardboard next to your watch to prevent other unwanted reflections. When you use the self-timer function you can also hold up a piece of cardboard or Styrofoam behind your camera (no, not in front of it). It's not hard at all.

Lightboxes or light tents

If you want to make your life easier (and who wouldn't) you can try to use a so called lightbox or light tent to help fight the reflections. I personally never use one because I find these things to restrictive, but it can help and it is simple. There are quite a few manufacturers that sell these things, but if - unlike me - you don't have two left hands, you can make one yourself. Here's an excellent post on DIY light tent.

About light

And what about the light? I've found with most p&s cameras that the white balance is a bit off. Especially if you shoot with normal lamp light, the photos may come out a bit yellowish. You can of course fix that by selecting the correct white balance setting manually or by correcting it with software afterwards. But to keep it simple, I suggest that you take your pictures with day light. That will also help to prevent your flash from automatically firing. If your built-in flash still fires (some p&s cameras just won't allow you to disable that) then you can diffuse the light by putting cello tape or a piece of paper over it.

The final challenges for a sharp photo: focusing and depth-of-field

Apart from preventing camera shake by use of a tripod, the self-timer or both, there's one more thing that may cause you headaches with your p&s. In macro mode the depth-of-field is generally very shallow. That means that only the part where you focus may be sharp and the rest may be blurry. Sadly most p&s cameras have a very limited aperture range. Usually something like F2.8 up to F7.1. If your p&s has an Aperture priority mode you can use that to select the smallest possible aperture. For example F7.1 but F11 would be better. That will increase the zone of sharpness, but it will increase the amount of light that you need and it will increase the exposure time.
Also, only about 1/3 of where you focus and 2/3 behind where you focus will be sharp. I've written more about this particular subject before. You can find it here: Camera settings and Depth of field for wristwatch photography.

If at all possible, then disable the auto focus function and focus manually. That way your watch doesn't have to be in the center and you experiment with more interesting compositions. But that's a nice subject for another post :)

If you think this is useful, have questions or remarks, then please post a comment below.


  1. excellent tutorial for a newbie..thank you...!
    I have a Canon XTi but I don't have a macro lens. So I use a point and shoot.


  2. Thanks for the very informative information.

  3. Thanks Martin for great articles. I seldom find really good articles on watch photography. You are one of the best.

    You are not only a enthusiasm photography. You one of the best in this field.

    Appreciated for your generous and sharing the useful knowledge to people.

    God bless you and your family.