Watch Out

Someone recently asked me “how do I take good photos of my wristwatch?”

Good question. A lot of people have hobbies that they can practice while quarantined at home. And two of those are (a) nurturing a wristwatch collection, and (b) photography. So the combination of the two is a logical thing to engage in.

Here, for the record, is what I am wearing on my wrist today:

So how do you do it? As so often, there’s not one answer: there are a few. Here are some of my quick recommendations. I will give you technical tips for SLR as well as for cell phone cameras; a few composition tips; and a few words about post-production.

Technical: SLR

If you are using an SLR or other sophisticated camera, especially using flash, these are my technical recommendations.

  • Use a macro lens if you can, so you can get closer. But not too close, because that will give you limited depth of field and image distortion.
  • Use an aperture of at least f/8; when using a macro lens, start around f/16 if you can.
  • If you are not using flash, especially if using a macro lens, you must use a tripod.
  • Using available light? Make sure there is lots of good diffuse light, e.g. from a north-facing window (no direct sunlight).
  • Use an ISO value as high as you need: when using flash, 200-400 is fine; when not using flash, you may need to go up to as much as 1600 ISO or more if not using a tripod.
  • Using flashes: Use off-camera flash, modified by softboxes or umbrellas; or use an on-camera flash by bouncing it off a white ceiling/wall behind you. Use manual exposure mode. 1/125 sec.
  • if using a tripod, focus manually (using live view preview).

An example, lit with two flashes equipped with softboxes, both 45º above the watch:

Technical: Cell Phone

It is perfectly possible to use a hand-held cell phone, as long as you do the following:

  • Light, light, light! There’s no such thing as too much light. The brighter your room, the better your picture. Why? Because when it is bright, the resulting faster shutter speeds result in less motion blur, lower ISO results in higher quality, and smaller apertures result in more depth of field).
  • Avoid direct sunlight, though.
  • Shoot from a little distance away and crop later. This gives you easier focus with less error, and greater depth of field. If you are close, focus is unreliable and depth of field is usually too shallow.
  • But sometimes you will want to be close in order to get a blurred background; see the compositional tips below.
  • Focus on the watch, if necessary by tapping it on the phone screen to tell the phone “focus on this”
  • Hold the phone – and the watch! – very still while you do all this.


Composing a good picture is the most important thing you can do after the technical requirements are met. Some tips:

  • A good picture is a simple picture.
  • Did I mention: A good picture is a simple picture. “Simple” means everything in your photo is there to tell the story – or else it should not be in there. “Simplifying” is the most important difference between a snapshot and a “professional” photo. Crop off anything that should not be in the photo. You’ll see the difference!
  • Consider using the “rule of thirds” (look it up) – although watch photos can also have the subject in the centre. make it look good.
  • 10:09:31 is the prettiest time for a watch. All watch adverts have the watch set to this “aesthetically most pleasing” time. Just saying.
  • Turn the watch, turn yourself, reposition everything to minimize the refections in the crystal. Especially with watches without anti-reflective coating, this is important. Find a simple dark background, like a neutral dar wall, if the watch reflects it.
  • Have background objects help you “tell the story”. Your car, your suit, your hand.
  • Consider blurring out the background. You can do that without portrait mode, by being close to the watch, perhaps in slightly subdues light. (Yes, that flies in the face of the prior advice: yup, life is complicated and you have to decide what is more important for you!)

For example;


It is very important to post-process your image. This includes cropping and exposure, but also white balance (colour temperature), definition, and sharpness. Your phone can edit photos very nicely: especially recent iPhones do a truly excellent job.

but for a “pro” photo, dust removal is also needed. For this, use Adobe Lightroom or similar. See this post for more about this essential step:


It really is not difficult to make good photos of your watches, jewellery, or other small objects. Follow the tips below and go have some fun. I am looking forward to seeing your results!

Michael is an experienced photographer and educator, who teaches photography courses that are now available live, interactively, online. Check them out and learn more about Michael, his books, and his courses at


Even when using an iPhone, you need to know stuff in order to take the best photos.

Like this one here (click to see it large):

Here’s Five Tips for this type of iPhone photo.

  1. Focus, if needed, by tapping the screen on the object you want to focus on.
  2. Adjust exposure as needed by dragging up or down on the screen at that point.
  3. For a macro shot like this, actually back off a little and crop the photo later. This is a key point.
  4. And most importantly, add plenty of light. This needs to be non-direct light. I prefer outside, but out of direct sunlight.
  5. Finally, adjust your crop and white balance, and anything else needed, afterward, by clicking on EDIT.


Want to shoot like a pro? Scroll to the previous post to read about the one-week-only Spring Madness Discounts!

The best camera…

…it is often said, is the camera you have on you.

But you need to use it well. I shall share with you an example of an iPhone picture I took, to illustrate this.

To do an iPhone picture is easy. But to do it well, you need to:

  1. Compose well. Do not take a pic with the subject in the centre – use the Rule of Thirds, tilt, get clos, do what you need.
  2. But do not get too close or you will distort.
  3. Light well. Not the intensity – this pic was taken in very low light with no flash – but the direction (I turned the subject to the light and tilter her head up to catch that light)
  4. Post-process – in my case, in Lightroom. First, I converted the image to black and white.
  5. Then I applied an enhanced contrast style.
  6. Then I reduced the noise
  7. But then I applied lots of film grain. Love that grainy look (view full size to see it):

The result:

Model Kim Gorenko (Photo: Michael Willems)

Not a bad shot eh, and taken with an iPhone in low light.

Here is another example, with Selenium Tone style applied (and the same other tuning done):

Model Kim Gorenko (Photo: Michael Willems)

So do not make the mistake of thinking a good photographer is nothing without great equipment. Yes, it expands your possibilities, but if all you have is an iPhone, use it well!


Geo tip

A tip for those of you for whom this is new: about the iPhone.

I use my iPhone camera rather more than I was expecting I would.

Even though I would not want to publish the pictures I take with it, I do take pictures, and then edit them with Chase Jarvis’s Best Camera app.


  • To remember things. Like printed directions, or a bill, or a product I want to buy, or a URL I want to remember. Snap snap: and I have it forever. Easier than writing.
  • To remember student comments like the following from last week (OK, I apologize profusely for blowing my own trumpet but I think since this blog is a free resource, at least I am allowed to do this every now and then. Right?):

Michael Willems Reference

Michael Willems Reference

  • Importantly, to geotag. Whenever you take an iPhone picture, the iPhone embeds the location it was taken at. So for each shoot, I do a quick pic like that to remember exactly where I was.
  • To recall where a client wants me to take a shot. To recall a great shoot location for an upcoming portrait. One snap and the exact location is forever memorised.
  • To track a trip. A snap every hour during a road trip, and like Hansel and Gretel, I memorise a trail for later recollection or blogging.
  • To recall a vendor location.
  • To store a portrait snap to go with address book records.

Like many of these tools the real use only becomes apparent later, when bright people start to think of even better uses. Use your iPhone camera and tell me why and how you use it.

POSTSCRIPT: Can you geotag even when you have no data plan? Yes! You do not see a map, but that does not matter. Your iPhone knows where it is because of the built-in GPS. That needs no data plan.

The best camera…

…is the one you have on you. And it does not have to be an SLR with a 70-200 f/2.8 IS Lens, like this one I am carrying here in Sedona:

Even the iPhone takes nice pictures. Even of my morning coffee.

If you use an iPhone, get yourself a great little app called Best Camera, and edit your pics with a few simple filters. That leads to this more punchy image:

Have fun:

And yes, that was also taken on my iPhone, and slightly finished with Best Camera. See – you don’t always need a $10,000 camera.