Watch photography lighting setup tips and tricks

Loved by many, watches are more than an accessory, they are a fashion trend. Even in photography, they are in a category of their own. What makes them so different from other photography subjects? They…

Watch photography lighting setup tips and tricksWatch photography lighting setup tips and tricks
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Loved by many, watches are more than an accessory, they are a fashion trend. Even in photography, they are in a category of their own. What makes them so different from other photography subjects? They can reflect light like no other accessory.

Their highly reflective surface makes them one of the challenging photography subjects to take a picture of. But we are here to offer a helping hand to everyone who wants to take up the challenge and photograph watches. So, in the article below, we will provide you with a few watch photography lighting setup tips.

Essential Steps to Make Product Shine


Before you start the photo session, some preparations need to be made. The first step is setting up the watch. This step is dedicated entirely to the thorough cleaning of it. Wipe it with a soft microfiber cloth to remove any dust or fingerprints. Also, inspect the strap and clean it up if you see any dirt or dust. If the watch has minute details use a cotton bud to reach those hard-to-clean spots.

Setting the Time

Once the watch is ready, it is time to set the hands. The internationally recognized time is 10:10 when photographing watches. But, depending on the type of watch, you can set it up differently. If the mechanism allows it, you can simply freeze the hands at the appointed time. However, if the watch is functional, you might want to set it up earlier than ten past ten, so by the time you are ready to photograph it, the hands are in the correct position.

Prepare the Set

The third step is to prepare the background. Depending on the watch you plan on using as your subject, as well as the vision of the photography, you will have to change the backgrounds and props. Is your watch designed for males or females? Do you want to include any specific elements to emphasize some unique aspects or features of the watch? How do you plan on shooting it, lying on the ground, from the side, or suspended? Think about these aspects and plan accordingly.

Types of Lighting in Photography

Light it Up
Light it Up

Now that everything is set, it is time to set up the lighting. When it comes to illuminating the watch, there are two methods to do it. The first method uses natural light, while the second one implies using artificial light. Let us delve deeper into each category and see which one fits your photography style better.

Natural Light

This lighting can be your best friend or your worst enemy, depending on where and when you want to start the photography session. When used correctly, it makes the unique features of the watch pop, grabbing attention to them. It also offers a natural feel to the product, especially when incorporated into a ‘wrist’ shot.

However, there is a trick to it – it has to be diffused to help you create those memorable, clean images. If it is direct sunlight, it is too hard on the watch, and the crystal will reflect everything, resulting in an overexposed picture. So, to prevent that, there are a few ways you can diffuse the natural light.

  • Program your photo session on a cloudy day.
  • Use a sheer curtain to filter the sun’s rays.
  • Shoot near a window.

Experiment with different moments of the day and how the light interacts with the watch. This will prevent overexposing or underexposing the images, and it will help you achieve captivating and visually pleasing photos.

Artificial Light

There are moments when artificial light works better than natural light for the watch photography setup. This happens especially when you need precise control over the illumination of the watch, as well as the angle of the light source. In this case, you will need a main light, as well as two to three secondary lights, depending on how much illumination your project requires.

Bounce Light and Colors

Experiment with them and see how they impact the colors and shadows of your watch. You can have all the lights diffused, or just half of them. Additionally, you can take it to the next stage by using a bouncing light, or various colored lights. This will give the image a dramatic effect and will enhance different features. Does your watch have a particular color to it? Use a bouncing light that complements that color to create an interesting visual effect.


Another important aspect is the tone of the image. Depending on the angles, and the vision for that specific image, tones can enhance or detract from it. For example, if you want a warm image consider using nuances that contain yellows, oranges, or reds. But, if you’d rather go for a cooler image, nuances of greens, blues, and purples will provide you with the desired effect.

Diffusers and Reflectors

Diffusers and Reflectors
Diffusers and Reflectors

As we mentioned before, lighting is crucial for watch photography. Even the tiniest amount of it can improve or ruin the photo by underexposing it, overexposing it, or creating unwanted reflections. So, to prevent all of those negative aspects from happening, you should use diffusers and reflectors.


Diffusers are objects that serve to diffuse and soften light without blocking it. They are usually made of white fabric, paper, or plastic and have a dense surface. They are also often placed between the light source and the subject to ensure even lighting. However, while they are easy to buy and create at home, you should be very precise in handling them to obtain the perfect gradient for your watch.


As the name suggests, reflectors are objects with a reflective surface. Because of this surface, the light is reflected at the same angle as soon as it hits it. This allows you to redirect the light onto the watch. For example, if you install the main light on the right side and a reflector on the left side, the watch will be illuminated from both sides. This gives you control over where and how the timepiece is brightened. You can use softboxes, umbrellas, white paper, or a white wall to reflect the light.

Additional Equipment

In addition to reflectors and diffusers, you can use macro lenses and light tents to improve the watch photography lighting setup. Macro lenses are designed for close-up photography and allow you to capture fine details of the watch with high magnification. Light tents, also known as light boxes, are enclosed structures that diffuse light from different angles, reducing reflections and creating a uniform lighting environment for the watch.

So, remember that a diffuser and a reflector are two lighting tools that function differently. While a reflector changes the direction of the light, a diffuser changes the intensity and spread of the light. Although a reflector can soften the light somewhat, a diffuser is more efficient at creating a natural-looking and complementary light.

The Secret Behind a Professional Watch Photography Lighting

The Secret Behind a Professional Watch Photography Lighting
The Secret Behind a Professional Watch Photography Lighting

There are many skilled photographers in the world, but some specialize in capturing stunning images of watches. How can you differentiate them? Art directors and project managers will have a formed eye on particular details, and they will know who to choose. But, if you wish to pick them yourself, there are some details you want to pay attention to.

Gradient Light

A key point to professional watch photography lighting is how the gradient light affects the watch surface. You can see it clearly, especially in catalog product photography. Pay attention to how the gradual light creates those beautiful transitions, from darker areas to lighter ones and then to dark again, in a linear, smooth way. That gradual light enhances the images and provides a 3D effect, making it more photorealistic.

Fine Details

Another aspect you should pay attention to is how the fine details are featured. If the strap is a classic model, examine the picture for intricate details like texture, depth, and stitches. Moreover, if the strap is metallic, pay attention to how the photographer used the light. Is the light transition smooth and even? Does it create a feeling of a 3D model by showcasing depth? Professional photography requires attention to minute shadow and light details.

CGI Models

However, if you want to be 100% sure that your watches get the attention and detail they deserve, consider CGI photography. A quick and safe alternative to professional watch photography is 3D rendering software that creates a replica of the product. This rendering can be customized according to your wishes. With just a few clicks, you can move the light, increase or decrease the amount of light, or change the light intensity. The result? A photorealistic, clean, and eye-catching image that you can present to your audience.

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Wrapping up

The main objective of a lighting setup for watch photography is to capture a visually appealing image that accurately reflects the design and features of the watch. By carefully controlling the lighting equipment, you can highlight the watch’s unique features, showcase its craftsmanship, and create a captivating visual presentation for marketing or artistic purposes. Flexibility and experimentation are essential to finding the best lighting setup for each watch.


What is the best lighting for watch photography?

Set the watch photography lighting as bidirectional and diffused. A bidirectional light enhances the depth and texture of the watch while diffusing it will provide soft shadows and will eliminate hard edges.

How do I avoid glare when photographing watches?

The best way to avoid the glare is to turn off the flashes when preparing the watch photography lighting equipment. This will prevent ambient light from showing up and will evenly distribute the brightness across the surface.

How fast can I get the watch photo?

If you are taking the picture, you can use the photograph as soon as you edit it with a software. Otherwise, it depends on the photographer. However, you can always opt for a 3D rendering of your watch. It is faster compared to traditional photography, and it can be easily modified according to your preferences.

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Martin Pitonak

Martin Pitonak is a creative professional and entrepreneur with nearly 20 years of experience in the creative industry. His passion for helping businesses in all areas of visual marketing sets him apart in a variety…