Unless the timepiece completely fills the frame the watch photographer needs to consider the background. It may take on a greater or lesser importance depending on the shot but it pays to be aware of the background and the effect it can have on the overall image. Below I discuss and show some of the backgrounds I have used in my photos. The list of things that could be used would be endless.
Art paper / card backgrounds.
This is a simple type of background I've used for many watch shots. The material is readily available from art supply stores in a large array of colours, textures, and sizes. You can get plain black and white to fancy gold and silver flake types. I find the A4 size is suitable for single watch or small group shots. Below I show a small selection of paper and card types. They are inexpensive and fairly robust if looked after. I generally curve the paper up behind the watch to form a seamless background, but for some setups that isn't necessary.
Here's a selection of watch images using such paper and card backgrounds in various marbled, textured, and plain finishes.
Watch advertisement backgrounds.
I have a small collection of vintage watch ads from magazines, etc, and find that these can sometimes be used to form interesting and/or brand-related backgrounds. A few examples are shown below.
The main impetus to use a map was to feature some place relevant to the watch, such as Lancaster PA for the Hamilton watch and Moscow for the Poljot watch shown below, but there need not be any relevance. Maps can provide a background that provides a degree of interest but don't necessarily draw too much attention from the main subject.
These are used to inject some shape and texture into the background. These Asian-style placemats come in a variety of styles and colours. As with many aspects of photography I find these mats work well when the design is set at an angle to the watch and/or the frame. Below are some examples images - in the 3rd shot I have used a placemat rolled up into a bundle on which to prop the watches.
Rock, pebble, & sand backgrounds.
I've made much use of this type of background. The materials can come from anywhere - your backyard, the beach, or a decorator store. Using natural materials alongside the smooth, shiny finishes of watches can be effective. Whenever there is any likelihood of damage to watch cases from rocks or pebbles I cover the caseback in Blu-Tack putty. It protects the metal from scratching and also helps anchor the watches.
Below I have combined a rock, (which also served to prop up the watches), and a marbled art paper background
Decorator stones can be had in a variety of colours. Below are different examples used in 3 watch shots - brown, black, and white.
Setting up such shots is fairly straightforward. Below you can see the setup for a shot. All that is required is a container to hold the material, in this case decorator sand, large enough to allow the shot to be framed comfortably. As the watch is a Seamaster model the setup was intended to suggest the seaside, and so some shells and a starfish were added, (again, these can be had from decorator shops or they can be collected from a beach). The resulting image is shown below.
Here's another shot of a setup - this time using pebbles that can be bought from decorator shops by the bag. For the final image a water ripple effect was applied.
Of course you need not stick with natural materials. In the shot below glass beads were used, backlit to make them glow. Blue beads were chosen to match the watch dial.
I've also used beach sand in a number of watch photos. A nice thing about sand is that it can be readily sculpted into shapes that respond well to angled lighting. Below you can see the setup for a shot using beach sand as a setting. People often comment on the dangers of placing watches on or in sand like this. What can I say? I'm careful about it :-) The grains of beach sand are relatively large and are unlikely to penetrate case joints. I also ensure larger gaps such as the stem area remain above the sand.
Below is another look at the setup for a shot. Here I have combined the beach sand with seaweed and some driftwood.
Sea shells themselves can provide a variety of colours, shapes and textures that can be used to form a background. Here I have teamed them with a "Dolphin" watch.
Other backgrounds - a varied selection.
Here I'll show some other materials that have been pressed into service as backgrounds for watch photos. First up below is a simple wooden desktop.
Here an old gramophone record serves the purpose, along with some period gamophone needles as props.
Musical instruments - why not? Guitars offer enough surface space to work as backgrounds. In this case I used an Accutron tuning fork watch as they make a musical hum too :-)
Another guitar as a background - this time I used a round pocket watch to sit with the round control knobs.
The prop used in this shot, a Wedgwood Jasperware plate, occupies so much of the frame that in effect it forms the background.
Here an antique book on America serves as background to two US pocket watches.
The chess board provides an interestingly patterned background and also reflects the watch and chess pieces.
As a last example I'll illustrate how light itself can serve as a background. In this case I had a transparent plastic mechanical movement to photograph. In order to show the inner structure I placed the movement on a photographic light box to provide even backlighting, (setup as shown below). You can see the resulting image below.
As I said, the list of materials that could serve as backgrounds in watch photos is endless. I hope the examples shown have given you some ideas.
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Copyright 2006-2011 Paul Delury
(Watches/movements from the collections of Rob B, TomG and myself).