The luminous features of watches can be quite startling in real life but can also prove to be a little difficult to capture photographically. Whilst our eyes perceive the glow of the luminous markers readily, in a photograph they can all too easily be overwhelmed by the ambient lighting. Below I show one method of capturing the glow.
I begin with a base image of a watch shot under normal lighting, as shown at left. In this example I have chosen a Seiko watch with particularly effective luminous material. The idea is to create an image that goes some way toward recreating this. This base image was shot using a single overhead diffused fluorescent lamp.
Next I require an image of the luminous markers doing their thing. To this end I shot the watch with all lights out and a using long exposure, (approx 10 seconds in this example). The luminous material was energised by placing a lamp very close to it for a couple of minutes immediately prior to shooting, (you could also use a flash unit for the same purpose). It is important that the watch and camera are not moved between exposures, and the watch hands are stopped so that they won't move between shots. This image is in itself an acceptable shot of the luminous material, but I prefer to show the watch also, rather than a black background. I feel this more closely matches the image we see when wearing a watch in low lighting conditions.
As the camera was not moved between shots, the two images above can now be layered together in perfect register. Once layered the opacity of the layers is varied until the desired result is gained. In this example I bought the luminous glow image to the fore in order to highlight it, allowing the rest of the watch to fall into semi-darkness as shown in the finished image below.
Here is a further example using the layering method. Again, a clean base image is shot as per normal (left), and then a shot of the energised luminous markers and hands (right), using the same technique as described previously.
Below is the result of layering the two images together. As a final touch I added a picture of the moon I had shot previously.
For something different, below is an image in which a glow was added not to the watch itself, but to the prop. The individual clear plastic phone buttons were selected and colorized in a red that matched the red seconds dot on the mystery watch. To boost the glowing effect the Photoshop "Diffuse Glow" filter was applied to each button, (remembering to deal with the reflections in the watch case also!)
Here's another example of adding the glow to a prop. I obtained a light globe specifically as a photo prop. Australian lamps use a bayonet fitting, not the screw base, but I feel the screw-type just looks better! The particular watch below, a Bulova Thermatron, was an early attempt (early-1980s) to produce a body heat-powered watch. To that end I wanted a prop that suggested electric power and warmth.
At left is the clean base image. As you can see, the globe is not lit. I generally find I have more control working with props that are neutral and using a separate exposure, or effects, to capture/create the glow.
Here you can see the globe has been "lit". To do this I selected the area of the globe and applied the Photoshop "Diffuse Glow Filter", and quite a bit of it too. This lends a transparent luminosity quite similar to a lit globe.
Below is the final image. I decided to also colorize the globe to produce a warmer yellow tone.
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Copyright 2005 Paul Delury