5 storytelling tricks for watch photography

5 storytelling tricks for watch photography

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Welcome to Sunday Study Club! New tutorials to improve your watch photography game posted every Sunday at 8am PT. Follow @watchstudies on Instagram to join in on the fun. Happy studying!

One of the most challenging aspects of photography – above and beyond the technical craft of it – is learning how to tell a story with a single flat image. Stories are important because they’re the way we relate to most life experiences in that they follow the simple formula of plotting a before, during, and after on a timeline. A thing happened, and then another thing happened, followed by another thing. This is pretty much every story ever told. But how do you capture a whole sequence of events with just a single static set of pixels?

5 storytelling tricks for watch photography

Fortunately, the human mind is a magical thing and can fill in an infinite amount of blanks if given the right set of cues. And that’s photographic storytelling in a nutshell: creating an image that brings together the right set of hints, winks, and nudges that lets the viewer’s imagination run wild.

For this week’s tutorial, I wanted to share 5 tricks I use to help my watch photos tell richer stories. There’s a good chance you’re already using many of these tricks in your own work, though you may not realize why they’re so effective. Hopefully this tutorial will change that and let you be more intentional about it. Enjoy!


This week’s challenge

Let’s see your best photographic storytelling! Put today’s tricks – or ones of your own – to good use and tag #watchstudies to share them with the community.


5 storytelling tricks

Complementary cast part 1: props

5 storytelling tricks for watch photography

One simple way to tell a good story around your watch is to pair it with a cast of products that combine to suggest a particular narrative. Remember: the story isn’t about the watch itself, it’s about the life that revolves around the watch. And that life can be beautifully represented by a selection of related products.

Most scenes that I create, while curated, are not actually far from my reality. I’m a designer who takes photos of watches. And from the spattering of cameras, accessories, and other beautifully designed knickknacks, I hope that narrative comes to life. Those things literally live on the desk I work at every day.

Random beautiful props are cool, but you know what’s really cool? Meaningful beautiful props. Try it out! Consider the life you want to depict in your photos, and assemble props that tell that story. And add your favorite watch, obviously.

5 storytelling tricks for watch photography@mea_hana_pahi

5 storytelling tricks for watch photography@pockettrinkets

5 storytelling tricks for watch photography@morgansaignes


Complementary cast part 2: clothing

5 storytelling tricks for watch photography

What complements a watch better than clothing? By virtue of them always being paired together (assuming the overlap of the nudist and watch enthusiast communities is small), clothing plays a big role in storytelling.

Whether you’re snapping a wrist shot, pocket shot, or really, any watch shot with a human in it, the choice of jacket, jeans, hoodie, sweater, and other apparel appearing in frame says a lot about who’s wearing the watch, what they’re doing, and sometimes, how that watch is being used.

In the past, I’ve talked about leveraging the superficial aspects of clothing – textures, hardware, etc – to add character to your shots, but don’t forget that those little details add character to your stories too. While you can certainly go and shop a new wardrobe to tell a specific story, you can just as easily pull things from your closet to tell a story about you. Like with the props, being intentional about the items you select is how you can make an impact.

5 storytelling tricks for watch photography@m.adcock81

5 storytelling tricks for watch photography@wristtimeandwine

5 storytelling tricks for watch photography@a_watchguys_life


Fill in the blanks: the reach

5 storytelling tricks for watch photography

The community often gets a good chuckle out of this one. Maybe because it’s overused, or maybe because it’s so damn effective for such a simple trick. If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ve definitely seen this one in action.

The reach aims to depict the moment before something happens. With the right hand position and an implied sense of motion, the viewer can understand with little effort that the watch is about to be picked up. And it’s the fact that the action hasn’t taken place yet and the fact that the mind has to fill in that detail, that makes the story more engaging for the viewer.

With comic book art, the rule of thumb is to always depict an action a split second after it’s already taken place. A punch looks far more impactful if the fist has already passed through the face, compared to if the fist was actually making contact with the face. Same principle at play here: the story is more interesting when the mind has to work a little for it.

Comic Art Reference – Drawing Devastating PunchesBorrowed from Comic Art Reference – Drawing Devastating Punches

So giggles aside, the reach is actually a powerful trick for storytelling. Depicting the before paints the rest of the picture quite effectively while also adding a touch of suspense and drama to the scene. And let’s face it, choosing a watch every morning is a pretty big decision.

5 storytelling tricks for watch photography@averagewatches

5 storytelling tricks for watch photography@ten.and.two

5 storytelling tricks for watch photography@amateoph


Supporting actor: zoom out

5 storytelling tricks for watch photography

Sometimes, the watch really isn’t the primary focus at all (even though it always will be for the watch fam). The thing is, when you can zoom out just a bit and reveal the larger scene, you can sometimes find an even more interesting story. The watch still plays a role, but just as the supporting actor.

Watch people aren’t just watch people, after all. And so, by showing off the versatility in our personalities, hobbies, and interests, the story can get that much more enticing. Zooming out also gives you new opportunities to show off the function of our favorite watches too, whether you’re summiting, diving, or doing regular human things like eating lunch.

5 storytelling tricks for watch photography@thewatchdude2

5 storytelling tricks for watch photography@mainichi_watch

5 storytelling tricks for watch photography@the_vintage_guy


Set the scene: lighting

5 storytelling tricks for watch photography

A final “trick” I wanted to mention is a little obvious but still underutilized for storytelling in watch photography. I can understand why though – manipulating light is a craft all on its own so it’s not always easy to achieve the exact mood you want. That said, it should be pretty clear that lighting plays a massive role in setting the mood for any story.

Flat even lighting, though, adds very little to a story due to its neutralness. But some clever shadow play, colored lights, or well shaped shadows can add a wealth of information to the scene. From the type of room you’re in, to the time of day it is, to the feeling of being in that room, the strategic application of light can seemingly tell a thousand new stories.

Whether you’ve mastered lighting or not, I guess the lesson here is to be aware of the lighting conditions of your photos and how they contribute to the stories you want to tell.

5 storytelling tricks for watch photography@watch_girl_life

5 storytelling tricks for watch photography@captkirklucas

5 storytelling tricks for watch photography@averagewatches


Your turn!

Let’s see your best photographic storytelling! Put today’s tricks – or ones of your own – to good use and tag #watchstudies to share them with the community.

And if you’ve made it this far into the tutorial, let me know by dropping a 📖 in the comments of today’s Instagram post!


Thanks for joining another edition of Sunday Study Club! If you enjoyed today’s tutorial, you may also enjoy these related ones:

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