How to edit a watch photo in 10 seconds

Earlier this week, I posted a 10 second edit challenge that, as the name suggests, pushed me to stressfully edit a photo while a taunting voiceover counted down the precious seconds. It was a fun exercise (and I encourage you to try it) but what I enjoyed the most about it was the way it highlighted the adjustments that I prioritize.

That is, with only 10 seconds on the clock, what limited number of edits would I make to get the most bang for my photographic buck? For me, I think this says a lot about the details that I value, but also what settings have the greatest impact on a photo.

So today, I wanted to spend some time breaking down my 10 second edit and discussing the choices I made. Enjoy!

This week’s challenge

This week, I challenge you to take on the 10 second edit challenge! Whether you do it as a reel or as a standard photo, share what your edits look like after 10 seconds and talk about what you’d do with even more time. Don’t forget to tag #watchstudies to share it with the community!

10, 9, 8…

With 10 seconds, there were 4 edits that I chose to make. Read on as I dissect them one at a time.

Apply a preset

Okay, this is a bit of cheat move, namely because applying a preset actually applies dozens of adjustments with a single tap. But as far as cheats go, this one is highly encouraged! If you find yourself making the same set of edits to every one of your photos, why not save yourself some time and save them as a preset? Or, better yet, make use of an existing preset that comes with an aesthetic that you like.


For this edit, I used the V6 preset from my Vanta Preset Pack (try it for yourself!). It helps me apply all my favorite baseline edits across the Light, Color, Effects, and Detail panels so that I don’t have to do it manually each time. The combination of these settings is what gives my shots the specific color toning and gritty aesthetic that you see in my grid.

Just in terms of sheer volume of adjustments, applying a preset has the greatest impact on my edits, which is why it’s always my first step.

Set the white balance

As far as single adjustments go, setting the white balance of a photo is probably the most critical edit I make to any photo. It’s also the edit that I think most people overlook by leaving on auto. While the auto white balance setting can get the job done in many cases, it’s far from being flawless. This means that, in many more cases, an untouched white balance is leaving many photos with uncalibrated colors and an unappealing temperature and tint.

In basic terms, setting the white balance of a photo helps to adjust all the colors to get them to their neutral state. But depending on your shooting conditions and camera settings, your imported photos left on auto may end up with either a blue-ish/cool tone or an orange-ish/warm tone, which would affect the appearance of all your colors too.


Without going into the technical nature of color temperature and tint, the fastest way to set your white balance in Lightroom is to grab the eye dropper tool (Color > White Balance) and drop it on something in your photo that represents a neutral grey, and then tweak from there. Steel (like on a watch case) is a pretty reliable white balance source for me, so that’s what I always start with.

Adjust the vignette

By this point, we’re into the micro adjustments. And if you’ve read a few of my editing tutorials already, you know that I’m all about techniques that help to strengthen a photo’s sense of focus. One of my favorite ways to do this is to apply a vignette, which subtly darkens the edges of a photo to draw the inward toward the (relatively) brighter spot in the center. 


There are a handful of ways to add a vignette to a photo (hit the link to see my full tutorial on vignettes). But with just a second or two, the easiest and best place to start is to use the Vignette setting under the Effects panel. In this case, my preset already added a vignette, but it felt appropriate to intensify it slightly by bringing the value down further. You can see the effect by observing the edges of the photo in the before/after above.

Add a Radial Gradient mask

A complementary way to strengthen focus of your shot is to highlight the focal point. For watch photos, the dial of the watch is often the hero, and throwing a radial mask on top of it can help to make it really pop. In the before/after below, focus on the dial changes specifically.


I only had about a second left in this case, so the only adjustment I made to the radial mask was to increase the highlights. This does two things for me: brighten the white markers on the dial and brighten the flecto on the edge of the crystal. This one adjustment alone makes the dial stand out just enough to draw the eye toward it.

Now here are the 4 edits stacked together in comparison to the untouched raw image. Not bad for 10 seconds!


If I had more time

10 seconds passes so quickly. And while I take a little more time with my usual edits, I was pretty pleased with the outcome of just the 4 edits mentioned above. Still, to bring a photo up to the finished standard that I hold myself to, there are a handful of additional edits I would opt to make before hitting that Post button on Instagram.

Exposure: Exposure is so hard to get right on the first try and in isolation. It’s the kind of setting I calibrate by comparing it to a range of other photos. But since I didn’t have time to do this, I had to trust my eyes. During the 10 second challenge, it actually looked fine to me. After comparing it to some other photos, I would opt to increase the exposure just a little more.

Shadows: Again, after comparing the photo to others I’ve published, it felt a little on the darker side. Not only was the exposure a little low, but the shadows also felt a little intense. In the final edit, I would increase the Shadows setting a bit to unveil just a little more detail.

Temperature: During the challenge, I quickly set the Temperature of the photo by simply trusting the eye drop tool. I knew immediately when I stopped recording that the shot was just a little too warm, and comparing it to other photos validated that. So with a few extra seconds, I would have cooled the temperature slightly to peel back some of that warm orangey glow.

More masks: Masks are such a powerful tool and since I was only able to to add one Radial Gradient mask during the 10 seconds, I would probably add a few more to polish up the photo: a pair of Linear Gradient masks on both ends of the photo to strengthen the vignette, a larger Radial Gradient mask in the center to increase the Exposure and Shadows even more, and a Brush mask to desaturate the bracelet.

Healing: Strangely, this was a pretty clean shot so there weren’t any glaring dust particles or other unsightly blemishes that stood out. Still, if I zoom in close enough, there’s always something to clean up. A couple of well-placed healing points would have put my OCDs at ease.

And now, here are all the edits I would have made with an infinite amount of time in comparison to the original raw.


And here's the 10 second edit again if you want to see it all come together in live action!

Your turn!

This week, I challenge you to take on the 10 second edit challenge! Whether you do it as a reel or as a standard photo, share what your edits look like after 10 seconds and talk about what you’d do with even more time. Don’t forget to tag #watchstudies to share it with the community!

Thanks for joining this edition of Study Club! If you enjoyed today’s tutorial, you may also enjoy this related content:

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