How to shoot the 'once upon a hand' watch shot

How to shoot the 'once upon a hand' watch shot

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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!

@onceuponatimepiece on InstagramFrom the one who inspired the shot and many others, @onceuponatimepiece.

Every now and again I come across a shot style and am immediately drawn to it. It’s always a shot that looks relatively simple while still packing a visual punch. Something about the combination of “I think I can do that” and “that looks sick” always seems to bring out the Barney Stinson of watch photography in me. CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!

The 'once upon a hand' shot is probably the most recent example of this. Inspired by the incredible @onceuponatimepiece (hence the name), the shot is like a sibling to @hendersonshorology's palm shot, @kingflum's grip shot, and countless other watch-in-hand poses, and is similarly powerful because of its relatability. After all, who hasn’t fawned over a watch while it delicately laid in the grips of your fingers.

Having studied and experimented with this shot style for a few weeks now, I thought I would share my breakdown of how to recreate it. Enjoy!


This week's challenge

Stretch those hands, rotate those joints, and get limber! Let’s see your best once upon a hand shots this week! As always, tag your posts with #watchstudies to share it with the community.


Once upon a time...

Like a good fairy tale, the premise of this shot is pretty straight forward but actually deceptively challenging to get right.

How to shoot the once upon a hand watch shot

While I can’t save you from the hand cramps you may endure, I’ll try my best today to fast track you through the trial and error that leads you to creating a stunning once upon a hand shot.

There once was a shot without a name

Admittedly, this shot didn't have an actual name when I first started writing this tutorial. After all, the watch isn't in the palm enough to be a palm shot, and isn't really being gripped enough (or at all) to qualify for a grip shot. And any name involving fingers just sounded... weird.

After much deliberation and consultation with close confidants, namely @onceuponatimepiece himself and @averagewatches, it felt right to roll with a name that paid tribute to the one who inspired this tutorial in the first place.

I also kind of like that the name sounds a bit like a fairy tale about one's loving first glance at a new watch. I can hear Disney knocking at the door for the movie rights already.

Camera, lens, and settings

The requirements here are simple: you’ll need a watch of your choosing and a camera (either phone or dedicated is fine). I prefer to shoot handheld as it creates a stronger first person perspective. The camera is likely in your right hand (based on how most dedicated cameras are designed) or in your dominant hand (in the case of a phone camera), while your watch will be in the other hand (obviously).

If you have control over the lens, choose a focal length that lets you comfortably shoot your hand while it fills about 75% of the frame. I typically shoot with a 35mm lens on my Fujifilm X-T4 (cropped sensor), which gives me just enough range for my short arms. Just remember that the wider the focal length, the more distorted your hand and watch might look.

This shot is also at its best with a good amount of depth, so you’ll want to set your aperture to something that gives you a shallow depth of field (if you can).

Hand and watch position

How to shoot the once upon a hand watch shotMe, picturing the grail watch I'll never actually hold.

For this shot, you’re going to rest the watch in your fingers just past your palm. Your hand should be extending away from your body with your palm facing inwards. Your arm should be relaxed and flexible enough to position your hand and watch as needed (and to land that perfect flecto!). And just as I recommended in my hand modeling tutorial, try to keep your hand lightly flexed so you can accentuate its shapes and edges better.

As for the watch, find a comfortable place for it amongst your fingers. Most likely, the case will sit somewhere between your middle or index finger for optimal stability and balance.

How to shoot the once upon a hand watch shotA once upon a hand shot with the watch positioned higher around the index finger.

How to shoot the once upon a hand watch shotA once upon a hand shot with the watch positioned around the middle finger.

Finger formation

If you’ve never thought about where your fingers naturally fall when holding something, you will be abundantly aware of it now. Above all, aim to have your fingers look natural and the grip effortless. Think of your fingers as being in a cascading formation, with each digit closely following the one before it.

Depending on the watch, you may also need to splay out your fingers a bit more to extend the strap or bracelet.

How to shoot the once upon a hand watch shot

Depth

A key ingredient in this style is depth. Due to how closely you’re shooting, you can create a surprising amount of depth between the opposing points in your hand.

Your thumb will be a primary player in this as it sits closest to the camera in the foreground, layered above the watch and slightly out of focus. You can play around with how much you want your thumb and palm to “fold” over the watch, just make sure to not obstruct your focal point too much.

How to shoot the once upon a hand watch shot

Depending on your finger placement, you can create some additional depth by folding the tips of your fingers over the strap or bracelet of the watch. Again, how much overlap is a stylistic decision you can make.

How to shoot the once upon a hand watch shot

Background

With your watch in place and hand optimally posed, the last thing you’ll want is an interesting background. Chances are, you’ll be shooting at a slight downward angle, so you can simply stage a table top with some interesting props, like books, jackets, or the usual assortment of items watch photographers love. Remember, your hand should be elevated off the surface to add even more depth.

How to shoot the once upon a hand watch shotThese are a few of my fa-vo-rite things.

Shooting with stability

Between your floating hand holding the watch and the other hand holding your camera, there’s a lot of room for tired arms and blurry shots. A general tip for stability is to try to create as many points of contact as possible to help balance the weight.

For your shooting arm, shoot through your viewfinder so that you can press the camera up against your face for extra stability. You’ll be shooting one-handed so make sure you’ve got a comfortable grip. If you’re shooting with your phone, hopefully it’s light and small enough that you can hold it stably with ease. Don't hesitate to take breaks between shots to save your arm from falling off.

For your other arm, aim to rest your elbow on the table top or something else that’s solid while keeping the forearm elevated off the surface.

How to shoot the once upon a hand watch shot

Pro tip #1: if you want extra depth or just want a more comfortable pose, you can elevate your arm by resting it on a small box or a yoga block (gotta put it to good use somehow, right?).

How to shoot the once upon a hand watch shot

Pro tip #2: if you're using a one light setup and need a reflector, wearing a white sweater can do the trick.


Your turn!

Stretch those hands, rotate those joints, and get limber! Let’s see your best once upon a hand shots this week! As always, tag your posts with #watchstudies to share it with the community.

And don't forget to follow and check out @onceuponatimepiece's amazing watch photography for even more inspiration!


Thanks for joining another edition of Sunday Study Club! I can't wait to see what you'll create this week!

PS: If you made it this far, drop a 🖐 in the comments of today’s post to let me know!

@onceuponatimepiece on InstagramI'll leave you with this final classic example from @onceuponatimepiece.

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Todd Seger

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