How to use masks to fix overexposed watch details

Watches are such interesting objects to shoot because of all the visual details they come with. Every couple of millimeters of a watch features a new finish, a new angle, a new material, a new texture, or a new color. Of course, the caveat is that all of these little details come with their own little nuances that must be accounted for when trying to capture them through a lens.

One such trade off is that it’s inevitable that some of these shiny details are going to catch a bit too much light and show up slightly over exposed. And being a lover of fine polished pieces like the Cartier Santos and the Rolex Explorer, this happens to me a lot more than I’d like to admit. Thankfully, I’ve got a little editing technique that has been instrumental in helping me overcome these reflective challenges. And I’d like to share it with you today. Enjoy!

What does being overexposed mean?

A part of a photo is considered overexposed when it is so bright that it’s lost all visible detail and shows up as a blotch of white. While this can sometimes contribute to an overall aesthetic of a photo (like, say, super dramatic streams of light coming through a window), in most cases, it’s ideal to be able to retain some level of detail in the brighter parts of a shot.

How to use masks to fix overexposed watch details

There are a few ways to minimize the risk of having your photos overexposed:

Use light that is more diffused. The softer the light source, the less likely you’re going to have the dramatic contrast between the dark and light spots in your shot.

Underexpose or expose for the bright spots. While shooting, always expose for the brightest spots in the shot. This ensures that you can capture all the details in those areas and therefore have greater control over them while editing. Don’t worry about underexposing, it’s always easier to bring details back from the shadows.

Shoot in RAW. When you shoot photos in RAW format, you are capturing more data in the image file, which again gives you greater control to manipulate the photo while editing. Shooting JPGs gives you far less room to make adjustments.

Still, even with all this due diligence, it’s often easy to still end up with really blown out details on the watches you’re shooting, especially if they have polished surfaces. And that’s where this editing technique comes into play.

Using masks to fix overexposed details in your photo

One of my favorite and least favorite details on my Santos is its incredibly shiny and reflective bezel. It’s not only a scratch magnet, it also unapologetically catches all the light off my softbox.

How to use masks to fix overexposed watch details

Even if I’ve underexposed while shooting, by the time I bring the exposure back up to the ideal level in Lightroom, the bezel is almost always blown out. To fix this, I follow 3 simple steps using Lightroom’s mask feature.

1. Use a brush to paint a mask on the overexposed parts of the watch. Don’t forget to adjust the size and feathering to get as precise of a mask as possible. Keep the feathering to a minimum and the opacity at 100%. You can also use the eraser brush to help refine the mask if you’ve colored outside the lines a bit.

How to use masks to fix overexposed watch details

Next, under the Light panel, bring the Highlights setting down. This is the moment of truth where you discover whether you’ve effectively captured any details that can be saved. Assuming you have, you should start to see those details re-appear as you bring the Highlights down.

How to use masks to fix overexposed watch details

Here's a closer look at the effect in action:

Remember to tweak the Highlights with moderation as overdoing it could also render the photo unrealistic. Your goal is to give the watch its natural glow while pretending that your lighting was perfectly balanced (because, y’know, it totally always is right??).

Lastly, blend! To help ease the corrected area into the rest of the watch, you’re going to use the eraser brush to do some blending. Start by making the red mask overlay visible. Then, to begin blending, increase the size and feathering of your eraser brush and then lower the opacity to 50% or less. Finally, with your mouse, finger, or stylus (depending on which device you’re using), gently brush the edges of your mask until you’ve created a clean fade.

Here's a quick video that better illustrates how to blend:

And here's what the result should look like:

How to use masks to fix overexposed watch details

And voila! Just like that, you’ve brought some color and detailing back into what was previously just a sea of white. Nice work!

Additional examples

Just to demonstrate the versatility of this technique, here are a couple more examples of photos I've rescued from some overly reflective bezels and cases with this technique.

How to use masks to fix overexposed watch details

How to use masks to fix overexposed watch details

How to use masks to fix overexposed watch details

And here are the full photos just for good measure:

How to use masks to fix overexposed watch details

Your turn!

Let's see how you put this technique to use to rescue and show off all the beautiful details of your watches that usually get lost in overexposure! Don't forget to tag #watchstudies to share your work 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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