How to use subframing in watch photography

How to use subframing in watch photography

Language is undoubtedly one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal. It is the atomic unit of our conversations, our interactions, and fundamentally, our relationships. In the design world we say that the best designed products feel truly innate, and by that measure, language is also probably the world’s most advanced interface.

This is why I always geek out silently whenever I learn a new word. With new terminology, I feel empowered to discuss topics not as abstract concepts, but rather as tangible ideas. Being armed with language lets me study ideas with greater specificity, and in turn, pass those insights to you.

Thanks to the good folks at Mango Street (one of my favorite photography channels to follow, by the way), the term subframing has recently entered my vocabulary. As it turns out, subframing describes a compositional technique that I already use pretty often and have even touched on a handful of times in past tutorials. But now I finally know the proper word for it (clearly I'm not a classically trained photography).

They say you don’t truly know something until you can put it into words, so today I’d love to share this new term (to those who don’t know it already anyway) and touch on how it applies to the world of watch photography. Enjoy!

This week’s challenge

This week, let's see you put subframing to good use! How will you frame your watch and strengthen your photo's focus? Remember to tag #watchstudies to share it with the community!

What is subframing?

Subframing is the technique of using elements within your photo to border your focal point (the term itself referring to the idea that there is a frame within a frame). As you’d imagine, this strengthens your focus by drawing the eyes toward the inner frame.

This is a powerful technique for all forms of photography, but especially watch photography. With watches being on the smaller size, it’s easy for them to get dwarfed and otherwise lost among the other objects that they appear alongside. By strategically applying subframing to your watch photos, you can make sure the eyes always go straight to where you want them to.


If you’ve read my #watchesandbooks tutorial, you know I’m a big fan of using books to complement my watches. More relevantly though, the rectangular nature of book covers and pages make for great subframes.

Take this mega flatlay featuring Volume 8 of HODINKEE Magazine as an example. The vibrant blue not only draws the eyes right to the primary subject, but also physically separates it from the secondary props around the perimeter. 


The inside pages also offer an infinite number of possibilities for subframing. Capturing a page flip in action also adds a ton of interesting depth to the shot.


And just to go one level deeper, you can even use the contents of a page to help frame your watch. Here, I'm using a beautiful photo of a speedy to frame the speedy in my hand. Inception!


Watch boxes, rolls, trays

What better way to frame a watch than with products that are literally built to contain watches!

Whether it's a single or multi-watch box, the slots and cushions are natural options for subframes.


A soft watch roll can also offer a more organic subframe, with pockets and folds helping to bring focus to the watch.


It should surprise nobody that I love this valet tray. Not only is it beautiful, but it also gives me a great way to frame in my primary subjects and separate them from the rest of the composition.


Negative space

Remember last week’s tutorial on flatlays? Turns out, the negative space between the surrounding props make a great implicit frame too.

Here's last week's demo. With the spatial relationship between all the secondary props established, the space surrounding the watch becomes a nice subframe that guides the eye toward the watch.


Here's another flatlay example using spatial relationships to implicitly create a subframe in the negative space.


More ways to frame

Here are a few more creative ways to create subframes in your watch photos!

If you read my tutorial on the duffel bag shot, you'll know that one of the key elements to this shot style is the way the zippers of the bag frame the contents of the bag.


You can get creative with your jacket shots too! Whether you're using the pockets or the inside of the jacket, like in the example below, a stylish jacket offers a lot of great options for subframing.


This next idea may not work with smaller modern day cameras, but if you've got some vintage gear in your kit, they can act as beautiful stages and subframes for your shots.


You don't always have to rely on the shape of one object to frame your watch either! Here, I'm using the contour of my hand combined with the lines of the watch box to frame in the watch. 


Community examples

There are so many talented creators already using subframing to strengthen their photos. Here are a few of my recent favorites!



@ hronolytical@chronolytical



Your turn!

This week, let's see you put subframing to good use! How will you frame your watch and strengthen your photo's focus? Remember to tag #watchstudies to share it with the community!

Thanks for joining another edition of Sunday Study Club! If you're interested in learning more, here are some related tutorials you may enjoy as well:

PS: If you've made it this far, let me know by dropping a 🖼 in the comments of today's Instagram post!

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