How to use the power of contrast in watch photography

How to use the power of contrast in watch photography

There's something sort of poetic about the idea that humans don't perceive and experience the world as absolutes, but rather as a series of comparative qualities that are relative to the surroundings. What is blue is only perceived as blue – or that specific tone of blue – relative to the shades that flank it. 

This notion underlines that nothing really exists in true isolation, and that, somewhat paradoxically, something's existence is almost only made possible by the existence of other things. Y'know, that whole 'no man is an island' thing.

This is why contrast is such a powerful tool in a photographer's arsenal. If you think about the exercise of viewing a photo as a rapid fire series of successive comparisons between every element in frame, then the way we use contrast (in all its forms) in our work surely communicates a lot more than the little Lightroom slider would lead you to believe.

In today's tutorial, I look at 5 examples of other types of contrast that can help you leverage its power to tell a more intentional story in your watch photography. Enjoy!

What is contrast?

You may be familiar with contrast from using the slider in Lightroom or other editing apps. But what does it actually do?

Contrast setting in Lightroom

Apps like Lightroom define contrast as the amount of difference between the dark parts (i.e. shadows and blacks) and the light parts (i.e highlights and whites) in your photo. The higher the contrast value, the greater the difference will be between the lightest and darkest points.

This may be what the contrast slider controls, but there’s actually so much more to contrast that, if understood well, can help you create more impactful photos.

Contrast, more broadly

Broadly speaking, contrast still refers to the difference between things. But great photographers understand that there are many different ways to create contrast in their work.

You see, our eyes rarely see absolute values. What they see is relative values — how one element looks in comparison to another element in the photo. So, we can use this idea of comparison (or more specifically, differentiation) to our advantage.

Said another way, how we contrast elements against each other has a big impact on how a photo is perceived. Contrast, when used effectively, can give a photo a stronger sense of focus, depth, and harmony, among many other things.

Today, we’re going to look at 5 examples of other kinds of contrast that you can use to improve your watch photos. They are color, sharpness, saturation, texture, and temperature. Let's dive in!

1. Color contrast

Let’s start with color because it’s a familiar concept. Here, the vibrant pepsi bezel and crisp silver dial of the Zodiac Sea Wolf beams out from the dark surrounding. The eye spots it immediately.

@watchstudies on Instagram

2. Sharpness contrast

Another familiar idea. By stacking elements in the foreground, mid ground, and background, you can use contrasting sharpness to emphasize depth while drawing focus to the sharpest elements.

@watchstudies on Instagram

3. Saturation contrast

One of my favorite ways to draw the eye to the watches in my shots is by desaturating the steel case and bracelet. The effect is particularly impactful when the environment is filled with rich colors and tones.

@watchstudies on Instagram

4. Texture contrast

Another way to draw attention to something is by differentiating it by texture. This is why the gritty aesthetic works well for watch shots: the clean finishes of watches often standout against rough textures.

@watchstudies on Instagram

5. Temperature contrast

Lastly, one of my favs. Blue and orange are considered complementary colors. That’s why the contrast between the cool blues of the book works so well against the warm orange of the leather, wood, and skin in this shot.

@watchstudies on Instagram

Closing notes

A big part of what determines a photo’s effectiveness is how little your brain has to work to get it. Essentially, great photos should draw you into a story effortlessly. So by putting contrast to work effectively, we can alleviate cognitive load, reduce visual tension, and minimize competing focal points.

Just remember that there are many ways to create contrast in your photos, not just the 5 examples mentioned here, and certainly not just the contrast slider in Lightroom. Apply this idea the next time you’re shooting and editing!

Your turn!

Let’s see how you put contrast to work in your watch shots! Don’t forget to tag #watchstudies!

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@Todd Seger – You are not alone! I think we’re always our own worst critics. There will be days where we feel like we’re pumping out sub-par work, just like there will be days when we feel like we’re killing it! It’s all part of the creative process! Thanks for the support and for taking the time to leave a comment here!

Verne Ho

Enjoying the tutorials immensely! Find myself being ever so critical of my own shots… I go back after each section and check my work… Sometimes I’m pleased and others find myself falling truly short of greatness. 🤣

Todd Seger

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