Soldats

This post is about my efforts and experiences in making a “soldat” picture of a wrist watch.

Some of my kind followers know how hard it is to make it right and in no way I’m posting this as a victory of any kind. I’m still learning and experimenting looking for a flexible set up that allows me to make the soldats maximizing my time.

Very few brands still make soldat pictures using photography. Mostly, they use the computer generated 3D models. It’s faster, cheaper and it can be done in-house by the brands.

I won’t bother you with the business details but I have 112 soldat pictures to make, mostly jewelry watches and high complications. Many of them are very similar but our clients are very interested in seeing all the variations of a certain model.

So here it goes, the process, the rigths and the wrongs.

Creating a mood picture is very different. Yes, it has to be pretty much accurate but we tolerate a fair amount of charm(ness). Seduction is more important than visual accuracy.

mood 1

When I’m focusing on a detail I can illuminate exactly what I want and forget about the rest. I always use the lights hand held, camera on the tripod and self timer set to 10 seconds.

Lets take a step back and try to shoot a watch in a still life situation. Not just a detail, but the whole watch. Like this:

IMG_2113

Okay, I have the little aliens where I want them, I have the watch where I want it and I can easily increase the overall contrast, turning the background completely black and for a bit of punch on the aliens.

I always do the same thing: duplicate the layer in Photoshop and set the top one to “Softlight” and go from there.

Now look at the watch. There’s a huge problem… the case, being in polished, and I mean polished pink gold, reflects the aliens all around and the light coming from above makes the glass of the watch “milky”. The coating of the glass does that.

There’s no way around it, I had to make a separate shot for the watch without moving it. Keep in mind that I wanted some reflections and shadows otherwise it would look fake, better said… more fake than it already is.

IMG_2123

The light seemed nice. It’s not coming straight from above but more or less between 7 and 8 o’clock as you can see. The dial is not milky no more and that little glow looks nice too.

Okay, two little problems:
1 – The crown has to be put in. (We must work with the crown pulled out for the watch to stop working)
2 – I was holding two white sheets of paper and we can see where they overlap a bit.

detail 2 detail 1

Final steps. Using the stamp tool to clean some dust, fixing the crown and clone stamp again on the case. Overall contrast via layer work, Soflight, Overlay and Multiply, color adjustment and that’s it.

Untitled-20

Now for the damn soldat pictures… It’s like failure after failure. Many of these watches cost like 50, 100.000 euros. This means that those little nightmares all full of details. The numbers or indexes change colors depending on the light. They can go from total black to shiny gold with just a tiny change of light! On top of that add a mother of peal dial or with some super detailed kind of finishing…

Those watches are the hardest because, even keeping it to a minimum, they need at least 2 shots. One for the whole watch and another one just to light the numbers properly.

Here is a failure.

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The case looks nice, the strap looks nice, the mother of pearl looks nice but the numbers and the hands are fake and I can see that a mile away.

Here’s a picture of another watch with similar dial and numbers.

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Notice the lighter area and how the numbers are actually 3D gold inserts. This watch model is not straight, the glass is curved so, the part of the glass closer to the light will always be lighter. I can fix both pictures in Photoshop but it can take me a whole day to shoot and work on a single soldat image for these models.

If the watch has a straight glass I think I have that flexible light set up I was looking for and here it is:
– 2 card boxes supporting a huge 175cm reflector (white part down).
– 2 small lights with 6400K lamps in.
– Tripod, Canon 5D and the 120mm macro lens.

Untitled-1

This set up allows me to make a soldat out of a single shot with some minor Photoshop work. Please notice that just to place each watch it takes me about 15 to 20 minutes.

02

On every watch the top part is a vertical flip clone of the lower part. It’s very important that they align perfectly on a website or sales catalog and doing the vertical flip trick help achieving this uniformity.

Look closer. Notice anything strange? Look at the second watch, the purple one. See how the height is different?

Screen shot 2015-04-24 at 10.56.51 PM

I could not clone the lower part of the purple watch as I did on the other models because the bottom and the top set of diamonds are not of the same color. This will require extra Photoshop work.

Here are some more examples.

01

03

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Well, that’s it guys. These are in no way perfect or even good but these are small victories.

I look at every watch as a challenge for which I must come up with solutions.

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2 comments
  1. Hard to realize there is so much work behind an apparently simple image. Very interesting and keep up the good work!

  2. We often tend to forget that professional photographers need to be problem solvers too. The Digital Rev channel on Youtube, Cheap Camera Challenge, is a very good example.
    Interesting and useful article. Thank you for sharing.

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