One of the most amazing things about professional photography is its ability to open us to cultures, places and worlds we could never have experienced without it.
First, let me introduce myself. I’m Scott Sitkiewitz, an instructor with Precision Camera and a professional photographer. I actually worked at the store in 2005 answering the phones — the hardest job I ever had! From there, I moved up to the sales department until my daughter was born. In 2008, I left Precision to be a stay-at-home dad and part-time photographer, and I started my business, Scott D Photography. I specialized in traditional studio photography versus outdoor natural light photography — what everyone was doing at the time. I love the control that I have when working in that environment, and I did a lot of business because people wanted indoor portraits. Now that my children are older and in school, spending time on with them on weekends is more important to me. So, I have shifted into a more nine-to-five type photography shooting products and real estate video.
I just returned from Basel, Switzerland where I worked on a team of journalists from watchuseek.com covering the annual Baselworld Watch and Jewelry Show. I learned a ton shooting in the fast-paced and luxurious playground of the best watchmakers in the world, and the trip served as an interesting window into a world foreign to most of us.
This is year 100 for the Baselworld show and more than 100,000 people attended from more than 100 countries. The convention is designed for watch manufactures to announce amazing new products and meet with retailers, distributors and journalists.
I have been photographing wristwatches for Watchuseek, a Toronto-based blog, in my studio for several years but have just recently started to travel and cover big events. This was my first time going to Baselworld — a big deal for a watch nerd like me. So, I was the rookie on the team and it definitely took me a couple of days to find my fit in the chaos.
Journalists at Baselworld have pre-arranged meetings with the brands. So, your day is filled with about six meetings a day for six days straight. The show is held in a massive convention center with three buildings that each have multiple floors of booths. Just getting from meeting to meeting on time is a major challenge. The big brands — like Rolex, Omega and Tag Heuer — have massive custom booths complete with waiting areas, receptionists, bars, group presentation rooms and smaller, private meeting spaces.
Mirrorless on the Job: Fuji for the Win
My job for Watchuseek is to photograph new watches to accompany articles for the publication and provide photos and videos to the Watchuseek social media team back in Toronto.
For high-quality photos, I used a Fujifilm X-T2 as my main camera body and another as a backup. The adjustable screen really helped me grab close up shots in cramped quarters and the amazing quality at high ISOs is a life saver. My main lens for photographing the watches is the Zeiss Touit 50mm macro, a killer sharp lens that really allows me to get the fine detail shots I need. My lens of choice for establishing photos of the manufacturers' booths and general show coverage is the Fuji 10-24mm. With it, I can go from a super wide to a more normal 35mm field of view. It’s super versatile.
For flash, I used the Nissin Di700A when needed. One thing that I forgot to bring is my 12-inch translucent reflector to place above the watch to knock out some contrast from the hard halogen lights in the meeting rooms. I’ll never make that mistake again!
After walking for six days straight, the lighter weight of the mirrorless system was invaluable. This was my first run with a mirrorless system, and I don’t think I'll be going back to a DSLR.
Shooting Video on the Run
Another invaluable tool in my arsenal was my phone. Why? Because of the timeliness of the new watch announcements, publishing video on social media quickly is important. And the best tool for the job turns out to be my phone.
For high-quality audio, I used a lavalier microphone from Aperture that ran directly into my phone. For stable video footage, I used a MeFOTO Sidekick 360 to hold my phone on a MeFoto travel tripod. I recorded the video in the meeting, shared it via our private group on WhatsApp while rushing to our next appointment, and like magic, it would be up on Facebook and Instagram.
The Fine Art of Shooting Watches at Baselworld
There are two types of watch shots that I need to get in my meetings. First, I shoot general overview photos of the watch sitting on its side or perhaps propped up on its bracelet or strap. I'll grab a shot of the back if you can see the movement. The second key shot is the “wrist shot." The wrist shot is just the watch on the wrist, and it's usually taken with a phone. Thanks to Instagram, there is a whole genre of watch photography that is nothing but wrist shots.
Each meeting with the big brands is totally different and you have to be flexible. In the meetings, a watch is presented and then passed around for people to look at and photograph.
Some of these watches retail for more than twice the price of my home, so some care must be taken when handling them. If the brand presenter is wearing gloves while showing the watch, I will do the same.
When the meeting is over, most brands handout goodie bags with USB drives that house press releases along with cool little gifts like hand-crafted magnifying glasses, pocket sundials and plenty of Swiss chocolate.
Editing and Publishing on the fly
In downtime between meetings, I headed to the pressroom where I was able to set up my laptop and start the culling process. I would copy photos from the meeting to pre-made folders for each brand. In Lightroom, I would flag the top photos, move them to a selects subfolder, apply the camera profile, color correct, do a basic exposure adjustment, crop and export. If I didn’t get to do this between meetings I would edit back at the hotel room.
Oh yeah, the city!
On some evenings there was some time to get out and see the city a little and enjoy schnitzel and beir before heading back to the hotel.
Basel is a lovely city built on the Rhine river with a charm that you can only get in Europe. It's fascinating the bond multiple generations of the same family share. Walking around in the evening, I spotted families will little kids, young couples on dates and old timers all walking hand-in-hand. Multiple generations of one family will share the evening.
Maybe if I get to go back next year, I’ll schedule my flight back a day later just so I can walk the city with my camera in hand.
Two of my passions — watches and photography — have collided to open up not only new business opportunities but lasting friendships and the experience of seeing parts of our world that I could only dream of before.
Check out my watch photography on Instagram.