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Love glass, but hate the reflections? Learn the secrets to get it right

Added on Tuesday 11th of January 2011 07:39 am EST

Mix sand and high heat together, and you form one of mankind’s most durable and intriguing substances—glass. However, for such a simple material, it can be one of the most difficult subjects to shoot. Unwanted reflections can ruin even the most well-designed compositions. But you can get a good shot, as we did in Figure A— the answer is found not in what you shoot, but in how you light it. Let’s take an in-depth look at how you can masterfully shoot glass surfaces, avoid unwanted reflections, and create the pleasing result you want.



Choose and study your subject

Since glass comes in just about every shape and color imaginable, trying to cover every shooting possibility would be impossible. But most glass surfaces react to light in similar ways, so our setups should serve you well for most situations.

First, choose a subject. While a cut glass or crystal example will certainly do, an ordinary item you have, such as dessert dish, as shown in Figure B, will be fine for a test subject. It’s simple in shape, and its geometric decoration makes it an interesting challenge to light.



Next, though this may seem obvious, once you’ve selected an example, study it. Pick it up and look at it from all sides and directions. Here are a few things to think about as you make your examination:

            Look from the top, at eye level, and even underneath. Note how light passes through different areas of the glass.

            Look for an interesting angle,—one that you’ve never seen photographed before.

            Ask yourself: What is the purpose of the shot?

            Maybe a client has given you a product to shoot. The client will want the shape and pattern to read well and not be buried or obscured by props that you might use to compose the shot. How will you light the product optimally?

            If it’s a concept shot, pre-visualize how it will appear in relationship to the other objects in the scene. How will those other objects influence the glass?


When you’ve finished examining your subject and have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish, you’re ready to compose the shot and set the lighting.


Careful composition

Once you’ve studied your subject and have an initial idea as to how you want to present it in the final image, you’re ready to frame your shot:

1.           Place your subject on your tabletop and adjust its location. For our example, we’ll keep things as simple as possible and place the dish in the center of a medium gray seamless cloth.

2.          Mount your camera on a tripod, adjust its location relative to your subject, and then frame your shot.

3.          Turn on at least one light placed to either the left or right side of your subject and view it in your viewfinder or LCD. Check out our initial setup shown in Figure C.


Although this procedure may seem almost elementary when starting a photo setup, follow such a routine for two reasons:

            It keeps your organized and makes you work sequentially.

            It enables you to begin your shooting quicker. You won’t start your work, and then suddenly discover you forgot to do something, which will break your concentration.


Now that you’ve gotten the preliminaries out of the way, you can begin to light your subject.




Light to avoid distracting reflections

Avoiding reflections from transparent glass is impossible. Reflected light is, after all, what defines its shape. But avoiding unwanted reflections isn’t impossible when you take the time to control your lighting. We’re going to cover the basic four setups–as all other techniques are merely variations.


Black line lighting

Black line lighting, which uses the color of the predominate reflection as its basis, is not only the most dramatic lighting, as shown in Figure D, but it also the easiest to achieve: