How to Photograph Glass
To photograph an objectthrougha pane of glass, all you need is a polarizing filter. Capturing the glass directly, however, is a much harder challenge. For best results, you can imitate a professional set up to create a "white line" or "black line" effect. For everyday photography, there are still quite a few techniques you can use, but controlling reflections and glare will be a little tougher.
Using Basic Techniques
Use soft, yellow light if you don't have a better setup.Lighting is by far the most important factor when photographing glass, since the wrong setup can create out-of-control reflections or washed out blurs. Soft, yellow or orange natural light in the early morning or twilight can make the glass visible without causing too much glare. If soft natural light isn't available, use weak, yellow artificial lights instead.
- White lights are only recommended if you take the time to try a more complex white-line or black-line setup described below.
Keep the glass clean.Fingerprints and dirt show up clearly on illuminated glass. Clean the glass with glass cleaner and newspaper or cloth before photographing, and wash your hands thoroughly before handling the glass.
- Gloves are not recommended, since they often leave a residue or fibers. (This is also why newspaper is preferred over paper towels.)
Find a plain background.Without a more involved set up, your best bet is a plain background that's neither too bright, nor too dark. Find a grey or cream wall, tablecloth, or other background to photograph.
Reduce the number of colors in the photograph.If you want to photograph the glass against a more interesting background, or alongside other objects, try to keep the number of visible colors as low as possible. As soon as a second or third color is visible in the surroundings, the reflections in the glass will look much more distracting and strange.
- Of course, if "distracting and strange" is what you're going for, you canincreasethe number of colors in the background or surroundings.
Position the object to control reflections.If you want reflections included in your photograph, this can be a fun series of trial and error to see which effect you like best. If you're trying to minimize reflections and keep attention on the glass object itself, there are stricter rules to follow:
- Point the light source (or direct it with photo flags or barriers) so it illuminates the surfaces to the left or right of the object, not the object itself.
- Direct illumination usually leads to glare, but can be attempted for a more "glowing" effect. Minimize glare by sending the light through a photography diffuser, or a sheet of tissue paper. Point the light at roughly a 45º angle relative to the camera.
- Lighting from behind can reduce reflections, but requires a barrier between you and the glass to prevent a reflection or silhouette of yourself appearing in the glass.
Step back to reduce reflections.The farther away you are, the fewer reflections reach your camera. Take advantage of this fact, especially if you have a long lens to attach to your camera.
Adjust the aperture.If possible with your camera lens, reduce the aperture as low as f/16 or f/20. As a rule of thumb, this will create a sharper image, and reduce blurs and soft spots in the image.
Add liquid (optional).If the glass ends up looking shallow or uninteresting in photographs, try adding water or other liquids to refract the light and give it a more defined shape. Containers can have water poured directly into them, while other objects can be sprayed with water to leave droplets.
- Mix in a little food coloring if you want a splash of color.
Outline the glass with black reflections (optional).If the edges of the glass are full of reflections or warped background images, place any black objects to the left and right of the glass, just out of view of the camera. Ideally, the light will reflect these against the edges of the glass, creating a more austere black silhouette. Move them closer or farther away to adjust how wide the black lines are.
- This is the quick and dirty version of the "black line" setup, described in more detail below. It will often help, but won't produce guaranteed results outside of an environment with controlled light sources.
Using a White-Line Setup
Use a white-line effect to display shape.This arrangement results in a dark photograph, with white lines reflected along the edges of the glass. This accentuates the shape of the glass object, but can make it difficult to see color and detail.
Set up a black background and surface.Place a black cloth or black matte paper background behind and under the glass object, so nothing else is visible in the photograph. On the left and right of the object, outside the visible photograph, position white rectangular paper vertically.
Add white paper or canvas to the rear and sides.Cut out two thin rectangles of white paper ("fill cards"), taller than the glass object. Position these standing upright to the left and right of the object, behind it, and out of the camera's field of view. Point it toward the object at roughly a 45º angle in relation to the camera. These will create a white reflection along the sides of the glass, highlighting its shape and contrasting with the black center.
- For a more stylized effect with only the outlined sides of the glass visible, you can use white paper to form "walls" directly to the left and right of the object.
- You can use a single piece of paper instead, and the glass will still reflect it to appear on both sides.
Shine lights on the white surfaces.This step can take time to set up if you do not have a professional light-box, so be prepared for some tweaking. Point a white light at each white fill card, but take care not to let the light pass through the glass itself. Ideally, use photographic light flags on all sides of the light source to keep it focused on one area.If you do not have any light flags, you can make your own using foam-core board or another solid, opaque material.
Use more black surfaces to protect from additional light.Surround the entire setup with black matte paper or black-painted posterboard, and turn off all other lights in the room. Leave a small gap to fit your camera's lens through.
- If you see reflections in the glass, look carefully and make adjustments to make sure all reflective surfaces are obscured.
Experiment with photographs.Take a photograph and see how it turns out. If you think you can do better, play around with the amount of light and the position of the white fill cards. The brighter the light and closer the fill cards, the thicker and brighter the white lines will be at the edge of the glass.
- If you would like more detail, and have a transparent surface to place the object on, you can try cutting a hole in the black paper, and illuminating the object from underneath.Try this with and without the white sides.
- Never use flash when photographing glass.
Using a Black-Line Setup
Use the black-line technique to show color and detail.This setup results in a brightly illuminated glass object, with black lines creating a silhouette-like effect. Color and detail are generally easier to emphasize compared to the white-line setup, and the bright lighting can make weak reflections and glare invisible.
Surround the glass with black barriers.Place the glass in a black photo box if you have one, or surround it with black matte barriers underneath, behind, and to each side of the object. Pull these side barriers close together, or use additional barriers, to block light from the front and leave only a small gap for your camera lens.
- You can hold off on completely enclosing the area until after the setup below is complete, but keep this final goal in mind.
- You may need to use a "ceiling" for the area as well, if reflections are getting in over the top of the walls.
Add a pale panel directly behind the object.This can be white or grey; the brighter the light source you'll be using, the darker this panel can be. Set this up directly behind the object from the perspective of the camera, and make it no wider than the object itself. If the panel is too wide, you could end up with white reflections or lens flare interfering with the clean, silhouetted appearance.
Illuminate the background with diffuse lighting.You can use a specialized diffuser, or imitate the effect by covering your light source with a white tissue. Point this at the background panel. Use flags or barriers if necessary to avoid illuminating the glass directly. You're going for a soft "spotlight" effect on the background, which will in turn send light through the glass toward the camera.
- You can also try illuminating the glass directly from behind, sending the light through a sheet of white acrylic or a transparent canvas.This setup may be more difficult to adjust.
Experiment with your photographs.Photograph the glass, and take a look at the result. If you aren't satisfied, adjust the brightness of the light source, or use additional photo flags or barriers to eliminate undesirable reflections.
- To photograph objectsthroughglass, attach a polarizing filter to your lens and turn it to control how much reflection gets through.
- When photographing flat glass, such as a window pane, tilt the camera at an angle to put it in better focus.
- If you want to photograph the reflection in glass, light the object being reflected, not the glass itself.
Video: Glass Photography
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