How to Photograph Glassware
Lights. Camera. Reflection!
One of the most difficult skills as a product or studio photographer is knowing how to photograph glassware. Anyone can point a light at an object and take a photo. But to capture a stylish, professional image of a material that keeps throwing reflections everywhere can be a nightmare for all!
Not to worry, in this article you will learn everything there is and become an ultimate glassware photographer. We have created this article which includes a comprehensive guide and additional tips to completely polish your glassware photography skills. Excuse the pun.
What will you learn in this article?
This article will teach you –
- A step by step introduction to a perfect glass photography session
- How to set up lighting and background with minimal reflections
- How to use lighting and backgrounds creatively and get unique results
- How to set your camera perfectly
- How to use mild reflections to add texture
- How to be creative with reflectors, fluids and other techniques!
Photographing Glassware With These Easy Steps
We have prepared 5 important steps on how to photograph glass, explained in the simplest manner possible. By following this procedure step by step, you will attain the perfect glassware photography session.
Step 1: Glass cleaning
It’s no surprise that the glass must be brand new and polished to its utmost sheen. You must clean it thoroughly to get rid of all kinds of dust, lint, and other particles. Additionally, there shouldn’t be any fingerprints. Even tiny smudges are visible when you shoot at high resolution.
Wearing gloves may help avoid fingerprints. High-quality cleaning gloves are preferred for maximum comfort, as you will need to wear them often if you’re going to be photographing glassware regularly. Make sure that your gloves are always fresh and clean, to begin with.
Using compressed a air can or hose is a good way to quickly blow away dust specks that can’t be easily cleaned. Do try to ensure that the environment has no draft to avoid any flying particles landing on the glass.
Step 2: Set preparation
The set entirely depends on the style of image that you want to capture. However, there is some basic equipment that you will need regardless of the style you choose.
- A Tripod
- 2 or 3 lights (either flash or continuous) with Softboxes
- Light stands, Boom arms and Clamps
- White sheets and cards / Black sheets or foams
- White and black poly boards and Reflectors
- Gaffer tape
- Diffusion material such as tracing, frost, or spun
Step 3: Placing Background
Black and white are perfect background choices for photographing glass objects, but you can spruce it up with a selection of differently coloured backgrounds. For this guide, we’ll just stick to white and black backgrounds. Black and white are default backgrounds colours for most product photography and they almost always give good results.
There are several ways you could place the background. You can tape it to a wall. You could also hang it using a boom stand and clamps. We prefer that you hang it as that adds a lot of options for lighting the glass. Make sure that the background is hung as flat as possible, without any creases.
If you want a continuous, “infinity” background, then you can do so by pulling the base of the sheet and placing it under the glass.
Step 4: Lighting preparation
This is the most elaborate part of glassware photography. Lighting reflective products like glass are often incredibly confusing. Learning how to photograph glass without reflections and Low Key Photography shadows is a critical skill. But all your confusions are about to be cleared.
Firstly, memorise this rule to heart: Never point a light source directly at the glass.
Repeat that until it’s second nature to you. Memorising this will alleviate 50% of glassware lighting problems. Pointing a light directly at the glass causes reflections that get directed everywhere, including the camera’s lens. This reflection cannot be mitigated no matter what you do in the set and in post-production, consequently resulting in a poor-looking image.
The trick is to illuminate the background, which would then illuminate the glass whilst avoiding reflections. There are a few ways you could illuminate the backdrop and each method will give you a different image.
1. Pointing light sources at the background from the front – You can try pointing lights directly at the backdrop with light sources from below, from above, or from the sides. Regardless of the angle, it will hit the background from the front.
2. Pointing light sources at the background from behind – Same technique as before.
Except that the lights strike the backdrop from behind.
3. Using reflectors – Instead of striking light directly at the background, you can use reflectors to reflect light onto it. Setting up reflectors is a bit of tedious work with stands and clamps, but will provide excellent results as the reflected light enhances the contrast of the glass, helping make a cleaner image.
However, you may find minor reflections on the glass to be visible and the image to be overexposed. That is where and black backgrounds and poly boards come in.
Black poly boards can be placed on the sides of the glass which serve as light absorbers—experiment with setting the angle just right so that the light is perfectly absorbed. Using a black background instead of a white one will not only reduce reflections but provide a completely different aesthetic. It generally looks more stylish and contemporary. However, you will also get excellent results if you use a white background with black poly boards as anti-reflectors.
Reducing reflections will give you the best image, but don’t go overboard with it. Completely eliminating all reflections will result in an unrealistic image of a plain glass contour. A bit of reflection helps define the shape of the glass. Learning how to avoid reflection in glass photography is indeed critical, but the key is to make the reflections look pleasant whilst keeping them at a minimum.
Step 5: Shoot!
Start shooting your image! Ensure that your camera settings are properly adjusted, including the ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. You should definitely use a tripod as all product photographers do, or you won’t be able to capture a crisp image. Setting the shutter speed at a ballpark of around 1/125th will do. It shouldn’t be too fast to miss out on fine details and shouldn’t be too slow to result in an overexposed shot.
As you will be lighting properly, the ISO should be the lowest. 100-200 ISO is a good spot. However, it may be possible that you have limited lighting options and the image seems too dark. You can bump up the ISO in that case, but try not to go over 600 ISO. Increasing it too much will deteriorate the dynamic range and introduce visible noise.
Aperture completely depends on the distance of your camera, the size of the glass, and the type of lens that you’re using. Regardless, the goal is to keep the entire image in focus, including the background. So, keep adjusting the aperture until you hit a sweet spot where the glass and the background are in sharp focus.
Even if everything looks perfect, you may find that adjusting the position of the camera can provide excellent results. For example, instead of shooting directly through the centre, moving the camera a bit towards the left will help create angular reflections on the glass. This adds character to your image instead of it looking like a stock glass photograph. It all depends on your lighting. If the lighting doesn’t provide any such advantage, there is no need to spend time on it. The first goal is to capture a professional glass image and be creative later.
Glassware Photography – 8 Top Tips
Now that you know each and every step on how to photograph glass, there are some tips for you to enhance your glass photography techniques and take it to the next level!
1) Use a long focal length
Using lenses of longer focal lengths like 105mm has several advantages. It allows you to shoot the image from longer distances, reducing the chances of getting yours or the camera’s reflection on the glass.
Additionally, you can use a smaller background. Longer focal lengths let the camera see less space behind the subject, which is good in case you aren’t able to use a large background.
2) Add Drama to your shot
A product photo doesn’t necessarily have to be a plain image unless specifically required. Pouring a bit of water on top will enable bubbling inside the glass. You can also pour it around the glass to get a scattered look.
There are some rules though. Since you will be dealing with action, you need to have a high shutter speed of around 1/1000th. You need someone else to pour the water as well.
3) Light your label
Depending on the shape of the glass, type of label, and several other factors, the label may not appear perfect. Not to worry, similar to lighting the set, you can use reflectors to reflect light directly onto the label.
However, this may add reflections as the light will also hit the glass. To minimize this, you can use light diffusion material on the reflectors, which will greatly cut out extra reflections. You can use one reflector for each side on two separate shots and combine those images in post-production.
4) Use negative fill
Surround your glass with black foam or matte blackboards on the sides and the top.
Place them as close as possible to the glass whilst keeping a small gap.
You’ll see that the glass’s edges will have enhanced dark reflections.
This technique is called negative fill and can be used to add static drama to the image. This will work best with a white background.
5) The mirror effect
If you’re looking for a mirror effect on the glass’s base, then you could place the glass on a reflective surface like a sheet of plexiglass or acrylic. These materials are safer choices for the base than using glass material itself.
A quick trick is to place another inverted glass under the glass that you’ll shoot. That way, you have a mirror effect without having to use any reflective surface!
6) Add color in your glass
Instead of shooting an empty glass, adding some liquid to your glass will make it a more plausible image. Better yet, adding colored liquids can really make your glass stand out. Are you shooting a wine glass? Add some golden liquid to add richness, which is typically done in wine glass photography. Are you shooting a juice glass? Add some blue liquid to add life.
7) Add colour to your image
We did mention the opportunity of using a coloured backdrop in this guide. However, instead of directly replacing a backdrop, there is a technique you could use that could add colour without making a literal background change.
Swap out your white reflectors and use coloured ones. This will add a coloured tint to the glass instead of directly affecting the background. You can experiment by swapping just one reflector instead of many, or keep the white reflectors and add coloured ones.
8) Add props
You can let your creativity run wild by adding props, textured bases, and anything else to complement the shot. Oftentimes, product photographers keep both a simple image and a creative image and let the client choose. Thus, if you are going to be creative, don’t be afraid to go all the way.
Use marble or wooden base. Add a dangling branch of a plant to the glass. Bring in a small cupcake into the frame. Everything and anything that you can think of can be incorporated into your list of creative glass photography ideas!
Now that you have learned everything about how to photograph glass, you can finally chase your studio photography dreams! Be patient, as mastering this art will take practice. Do share the article if it does help you!
About the Author
Amy Grace, Commercial Photographer, retoucher and a devotee writer of Clipping Path Studio, has long experience in the commercial photography field. Merging competency and skill in her profession, she has nailed the task up to the mark and has helped a lot of entrepreneurs create their brands. Aside from photography, Amy is involved in photo retouching work as well.
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