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Lighting Glass
While it may seem, at first glance, that lighting glass objects wouldn't be much different than any other object, you will soon see that this is not true. More so than any other lighting situation, lighting glass objects for photography successfully will depend on the level of control you can achieve. Control of your environment is as important as control of your lighting.
There are many unique quirks when it comes to shooting transparent objects, and they seem determined to reveal every weakness in your technique. It can be said that you really don't light the glass, but you light 'for' the glass. This important concept is worth remembering.

Don't be intimidated, a few basic points will help you deal with the most common issues.



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Reflections & Refractions - From Foe to Friend...

The 2 photos on the right show the obstacles in lighting glass.

Placing an average wine glass on a table with a dark backround, and taking a close look at it, you will immediately find that its curved reflective surface will tend to show the entire room. Every window, table lamp, or any other bright object will be visible. You need to control the lighting of the room around the glass to affect what is seen in the glass.

Swapping the black background with a white background can help reduce weaker reflections a bit. Closing all curtains, and turning off all room lights helps a great deal too, but you still need to light the glass. Even in a darkened room, the first photo light you turn on will show you how complex a simple glass can become. As the photo shows, that single light source becomes reflected and refracted in several surfaces in the glass, in seemingly unusual places. The multiple reflections can come from the inner surfaces of the glass as well as its outer surfaces.

Lighting glass effectively requires removing the unwanted reflections and replacing them with artfully created reflections instead.

ambient room lighting glassumbrella light for glass
Ambient Room Light ReflectionsSingle Light with Umbrella



White Line, Black Line

In many cases the glass object you light will be clear, so it is often a combination of lighting what is behind the glass (and seen through it), as well as what is seen reflected in the glass. Properly placed, reflections can do a lot to help define the shape of the object. Paying attention to these 2 aspects can bring creative possibilities that, while simple in theory, can be challenging to actually execute.

In the image to the right, you'll notice that the red color glow that is low in the background is seen in the upper part of the glass's bowl. This is because the glass is acting a little bit like a lens, inverting the image seen through it. The light with the colored gel is actually hidden below the tables back edge, lighting thru the gap between the table & the hanging background.

The narrow white highlights on the sides of the glass are reflections from the large white panels placed on each side of the dark centered background. They are lit by a 250W focusable Pro-light. Since any light shining in front of the glass will be reflected in it, we need to block the beam of the Pro-light from hitting the glass, hence the Tota-flag attached to the light stand. If you look closely in the glass you can still see subtle shadows from stray light hitting the tablecloth & floor. Lighting glass requires attention to detail & can be painstaking work.

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Red Glow & White Edges - closeup and setup

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1. Narrow white panel reflections define glass edges - closeup and setup.
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2. Wider white panel reflections vary the result - closeup and setup.

In the first pair of images above, all we did was turn off the red glow highlight. The remaining white card reflections create a simple yet elegant portrait of the glass. By changing the area size of the white panels, we can change the width of the reflections in the glass. The back of the setup is actually a full width white cardboard with a smaller black cloth draped in the center. This gives us more creative flexibility, by narrowing the width of the center black cloth, the white sides get larger and have a direct effect on what shows up in the glass, as is shown in the second pair of images. Using white card reflection to define the shape of a glass object is called "White Line Lighting".




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