If anybody has tried to photograph glass they will appreciate how difficult it is, particularly clear glass and flat glass. This week on our twitter glasschat we had a very interesting discussion with guest host Bernard O'Sullivan, professional photographer from Inside Out Photography. He was so informative I want to share the discussion with our blog visitors.
Q1 How do you photograph/light glass blowing?
A1 Use natural light to record the warm-glow of the glass, supported by a medium powered flash fitted with a red coloured filter. This filter mimics the warm glow from furnace/glass, place filtered-flash near to glowing glass/furnace, facing blower. To avoid harsh lighting and reflections, never use a flash attached, or near to the camera.
Q2 Is there a different approach needed for coloured as opposed to plain neutral glass?
A2 Obviously coloured glass is darker than clear, so therefore needs more light or longer exposure. If you want a black background for smaller products, use a decent size translucent Perspex sheet 5x5ft backlit by flash. Frame your shot tightly, with frame area only masked with black material, with out of frame Perspex providing light-spill. The lit Perspex out of camera frame is what the glass catches to produce shape. This is called ‘Dark field illumination’ (like a picture frame with light wide frame and dark picture/centre) With stained glass you can get away with stronger slightly more direct lighting i.e. direct sunlight from behind. If you are backlighting with no ambient light from front you will not have any reflections, even the camera. (on Tripod)
Q3. How do you show plain neutral flat glass?
A3. For small pieces use ‘Dark or Light field illumination’, this refracts at the edge of the flat piece, creating a clear dark line! Then place something like a thin piece of wood leaning against & behind the translucent Perspex. This casts a soft shadow and gives the flat area of the glass tonal form.
Q4. How do you show off architectural glass installations to the best advantage?
A4. If shooting something like an atrium from inside looking out. Choose a day with blue sky, this will help the glass stand out. Avoid cloudy skies; the sky will merge with the (white) supporting steel work and glass creating one indistinguishable area. To shoot exteriors, it is often a good idea to shoot at dusk, when the sky is a deep blue rather than completely dark. At this ‘Golden moment’ the lighting level inside the building should match the soft evening glow outside. For daytime exteriors use a Polarising filter to remove reflections. Polarising filters work best at 37˚ angle to the glass. A warning here! Using a Polarising filter can reveal stress patterns in glass, not very attractive. Larger architectural pieces are also best recorded with light from behind the installation.
Q5. How do you photograph/light delicately etched glass?
A5. For smaller pieces, ideally shoot in a controlled dark environment, with minimal ambient light! Etched or cut glass is best lit by refraction. Use a decent size translucent 5x5ft Perspex sheet backlit by flash or tungsten. It is the black or dark around the glass not behind it that creates the effect. Once again use a tripod, frame shot tightly, and mask area outside of camera frame with black material. The black material and surrounding darkness is what the etching refracts-catches to reveal texture. This technique is called ‘Light field illumination’ (Think of a picture frame with dark wide frame and light picture/centre) This image can be inversed in Photoshop to produce a black background with white refraction! For non-coloured glass! If using supplementary lighting, place lights each side of the piece out of shot of course. If using natural ambient lighting, shoot late or early in day when the Sun is low!
Some excellent advice here about photographing a really difficult medium. Thank you to Bernard for sharing his skills and expertise with us.
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