Home > photography, Tips > Glare Aware: Photographing Portraits of People in Glasses

Glare Aware: Photographing Portraits of People in Glasses

This is part 1 of a series of tutorials on how to light reflective subjects and surfaces from BorrowLenses.com. Alex Huff is a staff photographer and copy writer for BorrowLenses and has photographed for Sotheby’s, Google, X-Games, and more. In this post, she gives us three major ways to avoid getting glare and reflections when taking portraits of subjects wearing eyeglasses. SmugMug’s own Katherine Cheng and Michael Bonocore served as her bespectacled models.

All example images were lit and shot using the following:


Photographers who are new to lighting will sometimes panic when faced with photographing someone in glasses. Sometimes even seasoned photographers will make more adjustments than necessary to avoid a dreaded reflection. Here are a couple of lighting laws that are easy to remember and will increase your confidence when taking portraits of people wearing eyeglasses.

Angle of Incidence = Angle of Reflection

Light is fairly predictable. A quick review of angles will allow you to capture glare-free specs. In any shoot, there are 3 positions that can be adjusted:

  • The position/angle of your light.
  • The position/angle of your model.
  • Your shooting position.

Often, you only need to move 1 of these to improve eyeglasses portraits. First, let’s get a brief science review out of the way:

Angle of Incidence = Angle of Reflection

Your source of light produces a beam that travels in a straight line. The angle at which a light beam hits an object will reflect light out at that same angle. There are other factors to consider, such as the shape of the surface that is being hit and the size of your light source, but for your purpose you can depend on this rule to get you out of the line of fire when trying to shoot a bespectacled subject.

In the case of eyeglasses, make sure that the angle of the light hitting your subject is different from the angle you are shooting them at. When the light comes bouncing off those eyeglasses, you want it to miss you entirely.

Broad Lighting and Short Lighting

Short lighting is when your light is most illuminating the angle of the face that is further from the camera. Broad lighting is when your light is most illuminating the angle of the face that is closer to the camera. Short lighting is harder to use on subjects wearing glasses than broad lighting.

Why? When you place your light on the far side of a face, glasses are more bluntly facing the light, as illustrated on the left in the diagram above. When the light hits the glass, it bounces off at the same angle that it was hit at and right into your lens. When you place your light on the near side of a face, you hit the glasses at an angle that is more oblique by virtue of them facing slightly away from the light. The angle the light hits them at is now not as likely to bounce back into your camera.

In Figure 1, Katherine’s left side is closest to the camera – even if only slightly. The light is on her right side – the side slightly farther from the camera. This produces short lighting, which often causes reflections in glasses. You can see the green glare just in the corner of her glasses. I can either move the light to her left side or I can ask her to switch sides in her chair.

I decide to have her switch sides in her chair. She is more mobile than my light. In Figure 2, the light is still on her right side but now her right side is also closest to the camera. This is broad lighting and it solves my glare problem.

As you can see in Figures 3 and 4, allowing the light to hit the outer edge of the glasses produces no glare versus when they are hit more bluntly. The slightest change in your model’s position can make a big difference.

Shooting Eyeglasses Straight On

In the example above, I kept my camera and my light stationary and asked my model to move. A good rule to follow for any kind of lighting problem is to only ever change one variable at a time.

It is possible to shoot people in glasses straight on without reflections if you remember your angles. In Figure 5, I am lighting Katherine from a slight angle and even with the eye – the catchlight is almost in the middle of her eye. Shooting this low will always produce glare. Remember, your angle of incidence is equal to the angle of reflection and here the angle going in is almost parallel with the camera.

There are a couple of ways to deal with this problem. One is to tilt the glasses downward on the face of the model or have her tilt her head downward. Sometimes this looks unnatural but it is a good solution for people using the built-in flash on their cameras because there is no other way to move that light.

However, here I choose to move my light. I simply move the light upward and point it downward a little more. In the diagram below, you can see how this allows the light a better chance at reflecting toward the ground and away from the lens.

In Example 6, I have moved the light ever so slightly up. You can still catch a sliver of reflection in her glasses, which can be solved by moving the light up further still. However, there is an upper limit to this method – you don’t want to give your model raccoon eyes or deep eyeglass frame shadows.

Dodging Angles: Shooting from a Different Position

If you like where your light is and you like where your model is and you are getting glare off of something then your last refuge is to change yourself.

In Example 7, I have a situation that can result in a large hot spot against my window. If you observe the angle at which your light is hitting a window, you can predict where it is going to bounce out at, too. Don’t shoot from that angle!

As you can see in Example 8, and in the resulting portraits below, my position as a photographer made a very big difference in lighting and the presence of glare on the window without me changing the position of the light one bit!

This is also good knowledge to have on tap when photographing aquariums, cars, and other reflective surfaces.

The Power of a Face: Directing Your Subject

Sometimes we don’t have a lot of time with our subjects. Michael, in Figure 9, is a very important man who doesn’t have time for me to move my light around. The reflections in his glasses are gasp-worthy. Don’t panic! As you can see, the slightest head tilt solves the problem and allows the light to bounce a little more off of his forehead rather than off of his eyeglasses.

Remember:

  • The angle that light hits a subject is going to bounce off at the same angle.
  • Lighting on the far side of the face (short lighting) is often more problematic for glasses wearers than lighting on the near side of the face (broad lighting).
  • Make small changes in isolation: change your position, your model’s position/head angle, or your light’s position/angle.

Photographing people in glasses is intimidating. You are forced to consider more than just “what looks good” on your subject in that situation. You have to consider what looks good and what is practical for a crystal clear image unmarred by reflections of umbrellas or green glare. However, if you remember even just one of these tips, it can save your nerves and your shoot.

Thanks so much to our friends over at BorrowLenses for helping us sharpen our skills both in and out of the studio! Check out the other posts they’ve written for our blog, like How to Safely Buy a Used Lens and their review of mirrorless cameras. Stay tuned and watch this space for the next part in this series and be sure to practice, take better pictures and have fun.  

Categories: photography, Tips
  1. February 19, 2014 at 1:11 pm | #1

    Excellent. Thank you. This will save me lots of time and frustration.

  2. Juan Manuel Bautista Hoepfner
    February 20, 2014 at 5:16 pm | #2

    This is quite enlightening. However, IMHO a bit of reflection in glasses is not so bad, some portraits make it hard to tell if the frames actually HAVE glasses on them…

  3. Martha
    February 20, 2014 at 7:55 pm | #3

    Thanks for the tips. Worth saying that with some of the minor reflections I would never sacrifice the lighting or pose I prefer. It’s easy enough to fix the green cast with the color replacement tool and if you have decent retouching skills this can be fixed no problem.

    • Alex Huff
      February 21, 2014 at 11:36 am | #4

      That’s totally true. I photographed some clients this morning with glasses and I didn’t want to sacrifice the lighting direction I wanted. That little bit of green will be taken care of in post. I certainly don’t like making that a habit (who does, right?) but you make a good point about being flexible when your lighting direction can’t be.

  4. February 21, 2014 at 8:36 am | #5

    This was great. However, I recently did a shoot outdoors and all the reflection was coming from brighter areas that were behind me (the photographer) and reflecting into his glasses and no matter what I tried I couldn’t get rid of it. Suggestions?

    • Alex Huff
      February 21, 2014 at 11:33 am | #6

      That is always the worst! If I feel married to a particular location, despite that issue, then one thing I have done is have someone hold something up behind me like a blanket, backdrop, or even a large coat – anything to help neutralize what is going on behind me.

  5. Ann-Marie
    April 11, 2014 at 7:38 pm | #7

    Where is part II? Also, can you cover glare on glasses when you are outside and it’s coming from all directions, please?

    • April 14, 2014 at 11:36 am | #8

      Hi Ann-Marie! We’re in the process of writing up Part II so stay tuned! As for the outdoor light, it sounds like Alex recommends moving to a more manageable location if possible, or neutralizing the brightest bits by having an assistant hold something large and dark.

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