Today’s guest post is part 2 of a series of tutorials on how to light reflective subjects and surfaces from BorrowLenses.com. Alex Huff is a staff photographer and copywriter for BorrowLenses and has photographed for Sotheby’s, Google, X-Games, and more. In this post, she gives a few beginner’s tips on avoiding glare and maintaining color fidelity when photographing artwork.
All example images were lit and shot using the following:
- Einstein 640W/s Flash
- X-Rite Classic Color Checker Card
- Nikon D800 Digital SLR Camera
- Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G
- Canon 5D Mark III Digital SLR Camera
- Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L USM II
- Shoot-Through Umbrellas
Artwork courtesy of Code and Canvas, which brings artists and technologists together in shared spaces to foster creativity and innovation.
When photographing reflective surfaces, lighting becomes a game of billiards. In my last post on photographing people in eyeglasses, we relied heavily on this following rule:
Angle of Incidence = Angle of Reflection
To review, the angle at which a light beam hits an object will reflect light out at that same angle. Ignoring exceptions involving certain textures and refraction, we can depend on light to travel in a straight and predictable line.
You may find yourself in a position of having to photograph something behind glass. The rules are largely the same as when you’re photographing someone wearing glasses but you also need to be certain that the colors are being represented accurately as well.
Copy work, or a copy job, is when the photographer is reproducing a piece of artwork such as paintings, illustrations, and antique photographs. The conditions under which you have to shoot some of these things can be tough (stuck on walls in small rooms, leaning against something and under fluorescents, etc) but knowing the most basic copy work setup and remembering your family of angles will get you out of most glare binds.
Family of Angles
What the camera can see will determine our family of angles. In a typical copy work lighting setup, you will have 1 light on either side of your subject but the angle is very important.
Placing my light heads anywhere within that circle will likely result in glare because it is inside the danger zone of angle of reflectance. Our instinct is to put lights in front of the thing we want to light but when dealing with reflective surfaces we have to imagine a ball of light coming from the flash and into your painting in a straight line and bouncing back out again. If the bounce-back appears to be within the family of angles for what your camera is seeing then move those lights outside that zone or, in this case, more to the side. This allows the bounce-back to not glare back into the lens.
Lighting Outside the Family of Angles
When photographing artwork, placing your lights at acute angles in reference to the subject (90º or less – think of on-camera flash as being 0º) is generally bad and placing them at obtuse angles (greater than 90º) is generally good.
For this painting by Calixto Robles, I can already tell from my modeling lamps that I am probably within the family of angles to receive glare. Eyeballing it, I could tell that the light was going to shoot out of the glass and back into my lens — especially since I am also shooting directly instead of reflectively, like with a bounce umbrella.
An easy fix for this is to place my flashes outside the family of angles, more obtusely-angled in relation to my subject.
Placing my lights more to the side gets them outside my family of angles. Remember, too, that using a wide lens will increase the size of your family of angles. If you have the space to shoot copy work using a long lens, your choice of lighting positions increases.
These are all unedited so they would normally need a bit of tweaking but my glare is gone and that is a great starting point for perfecting the shot.
Raking the Light
This kind of obtusely-angled lighting is referred to as “raking the light.” It’s great not only for avoiding glare, since the angles are so extreme that they are often outside the family of angles for reflection, but also for showing texture.
In this detail shot of Vivien Sin’s work, I have glare, washed out colors, and a little too much texture in places where I don’t really want it.
These yellow arrows represent my family of angles. I have placed my flashes well within the danger zone.
Moving my lights more to the side, further away from my family of angles and at a more oblique angle, improves this. I probably could have raked the light even further by placing the lights nearly parallel to the painting, bathing it in light — especially if I were bouncing the light from inside an umbrella or softbox. Sometimes you might not have modifiers on-hand so knowing you can still work with “bald” lights is key.
Much better. However, how do you know these colors are even accurate? After all, I am showing you a copy of the painting through my photography and you are trusting me to portray it accurately. This requires another useful tool: the color checker.
Color Checker Cards and White Balance
White balance is largely not an issue in this age of RAW files. Most of the time, our cameras are excellent at reproducing color and predicting proper white balance. With artwork, though, such subjectivity can ruin your presentation. Using a color checker card will give you a set of specially prepared colors and grayscales that give you a frame of reference for objectively correct colors. It also helps you find a precise, neutral white. When you’re editing something with a color checker in one of your frames, you can much more easily keep the colors in all of your frames consistent and accurate.
With all of the deep, rich colors in Vivien Sin’s painting, I want to make sure they remain consistent across editing multiple files and also that I have a white balance that is set based on the most neutral target possible for color fidelity.
You can use a color checker card just as a reference and white balance corrector without any further calibration. However, its performance is maximized when you calibrate your monitor and printer and create custom profiles using free plug ins with your editing software.
To start, take a sample of a neutral color or shade. I used the gray square second to the left next to 100% white.
I have the X-Rite free ColorChecker Passport software installed in my Lightroom. You don’t have to have this to get a read on color accuracy but it allows you to create custom profiles under different lighting conditions and quickly apply those profiles to images in an entire collection for consistency. This was done by taking a picture of the color card in the same environment as Vivien’s painting, adjusting my white balance around a neutral gray on the card, and saving it as a profile (exactly how to do this varies with your editing software and X-Rite has instructions for each of them).
Instead of relying on one of my camera’s profiles, or Adobe Standard, I can use a profile that is built around colors as they should be viewed objectively given the environment it was shot in, custom-named so that I can remember what I shot with to create it.
The difference might not be obvious but notice the reds in the lower corner. Adobe Standard rendered them slightly more orange than they should be. It’s a subtle change for the extra work but if you remember to take just 1 shot with a color card it gives you the option to fine tune colors and white balance later. This is important for not only copy work but for real estate shooting as well, where interior paint colors might be very important to the person you are shooting for.
Copy Work Shooting Basics
If you are starting out with shooting anything reflective, especially artwork, remember:
- The Angle of Incidence = Angle of Reflection
- If the flash is within 90º of the reflective surface, it is likely to give off glare. Place your lights obtusely and sometimes even as far as parallel to either side of a painting.
- Raking the light in this manner will also show texture.
- Use a color checker card to verify color accuracy and white balance in post production.
Flash and Artwork Damage
The jury is still out on this but the general consensus is that a lot of stuff can affect paintings, including UV light, pollution, and temperature. Artwork can even be a danger to itself when off-gassing under tight framing. Art is exposed to flash for a short period of time during copy work and the consensus is that it’s not a problem. That said, if you’re shooting for a client, find out their comfort level for flash exposure before proceeding.
I hope these tips help you take better photographs of the various copy work items in your life, whether it’s professional artwork or personal antique photographic keepsakes.
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:
- Broncolor 1200Ws Two Litos Monolight 22 Kit with Senso Power Pack
- Broncolor 2.5′ Octabox
- Nikon D800 Digital SLR Camera
- Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G
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.
- 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.
Good news for all you holiday travelers and gift buyers! Mirrorless cameras are gaining in popularity and may be the perfect option for just about anyone who wants a powerful camera in a smaller package. Our friends over at Borrowlenses put their expertise at work to help you pick out which model may be right for you… or your lucky giftee.
Reblogged by permission from Borrowlenses.com.
Don’t get us wrong – we LOVE our big cameras, especially those pro bodies with huge, high-quality glass. Lugging it around, however, is not so ideal – especially while on vacation or during situations where there just isn’t a lot of room to shoot.
High-quality sensors are coming in smaller and smaller form factors, which is good news for globe-trekking photographers or for those who simply need to pack lightly. These small cameras are perfect for:
- Hiking to get that great sunrise/sunset shot from a high vantage.
- Inconspicuously taking candids out on the street.
- Using auto or fully-manual settings on a simplified system.
Here are 5 recommended small cameras with incredible image quality:
These full frame cameras sport 24 MP sensors and fixed 35mm f/2.0 Carl Zeiss lenses. They shoot full HD 1080p video and have incredible low-light performance. The “R” version lacks an optical low-pass filter, which is ideal for catching extra detail in landscape shooting. The only bummer about these? You’re stuck with that lens. However, on the full frame sensor the 35mm is a great walking-around focal length and the all-metal Zeiss construction is top notch. Another great small-form-factor offering from Sony is their NEX series of mirrorless cameras (with some sample images here)
This retro-looking, handsomely-built micro four thirds camera does full HD 1080p video and shoots stills up to 9 FPS on its 16MP sensor. It is very slim and yet still accepts interchangeable lenses, like the fast 17mm f/1.8 M.ZUIKO. Many of our street photographers extol the virtues of this camera.
Another retro beauty, the X100s comes equipped with film simulations, a fast 23mm fixed lens, and a 16MP sensor. It also shoots full HD video and supports a hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder. Don’t like the idea of a fixed lens? Try out the Fuji X-Pro 1 instead. It shoots RAW, sports cool analog dials and pairs with the following lenses: Fuji XF 18mm f/2.0 R, Fuji XF 35mm f/1.4, Fuji XF 60mm f/2.4 R Macro, and the XF 27mm f/2.8. More info on the Fuji X100s here.
Canon’s first mirrorless system allows you to use this diminutive body with any Canon lens with the help of an EF to EF-M adapter. It’s equipped with Canon’s latest DIGIC 5 Image Processor and an 18 MP sensor. Don’t want to mess with an adapter? Rent the M-compatible EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 STM lens, which includes the new Stepping Motor technology that can auto-focus quietly and provide continuous tracking of a moving subject. The rental of the Canon EOS-M automatically comes with a 22mm EF-M f/2 STM lens.
While only supporting a 10MP sensor, the Nikon V1 is one of the quickest shooters in the small-camera world with 10 FPS bursts in autofocus mode. It’s CX mount offers a variety of tiny (TINY!) lenses, such as the Nikon 1 Nikkor 10mm f/2.8 and the Nikon 1 Nikkor 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6. It can also shoot interesting and effective slow motion footage (up to 1200 FPS) at 320×120.
The Leica M9 is kind of a different beast being the only rangefinder in this bunch. It has a “range-finding” focusing mechanism that shows two images of the same subject, one of which moves when a calibrated wheel is turned and the two images coincide and fuse into one. It is a wholly different way of focusing on your subject and takes some getting used to. It is full frame, 18MP, and has that satisfyingly retro-sounding (and discreet) metal blade-style shutter. Pairs with a decently large range of lenses. Check out Rolling Stone contributor, Drew Gurian’s, sample images from our Lecia M9.
All of these cameras have the option of shooting in fully manual mode, so you do not have to give up creative control to carry a lighter load. Simply toss one of these in your day bag knowing that you can travel comfortably toward your next unique shot.
Our buddies over at BorrowLenses.com have put together a fun contest over on their blog with some great prizes that celebrate our joint awesomeness: A year of membership at BorrowLenses.com and a year of SmugMug Pro.
Win Great Perks
In case you weren’t already familiar with their membership program, it’s more than just a login. Members automatically get a 10% discount on all lens rentals, priority rental availability and a free t-shirt. It costs $99 per year, but enter to win and you could get yours for free.
Once you’ve got one foot on the red carpet, you can easily upload, sell and share all your photos on SmugMug Pro.
Make sure to get your entries to their blog HERE (not below!) no later than Friday, March 23rd, 2012.
Hello, happy snappers! Our buddies at Borrowlenses got a mad hankering to share some glass with you so they’ve put together a little giveaway: One lucky winner will win $200 towards any lens rental. To see how, keep reading.
You Want What They Got
If you thought the peeps at BL are hardcore, leather-clad, badass, glass-toting ninjas in their bunker surrounded by every lens your wallet dreams of… well, you’re right. It’s kind of awesome.
Check out their brand-spanking new security system, guaranteed to bring down the meanest, toughest, most savage thief in the industry:
You can rent this bad boy if you win (sans fur, since they’re pros at cleaning gear), so all you have to do is:
- Like Borrowlenses on Facebook.
- Like us (SmugMug!) on Facebook.
- Post on Borrow Lenses’ wall and tell them what you’d rent with that $200 credit. (Just once, please!)
They’ll announce a winner this Friday, May 27th. You may want to start booking some events this weekend.
Sorry, but the kitten’s not included.
Three things you’ll need:
Compressed air - We use air compressors from Home Depot (<$100) but the smallest compressor you can find is likely up to the task. If you don’t want to splurge on a compressor, there are the ubiquitous cans of compressed air available at any computer store. When using these cans always keep the can level and upright to avoid blowing its liquid propellant onto your lens elements. These chemicals can do weird and potentially harmful things to lens coatings, so please be careful. If you want to avoid chemicals all together, get a bike pump style canister that you pump up then use, or try a simple manual pump like a Giottos Rocket Blower.
Lens cloth - Our favorites are cheap, Promaster-branded microfiber cloths. You’ll notice that some types feel very slick and smooth against the glass and others gain some traction and drag more. We like the kind that has some drag and feels sticky against clean glass.
Cleaning fluid – You shouldn’t need any cleaning fluid except for the most stubborn and difficult cases. Again, we like the Promaster brand because it’s cheap and cheerful. The stuff we use comes in a clear plastic bottle with a pump atomizer spraying attachment.
Your lens is dirty. Now what?
It’s now time to touch the front element of your lens and clean it. If you are worried about rubbing the coating off, don’t be. We’ve never seen it happen, ever.
To clean a lens’ front element all you need is a set of lungs and a lens cloth.
1. Breathe on the lens enough to fog the whole element, then wipe the lens with a good amount of force in a circular fashion. You’ll likely be left with a smudge where your wipe stopped and some junk around the edge where the glass meets the body.
2. Make a little point with the cloth, breathe on the lens again and wipe the edge in one 360+ degree motion. Now you should be left with a mostly clean lens.
3. Now repeat the wipes, but with ever decreasing pressure. The last few swipes should be done very lightly. The trick is to buff the lens, which will pick junk up rather than moving it around forever. Keep rearranging the cloth so that you are using a virgin bit of material and not re-contaminating your almost-clean glass.
4. The final step is examining – and cleaning – both front and rear caps thoroughly before affixing them to your now-clean lens. A dirty cap will undo all your hard work in an instant, so examine both caps closely, blow on them from many angles with compressed air and only when you are certain they are clean can you affix them to your lens. If you use a UV filter, also make sure it is clean before you put it back on.
And with that, we’re finished. If you enjoyed that you should consider working for BorrowLenses.com – You could be cleaning gear all day long and getting paid to do it!