The main goal of product photography is to make the product look good and desirable, regardless of its material properties. Glass, which is both translucent and reflective, can be one of the most challenging subjects to shoot; when you are shooting glass, getting some good looking reflections is the key to producing an image that will flatter the subject best, but it is not always as easy as it looks.
photo by Robert Grant
Shiny surfaces such as glass will reflect anything that stands in front of them, including the light source itself. One of the most important goals in shooting subjects of this quality is to get the light source itself to be visually appealing, and allow it to reflect in the desired spot on the subject.
Softbox is a great and highly versatile light modifier that produces soft even light that can do wonders for still-life photography. It also has some qualities, however, that make it a less than ideal solution for shooting reflective and translucent objects.
photo by Robert Grant
There are Four factors that make a soft box a challenging tool when it comes shooting glass.
1. It has a rectangular shape. Though there is nothing really wrong with the shape itself, but when it appears as a reflection it reads as “a reflection of a softbox.” The size of reflection is relevant to the relationship of the size of the softbox, the size of the subject, the distance from the light source to the subject, as well as focal length of the lens and the distance between the camera and the subject. All these variables will have an effect on the appearance of the reflection. The best way to understand exactly how they effect it is to play around with each variable and learn from trial and error. (We will also talk about controlling reflections in greater detail in our future posts.)
2. Softbox is limited to it’s size. Size plays a big role when calculating reflection. This issue can be solved by owning every softbox on the market ranging from extra small to a 6 footer. (The largest I own is 4 feet!)
3. Softbox has a wrinkly duffle as a front diffusion element. That could be a big issue, because when you get the glass in sharp focus the reflection gets in sharp focus as well, causing all the wrinkles in the duffle become visible in the final photograph.
The black border often can have a problematic effect by causing a negative (black) reflection or creating an unwanted sharp edge on the reflection. This can be minimized by taping over the border with white “gaffer” or white “artist” tape. It will still be difficult, however, to achieve clean look.
photo by Robert Grant
The solution to all Softbox issues is suspending a smooth border-less diffusion in from of it. In the video above, Robert uses 48 inch wide rolls of drafting vellum.
1. The shape of diffusion is more versatile as it does not have any height restrictions.
2. The size can be of any length and width, which can vary depending on the roll from 24 inches to 72 inches wide. The price of a large vellum roll is a fraction of the cost of a softbox of similar size.
3. There are no wrinkles on the paper (while it’s new at least, and when it gets wrinkled and dirty it can be discarded and fresh piece unrolled.)
4. The paper is border-less. This gives a photographer a total control of how the edge of reflection will appear, depending on their creative direction and whether they’d prefer a hard edge or smooth gradual edge. (We will do a tutorial explaining various edges of reflections in near future. Meanwhile, try lighting the vellum from slightly different angles.)
If you are using clamp lamps or any other type of continuous light, you can use exact same setup. Simply substitute the strobe in softbox to a clamp lamp. The result might not be the same, but fairly close. If you see hotspots in reflection, cut an extra piece of vellum and place it between the light and the suspended vellum for extra diffusion.
Though glass is a tricky subject to shoot, it can produce rewarding results if you take the time to make sure the reflection and lighting is right. It is important to know all of the variables when shooting any object; adjusting the tools and lights to flatter your subject best will optimize the quality of your photography, and the subject itself.
Challenge: Shoot glass objects, paying close attention to composition and reflections. Post your shots here using Share Your Shot link in comments.