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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Lighting for High Key Glass: Part 1

Photographing glass objects is considered by many to be one of the most challenging tasks in commercial studio photography. However, with the right tools and proper techniques, taking pictures of glass can be fun and highly rewarding.

The image you see above began as a vague concept, which involved photographing a wine decanter in such a way that the final image would show off both the product and its intended use. For photographer Garry Belinsky, the goal in creating this wine shot was to create a light, airy, or high key atmosphere and to keep the decanter and the wine as the central theme of the image.

When it comes to commercial photography, lighting and attention to detail is everything. This multi-part lesson explores the process of creating a conceptual wine shot using two continuous lights and a Plexiglas shooting table.

Setup and Preparation
As with most commercial product photo-shoots, the easiest way to create a wine shot like this is to start simple and work step-by-step, changing only one thing at a time. In this situation, I knew that I had several issues to think about right from the start, including lighting, composition, and of course, the wine. I did not want to get ahead of myself by pouring the wine before we knew exactly how to light and arrange the glass objects. I decided to start out by placing the empty decanter on a Plexiglas shooting table. [Figures 1 & 2]


This kind of shooting table is commonly used in the studio. It is basically a metal frame, which supports a custom made Plexiglas sweep. As you'll see, this kind of table is extremely versatile for many product photography applications.

In order to provide a basic starting point, I wanted to first shoot the decanter with my camera set to fully automatic mode. I took my first shot with the built-in flash activated to show an example of how this approach would render a glass object on a reflective white backdrop. [Figure 3]

The result is one that many novice photographers who have tried to photograph glass objects have probably seen before. While this somewhat abstract representation of shadows and specular highlights is kind of interesting, it's definitely far from the look I had in mind.

Experimenting with Side Lighting
I switched the exposure mode in the camera to manual and went about lighting the decanter. My first goal was to dial in the lighting on the decanter. I wanted to do my initial lighting tests using the decanter by itself. Only after I was satisfied with the lighting on this single glass would I be ready to add the wineglasses and then the wine.

When shooting products in the studio, it's very easy to get ahead of yourself and try to do too much at once. I recommend doing things slowly and systematically, changing only one element at a time. Digital technology supports this approach by allowing you to preview every change you make on the back of the camera or tethered computer.

For the following shot, I set up a Photoflex StarLite with a 1000-watt continuous Tungsten light and Large SilverDome soft box attached and positioned it to the left of the table. [Figures 4 & 5]


This side lit result is drastically different from my initial attempt using the built-in flash. Although this is not the look I was after, you can still see what a difference there is between using a large soft box and a tiny camera flash. With the soft box, you can see long rectangular reflections in the glass, which helps to define the shape of the object. [Figure 6]

Overall, this shot is a perfectly valid and elegant approach to photographing glassware. With some fine-tuning and maybe a second light, this kind of lighting could produce a beautiful result.

Stay tuned for the next installment of this lesson, in which Garry develops the shot even further.


On June 13, 2012 at 01:13 PM, Judith Kaspar said:

Very interesting. I’ve struggled with trying to light glass. I’m looking forward to the future installments on this lesson.

On June 13, 2012 at 01:57 PM, David Campione said:

About 35 years ago, my business partner had to pass on a photo shoot, studio, as we were unable to light a clear glass ash tray with white lettering on the bottom of the ash tray.  We literally spent 6 hours on the lighting and were successful for this photo project.  We were shooting 8x10 viewcamera at that time.  We even had the kodak rep for the area of our studio stop by, who was supposed to be a expert in glass photography, he was no help.  In fact he doubted he could have gotten as far as we did.  By the way, the client was not going to pay for any retouching, one of our specialities.  We were us the same type of product table you are using.  A great item.
Sure wish we had digital back. LOL. 

Look forward to seeing the rest of you future photo glass installment with Photoflex.  We always used Foba light units, and 1000 watt incandesant bulbs as the brightest light down to 250 watt for fillers.

On June 13, 2012 at 02:30 PM, Michael St Rosenberg said:

Although, I have been working as a photographer part time for the past twelve years and teaching for the past seven, I always strive to learn more by patience, practice and imagination (PPI).  I have found that the lessons you offer have always inspired me to try new things and think in new directions.  Shooting glass is particularly difficult and although I have had success with my own experimentation, I always learn something new from Photoflex.  I anxiously await more of Ben Clay’s insights on this subject.

On June 13, 2012 at 07:46 PM, JC said:

One idea is to use light from under the glassware…

On June 13, 2012 at 09:18 PM, Moshe said:

Hi,was looking forward for the first tut on your new site.
seems there is a lot to wait for with part2/3 of this tut as it looks as the begining of the road to an image like in the title of this one.
Looking forward to see more new stuff!

On June 13, 2012 at 11:03 PM, ashwin said:

superb and very informative

On June 14, 2012 at 08:07 AM, Fotis said:

This is a great subject indeed!

I have to comment of one thing though that bothers me:

Although the synthesis and the result of the final shot is quite good, I find it inconsistent and “wrong” the fact that color of wine inside the flask appears brown instead of red, as appears in the glasses.
In my opinion this is absolutely a no-no for a commercial product shot and it would be brilliant if you could correct it (not in post of course).

On June 14, 2012 at 08:27 AM, Michael St Rosenberg said:

In response to FOTIS:  In real life if you look at the shape of the glass and the way the light is reflected, it will affect the observed color.  The shape of the carafe is low and flat compared to the wine glasses which are tall and rounded.  Thus the color is the same but compressed.

On June 14, 2012 at 08:49 AM, Fotis said:

Michael, obviously what you’re explaining is correct and the color is the right color under the circumsances, that is exactly why I used the word it “appears” to be wrong, not “is” wrong.

He who pays for an advertisement cares exactly for what “appears” to be wrong and I don’t think any logical explanation would be adequate to alleviate his diappointment.
In my opinion, the flask needs more difussed light from the back through the liquid in order to appear more red, but at this position I would ask for Ben’s insight of how to tackle this.

On June 14, 2012 at 09:35 AM, Michael St Rosenberg said:


On June 14, 2012 at 10:41 AM, Ben Clay said:

Great to see all the feedback on this lesson!  A few quick notes.  This lesson, which was shot and written by Garry Belinsky, was originally posted to WebPhotoSchool.com, which is no longer.  I recently gained access to the raw imagery from this lesson and decided to re-post here in multiple posts.  I’ll see if I can get Garry to chime in on some of these comments as well.

To address the color issue, all I’ll say for now is that Garry does use some post production to alter/enhance the results.  I’ll be sure to include those steps, though bear in mind that he was using CS2 at the time, as the screen shots will reflect.

Stay tuned!

On June 14, 2012 at 03:39 PM, SHW said:

How about placing a Dedo light or very pinpoint light overhead and shooting light into the carafe. The color would lighten up for sure! I agree that if used for advertising this color difference would be taboo I would think.

On June 14, 2012 at 04:26 PM, godsotherson said:

The color of the wine in the focused glasses match each other but are slightly different than the out of focus glass. This is not distracting to the viewer. An easy way to correct color in the carafe is to just add water to the wine to reduce the opacity of the transparent liquid and achieve a more similar color to the wine in the glasses to produce an in camera color correction. . Some trial and error will be needed but careful measurements of wine and water will reduce the time required to achieve color match.

On June 21, 2012 at 02:07 PM, Garry Belinsky said:

Thanks to everyone for your insightful comments. With regard to the color of the wine in the glasses verses the decanter, I have to agree with Fotis that the decanter does appear too dark in the final image.

If my memory serves me, I believe we experimented with diluting the wine with water to allow more light to come through the liquid. My decision to leave wine in the decanter a darker tone, was based more on trying to retain the natural look of the still life.

As Fotis pointed out, in the commercial photography world it is common practice to stray from what looks natural in favor of what appears more desirable.

Also worth noting, is that in commercial photography, there are professional stylists who specialize in making objects (i.e. food, wine, props, etc.) appear more desirable in a photograph. These people usually have much more knowledge, skills, and tricks up their sleeve than the photographer when it comes to diluting wine, for example, to make it look “right” for a commercially viable image.

Anyone who’s been on an advertising shoot for a fast food company knows that the burger on the billboard and the burger on your plate are two entirely different objects.

On July 04, 2012 at 05:52 PM, Neec said:

This is cool. I’m not a professional photographer, but i’m a lighting artiste. I rammed on this, but it is cool…it will come into play someday… Ive learnth atleast this…

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