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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Lighting for High Key Glass: Part 2

This is the second in a three-part lesson series that explores photographing reflective glass in a high key style. To see the first part, click here.

Using the Backlighting Technique
An alternate way to light glass objects is to back-light them, a common studio lighting technique that involves placing the light directly behind the glassware.  If you're using a large soft box, it can serve as the backdrop for the shot.  This is where the Plexiglas product-shooting table really makes things easy.  I placed a large SilverDome soft box behind and as close as possible to the Plexiglas sweep so that its projected light would fully illuminate the translucent background.


To do this I used a Small LiteStand that would allow the soft box to be positioned lower to the ground.  This also allowed me to point the SilverDome up at a slight angle to cover more of the Plexiglas and create a more even spread of light across the background.

Technical Note: When you have a large soft box on a relatively small LiteStand, make sure to position one leg so that it is pointed in the same direction as the light is directed.  This will also prevent the LiteStand from tipping forward and falling over.

The image below is the result of using this kind of backlighting. As you can see, the light source itself serves as the background. This results in absolutely zero reflections on the surface of the glass. The glass object is more or less silhouetted against the light and all we can see is its contour, which is outlined with an elegant, black edge.  This was definitely a step in the right direction for the type of look I wanted to create.







Adding a Second Light
In reviewing this last shot using the backlighting approach, I decided that the bottom of the decanter felt a bit too heavy and dark.  I preferred to create the impression that the decanter was lighter, almost as though floating in white space. To do this, I positioned another StarLite, fitted with a small SilverDome soft box, underneath the shooting table using a Background LiteStand.  I then pointed the light up through the Plexiglas.




In the result below, you can see the difference this second light has made.  Now the background is evenly white all the way to the bottom of the frame and the decanter has a much lighter feel to it.  The mirrored reflection on the Plexiglas surface had almost disappeared, which is just what I wanted.












Below is a side-by-side comparison of the shots taken so far.

Creating a Pleasing Composition
I was confident with the lighting setup at this point and was now ready to work on the composition.  After a few variations using different kinds of wine glasses, I arrived at the image below.

In this shot, the decanter was positioned slightly off-center with two wine glasses on either side at varying distances.  The third glass was positioned well in front of the other two, which makes this glass appear much bigger than the other glasses and decanter.  I used a wide-open aperture (f/2) in order to selectively focus on the decanter and the two adjacent glasses while leaving the glass in front completely out of focus.  I felt that the selective focusing technique added a sense of intimacy to the shot, making the glass in front appear very close to the viewer.

If you think about the way you normally perceive close objects, you'll notice that your eyes have a limited depth of field, just like a camera.  This is especially obvious when you try to simultaneously look at an object that is very close and one that is very far away.  To experience this effect, simply hold out your hand in front of your face and try to focus on both your hand and the distant background at the same time.  You'll find that you can only focus on one or the other, but not both.

The selective focusing, or shallow depth of field, technique in photography is often used to simulate the way we normally perceive close and distant objects.  In this case, I hoped to create a sense of depth and distance by purposely throwing the front glass out of focus.

After I had fine-tuned my composition, I was now ready for the fun part - pouring the wine! However, this proved not as straightforward as one might expect.  As it turns out, red wine is quite dense or opaque in color.


In order to see any color in the wine, I had to dilute it with water to about a 1:1 ratio.  It's not the best thing to do if you plan on drinking the wine (so use the cheap stuff!), but it sure helps to thin out the color and make it more visible in the photograph.  Without diluting the wine, I would end up with glasses filled with a mysterious, black, colorless liquid.

The shot below was taken with the same lighting conditions and camera orientation as the previous result, only this time with the diluted wine carefully poured into the decanter and glasses. My final shot was nearly there. All I had left to do was a few minor tweaks and adjustments before I was ready to take this photograph into the post-production stage.

Fine Tuning the Lighting
One minor adjustment I wanted to make was to increase the intensity of the floor light slightly.  I noticed that having the wine in the shot caused the reflections on the bottom to darken a little bit.  To compensate, I raised the Background Stand up by placing some wooden boards under it.


The other thing I noticed was that the dilution of the wine was a little too strong, as it looked too light to pass for real red wine. To fix this, I added wine to each glass in small, carefully measured increments until each glass had just the right color density.  Finally, I was able to achieve a rich red color that was true to the way it looked in person.








Below is a side-by-side look at the last two shots for a closer look at the chages made.


Stay tuned for the final installment of this lesson series, in which Garry makes finishing touches in post-production.

For more information on the products used in this lesson, visit the links below:

StarLite QL
SilverDome nxt
LiteStand: extra small


On June 21, 2012 at 03:10 PM, Daniel Casey said:

Hi Gary,

Very cool. I love the Cool and warmth vying for attention. The results are quite nice. I have been trying to find that plexiglass (white, Opaque and Black) since having read the first lesson. I looked at Lowe’s & Home Depot as well as Michaels, nowhere to be found in Palm Beach. I may have to order it online?

Thanks for the tips and tricks too!

Daniel Casey Photography

On June 21, 2012 at 04:25 PM, godsotherson said:

I just purchased clear acrylic sheet at Lowes. It had a white translucent plastic sheet on one side to protect in shipping. If you leave it on, you will have the effect you are looking for except the sheet will not bend easily. I used a heat gun to heat the bend area to about 300 F and bent it to make a small shooting table. The translucent sheet can be laid back on the piece to get diffusion when needed. A quick diy fix for well under $20 for an 18” x 24” piece.

On June 21, 2012 at 05:35 PM, Daniel said:

So, you melted the plex with the plastic protection film still affixed while you did the bending process? I’m not a very good plexiglass bender but love the price tag you suggested. I’d like the black piece first, the white next and the opaque (what we’re discussing) would be the last choice. I have opaque glass for that look. But wait a sec, you’re saying the plexiglass with the plastic protection film would work as the white?

Thank You,

On June 21, 2012 at 05:55 PM, Fred said:

Excellent job of taking us through the steps the photographer used to reach his intended purpose, which was defined up front.  As each element of the image is constructed and each light placed into position with a purpose it makes it far more clear Mr. Clay.  The table is available from Calument Photographic and is worth every penny it cotst.  There are tables that are far more expensive to accomplish the same results. 

The only question I have is the necessity of utilizing soft boxes, which may have resulted from the type of lighting used.  I have used bare studio strobes to obtain the same results in the past without the need of the softboxes.  I might try the use of softboxes in the future to see if I obtain a more even or different quality of light.  The softboxes are an absolute necessity if you are lighting from above as well.  You have to be extremely careful with specular highlights.  One of the most difficult things to shoot and still keep a degree of detail in the engraving are silver or chrome items. 

Great series!  I look forward to the third part!

On June 21, 2012 at 06:32 PM, gad said:

Hi Fred

Can u post the link to the table on Callumet please?

On June 21, 2012 at 06:36 PM, Fred said:

Calumet Portable Shooting Table $ 114.99

Worth every penny!


On June 21, 2012 at 06:39 PM, Gad said:

Thanx. Much appreciated. I am going to order one.

On June 21, 2012 at 10:03 PM, Daniel said:

looks similar but I’m not sold on the frame being visible on the tabletop. Thanks though. Not sure about that material either? Is it shiny like glass? If it rolls up like I saw, How could it last in being shiny? Just thinking out look I guess I’m being picky.


On June 22, 2012 at 09:26 AM, Charlene said:

Thank you for all the details! Now I need to find the link to Part 1 and looking forward to Part 3.  I’m wondering if white tissue paper would work if taped to the underside of clear plexiglass?  I’m sure it will but will give it a try.

On June 22, 2012 at 10:26 AM, Daniel said:

I’m making my own Garry. I’ve been to Home Depot, Lowe’s, Online with over 5 plastic sheet suppliers but I actually feel like the only way to get the quality I’m looking for is to build mine. I went to the tool shed in my backyard remembering an old fluorescent light fixture I had forgotten about and pulled it from the pile of junk we photographers, “think we’ll need someday” and never do (until now)! The edges are rounded and the 3’x4’ is all I really need at this point for jewelry but I intend on conforming the whole fixture into a light-box and eventually use it and a glass & metal framed desk I have in the office for support.

I wish I had access to that,  “Photoflex studio” you have! We starving artists have to makeshift and make-do if you know what I mean? After I finalize my little project, I’ll post it on my blog and put that link here if interested. My thoughts are, if you have something that will replace a buck spent and do a great job, why not try it?




What thickness is that Plexiglass on the table there?

Can you give us some dimensions please?

On June 22, 2012 at 10:33 AM, Daniel said:

Oh, also… I am using the Multi Dome Photoflex soft box 24"x32”. Can you tell me if you are using the inner panel or just the one diffuser? Not sure if my terms are right? I mean there are two layers of fabric, one on the inside and one on the outside shielding the light to diffuse it. Are you using both in place or just the one on the outside?


On June 26, 2012 at 12:42 AM, Panchal said:

Very formative and practical to get best result. Please give best guide for liquor bottle shoots and glamor effects props

On June 21, 2013 at 08:42 PM, T Rutledge said:

What happened to part 3?

On March 12, 2016 at 12:19 AM, Vina Galetto said:

I am looking for Part III and can’t seem to find it. Was it done? is it available?

Thank you very much for Parts I and II.

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