Glassware Photography Tips – how to capture great product shots of handmade glass art
Glassware photography requires a combination of technique, skill, and knowledge. If you want to photograph glass, you should know that the glass will reflect any light or objects that are within your room as a whole. While this can be a challenge, there are a few techniques that can make this process a little easier. In this article I’m going to share some of my techniques and tips, to help you capture great product shots of your handmade and fused glass that you can use in your Folksy shop, for press or on your own social media channels.
Featured image: ‘Teasel’ design engraved glass LED table light by Tim Carter
More glassware photography by Richard Jackson here – https://www.forevercreativephotography.co.uk/glassware/
As a glass photographer, even I find glass a difficult but very rewarding subject to photograph. It all comes down to this: removing the reflections. This is the ultimate goal and provides a professional appearance without the distractions of a room’s reflections or unappealing bright highlights.
Keep in mind that there still needs to be some reflection or the product won’t look like glass anymore. These tips are not about removing light altogether, of course – it’s manipulating the light so it works for you and not against you that’s important.
What you should consider before starting
- What sort of work do you produce – what kind of style would be appropriate to set it off?
- What is the image for? Is it primarily a sales image or for marketing purposes only.
- Is your work sophisticated and modern? Would you prefer a homely feel for the image?
- Consider the design – is it flat, curved, or multicoloured?
- Embrace the imperfections and other physical facets of your work.
Your decision on what you want out of the image will have a bearing on the approach you take when photographing your pieces. Imperfections within the piece need to be picked out and embraced, as it’s these that make your work memorable, unique and marketable.
Introducing light when photographing glass
You can enhance the image by introducing light in a controlled manner to illuminate the glass from multiple angles, depending on the style of the shoot. While there are many ways to do this, finding the best angles will elevate your image. Experimenting with lighting and angles will help you bring out the qualities of the glass, such as texture, colour and shape.
Equipment and materials
- Cleaning fluid and tissue to clean the glass
- Canned air or bulb blower – to remove dust in any hard-to-reach places
- Diffusion material to be used for the background and table if it’s not already the desired setting
- Cotton gloves so you don’t get dirt or fingerprints when handling the glass
Preparing your work
Using a lot of light on the glass will show every speck of dust and fingerprints. So before starting, clean the glass, dry it with tissue and use the bulb blower to remove any more dust particles.
Setting up your shoot
Once you have chosen an area for the shoot, make sure to:
- Clean the area well. Note that acrylic/Perspex sheets have a static charge that can attract dust.
- Check the table or surface you’re putting the glassware on is stable. An unstable table can also cause blurry images and put your work at risk.
- Turn off the room lights and any photographic lighting too. By starting in a dark room, you control the amount of light on the object and you can then introduce it selectively.
Light quality and control
Choose between two different light qualities – hard and soft light – to create a visual mood.
- Soft light – comes from a relatively large source, such as a large soft box placed near to your work. The object will be lit up more evenly in each direction, almost like light on a cloudy day. This type of light can produce an image with a feel for the environment it would be placed in when bought by the consumer, like a lifestyle image.
- Hard light – hard light, which comes from a smaller light source. This will draw much of the attention to the object and casts harsh shadows. It picks up even subtle textures. Glassware photography has much to do with focusing on the object, and, with hard light, a dark shadow usually forms, making it pop. As the analogy for soft light is like a cloudy day, dark light is like the sun shining on the object. And, of course, then it becomes a little more difficult to control the reflections – this is where angles of light come in, and you can experiment with this until you achieve the desired effect.
If you have the right balance between soft light and dark light, you can benefit from both revealing texture, and creating a soft appearance that can help sell the product.
Back-lighting is, as the term suggests, when light is used to illuminate your work from behind. Sometimes lights are placed behind the piece to illuminate it directly; at other times it’s bounced off the wall behind the piece. To get the best effect possible, make enough space between the white wall and the glass.
The primary advantage of back-lighting is that it allows you to control reflections, even when the piece is shaped irregularly or curved.
Using diffused lighting will create soft images with no sharp shadows that draw could attention away from the product. Using diffusion to soften the light sources will envelop rather than create unsightly highlights.
Diffusion fabrics can help generate the perfect lighting situation. It makes the process effortless – and they aren’t expensive. The fibres of the material will produce various forms of diffusion and change the lighting within the scene.
There are many different types of diffusion materials. You can buy specially made diffusion fabric, but to keep costs down you can also use any of the following:
- Soft box material
- Large sheets of tracing paper
- Large white bed sheets can work too, or anything that will soften the light without altering its colour temperature.
Combining lighting types
Combining both back-lighting and diffused lighting from the side or the front can bring the benefits of both these methods into one shot. This can be used after some practice to produce shots that have subtle reflections on the surface of the piece and also illuminated through the piece from behind.
What if you don’t have access to photographic lighting?
There are various options that you can use if you don’t have professional light, such as the use of speed-light flashes, which are relatively inexpensive. However if you need to purchase lighting specifically for glass work then it would be best to go for full-size studio flash units, LED or constant light. These can actually be bought quite inexpensively from various retailers or marketplaces. Nearly all cameras have a built-in flash option. Without a lot of modification and creative use these are next-to useless in photographing glass because they can’t be re-positioned.
Natural light, although not always reliable, is nevertheless a good way to add light to glassware. Set your scene next to a window to give you a diffused light source. There are limitations to this technique, but it can do the job effectively.
If you are using light from a window, one side will be bright against the object, and it will form a shadow on the other side. This shadow may be too dark, so you can reflect the light back into the shadow by using white card. Foam boards also work well because of their rigid texture. Black cards can get used to prevent highlights in your scene. Make sure you turn off all artificial lighting, like lamps and fluorescent lighting. By using only one light source, it will create the perfect white balance right away. You can then adjust the white balance settings on your camera in manual mode so the white and grey areas show up in the right places.
How to get a sharp image
Glass can be difficult to focus on, especially if it has a smooth texture. If your camera is struggling to focus on the object, you can place something in the scene. This item will give the camera a focus point, and it can easily be removed before continuing with the shoot.
Using a tripod will also help with the sharpness. Focus on the image and use the self-timer. This will provide stability, and help you avoid any slight movements of the hand. How hard you have to push the button can affect the sharpness of the image, so use the self-timer. If you want to make really sure your tripod doesn’t move, you can also use a sandbag to stabilise it.
If you need to produce high-quality images regularly, invest in a tripod. Some are inexpensive, but they’ll significantly improve your shoot. I’ve always use Manfrotto tripods but there are many other good brands available too.
Find more product shot tips on product photography section – https://blog.folksy.com/category/seller-tips/handmade-photography-tips
How to take product shots on your phone – https://blog.folksy.com/2017/08/15/how-to-take-product-shots-on-your-phone
Quick and easy ways to get better product shots – https://blog.folksy.com/2019/03/15/product-photography-basics
5 ways to get beautiful product shots every time – https://blog.folksy.com/2017/06/15/product-photography-tips
Five tips for photographing jewellery – https://blog.folksy.com/2014/08/01/five-tips-for-photographing-jewellery
How to photograph craft: cushions – https://blog.folksy.com/2015/02/05/how-to-photograph-craft-cushions
How to photograph craft: purse, washbags and hot water bottles – https://blog.folksy.com/2014/05/12/how-to-photograph-craft-purses-washbags-and-hot-water-bottles
How to photograph craft: cards and notebooks – https://blog.folksy.com/2014/04/28/how-to-photograph-craft-cards-and-notebooks