3 Easy Steps to Photograph Glassware with Minimal Gear

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Photographing glass objects is always a complicated task because of the reflective surface, and at the same time translucent nature, of this material. The catalogue images with great glassware perfectly illuminated, are usually done with complicated setups, in studios that allow the control of reflections, and lighting equipment with accessories that are not accessible to most photographers.

In this article I will show you how photograph a glass on both white and black backgrounds, with minimal equipment, and a fairly simple lighting setup.

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The techniques used here are known as black-line and white-line lighting, and are defined by the way light is shown at the edges of the glass, in contrast to the color of the background. This is usually done with a light placed behind and above the object, with softboxes or diffusion panels to create the transparency in the glass, black and white cardboard to create the edges, and black and white acrylic panels to create the bottom reflection.

Equipment needed

Well, you may not have a studio and lighting equipment with accessories available, but it doesn’t mean you can’t give this kind of photography a try. Here is what you will need:

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Besides the camera body and the lenses of your choice, you will need two flashes with diffusers, a trigger to fire them, some white cardboard, and two identical glasses (you will see why you need two of them later).

Step one: Clean the glasses

The first step, and a really important one may I add, is to clean the glasses really well, as any dirt in the glass will be visible in the image. Toilet paper and glass cleaning fluid are a good choice to get rid of spots or smudges, and a compressed air can be a good choice to get rid of dust specks.

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Step two: Prepare your set

In these images, instead of an acrylic panel to create a reflection effect, I decided to use an old school technique to simulate the same effect – with the use of another glass turned upside down, under the main photographed glass. I use this technique a lot, as it allows me to have a pure white or black background, without a horizon line created by the base that holds the object, which can give ghost reflections sometimes, and is hard to keep clean due to electrostatic.

Step three: set up your lights

Even though camera flashes (speedlights) are very low power compared to studio units, they have more than enough power for this kind of setup, and are an accessible and simple solution.

You will need to use the white cardboard as the background, and one flash with a diffuser on each side of the glas, illuminating the background evenly. This simulates the use of a softbox as backlight in a really simple way.
Here is the behind the scenes image showing the setup:

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Voila, here is a perfect white background glassware image. It’s amazing what you can get straight out of the camera with such a simple setup. The camera settings used were: f/22, 1/200th (flash sync speed), ISO 50. Both flashes were on 1/2 power with a 50mm zoom setting.

It is important to have a large depth of field to get well-defined glass edges (including the back side of the glass), and to use the highest sync speed for your flash/camera combination to avoid the ambient light making a reflection and changing the color temperature of the image.

Bonus step: Black background setup

The black background image might seem a lot more complicated, but actually it’s as simple as cutting a hole in your white cardboard, that will function as an open window for the black background. Here is the behind the scenes image for that setup:

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Here is the black background glass image.

The camera and flash settings are the same, but the white cardboard acts as a reflector, defining the white line around the glass. Just be sure not to have anything behind the cardboard or use some black velvet as the background, which doesn’t reflect light and guarantees you a pure black.

So, there you go, a simple, yet highly effective technique to produce amazing glassware images with white or black background, and bottom reflection effect – without a studio, fancy lighting equipment, or a ton of accessories.

Give it a try, I’m sure you’ll get great results! Please share your images in the comments area below.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Ivo Guimaraes is a Portuguese photographer and college teacher. His passion for lighting and image editing has gotten him to the next level in studio photography and led him to work with leading brands in the Portuguese market. You can check some more of his work on his blog and Youtube channel.

  • Roberto Morocutti

    Amazing tips. Never imagined something as simple as effective like this. Thank you so much!

  • rebecca haegele

    Very clear!

  • Jeff Settle

    If you want to increase the highlight from the rim of the glass, sand the top with very fine sandpaper. It will flatten the top and provide the highlight. But, don’t ever try to drink from that glass again.

  • Prashant Bhujbal

    very nice & simple tip ! Thanks a lot.

  • Alexis Arnold

    Thanks for this, great tip!

  • Zaid Kamil

    Well i did it in another way
    I used the tv as a background and the result was fantastic

  • Zaid Kamil

    I did it in easier way with out flash
    I used a dark room and made my tv to be my bright background

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