Tips for Minimizing Reflections When Photographing Through Windows

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Have you ever wanted to take a photo through a shop window, but couldn’t work out how to cut the reflections? Or been up on an observation deck, trapped behind glass that had so many stray lights shining into the glass, that you couldn’t get a good shot of what was on the other side?

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It is hard to take photos through glass and not get lots of unwanted reflections.

Glass can be one of the hardest things to take photos through. It doesn’t seem to matter where you move, you will find more reflections. Then just when you think you have the perfect shot, you put it on the computer only to find that they are still there.

Shop Windows

One of the most commons places to take photos, is through shop windows. But, they are often in well-lit places, and they are tough because you will be getting reflections from all directions. There are ways of minimizing the reflections, and things you can do to help prevent them.

Polarizering Filter

A polarizer filter will help reduce the reflections. It may not remove them all, but it will help you to eliminate many of them. Take the images below, it has all the lights on the outside of the store reflected in the glass, and with a polarizing filter.

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The reflections of the lights from outside the shop can be seen on the glass.

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The reflections have been removed by the help of the polarizing filter.

A circular polarizing filter was put on the lens, and in order to remove the reflections, it was turned until they just disappeared. Take a look at the image above right, the filter has helped remove many of them.

It doesn’t always work, but it can help reduce reflections. In some cases, you are going to find that reducing them is better than having them ruin your images.

Using a Lens Hood

If you can get your lens right up to the glass of the window so that it sits on it squarely, it can stop any unwanted reflections from getting in front of the lens. However, it means that you can only take photos of what is directly in front of the camera, what do you do if you want to take some at an angle? There is no doubt that once you move it on an angle you will start to see reflections.

You want to be able to create a seal around the end of the lens, and a rubber lens hood can do that. Look at the following photo, you can see one on the lens.

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The rubber lens cap is on the lens, and pushed against the window.

The advantage is the flexibility, and how you can move it around and change the angle of your lens. The following two images show one with reflections, and one without. The latter is the one taken using the rubber lens hood.

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Reflections on the glass are apparent here.

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The rubber lens hood has eliminated the reflections.

They used to be very common and a lot of people would have the rubber hoods for their lenses, but slowly the hard plastic ones have taken over. It is good to see that if you hunt around on the internet, you can still find them. The one used for this demonstration was found on Ebay.

Trams, trains and cars

There are numerous places you could use it, and on a recent trip to the mountains around Lake Tahoe, it would have been great in the tram up Squaw Valley. The glass in the tram had so many reflections it wasn’t worth trying to get any photos. It was the same on the tram that runs from Roosevelt Island to New York.

Trains and other moving vehicles have the same problems with windows and reflections. The rubber lens hood would help you to get an image free of any distracting reflections. However, there is one place in Melbourne where it wouldn’t help at all.

Eureka Skydeck

In Melbourne there is an observation deck that is 88 floors up, Eureka Skydeck, that provides some stunning views of Melbourne. It is a great place to see the city, but a terrible place to take photos.

There is glass all around, and it reflects everything else in it. The one place where you can go outside has mesh across it and for most cameras the holes in it are not big enough to take photos through. At night there are lights on the floor that create their own effects on the windows.

If you go up to the glass to take photos, you will find that if you use the rubber lens hood method won’t work as there are two panes of glass. You might get rid of the reflections off the first pane, but there is not much you can do with the second.

Here are two images, the first was taken during the day and you can see the reflections. The second image was taken at night and you can see all the lights that are there reflected in the glass.

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Taken during the day and you can see the reflections.

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At night the lights inside reflect everywhere, and you can also get portraits shots, whether you want them or not.

Like everything in photography, there are always ways to get around problems.

To eliminate the reflections, you will need to put your camera on a tripod, or something similar, for the following image a GorillaPod was used. It was placed close to the ground, as you can see in the image. At the Eureka Skydeck they have lights in the floor, so you have to make sure that light isn’t coming from under the camera.

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The camera on the gorillapod on the floor.

Set up your image and create a seal around the camera with fabric, you could use a piece of black cloth. It needs to be dark as a lighter colour will reflect as well. For these images a lightweight black jacket was held up against the window, to help prevent the reflections. You want to be able use the fabric or jacket to create a closed-in area around the camera, so you don’t get unwanted views in your image. Look at the following image.

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The jacket is placed around the camera to stop reflections.

Of course no system is going to be foolproof, but, if you compare the following two images, you can see that it does make a big difference. The first image was done without any protection, and the jacket was used for the second one.

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This image has had nothing done to stop the reflections.

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This was taken using the above method with a jacket to block the reflections.

You have to judge each situation as you get to it. While one technique might work in one place, it may not work elsewhere. There is no doubt that glass and windows are one of the hardest objects to photograph through, a bit like photographing a mirror. Take care, and I hope the next time you are taking photos of a shop window, you get some great photos.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Leanne Cole is a fine art photographer based in Melbourne, Australia. She loves Melbourne and photographing it, along with other parts of the state. She likes doing architectural and environmental photography. You can find her on her website or on Instagram.

  • Once I saw a photographer using a kind of skirt that you fix it on the glass. I asked the brand of the product (although I never bought it): Lenskirt http://www.lenskirt.com/lenskirt/

    I think this is the best solution for shooting through the glass.

  • I have heard of that, great idea for shop windows, but don’t think it would work for the Eureka Skydeck, unfortunately. Thanks for sharing the tip.

  • I like your jacket and GorillaPod method. I will give it a try. I had to do a lot of Photoshoppping to remove reflections last time I shot from the skydeck. http://jason.bennee.com/blog/2012/08/model-melbourne/

  • I wish I could say I thought of it, but I got the idea of the coat from someone else many years ago. It does work. Doesn’t always get rid of them but helps a lot. I love the image, I know that scene well.

  • Leanne! You’re here! I don’t know why I didn’t notice before. I probably have read a number of your articles and never noticed.
    Thanks for the great tips! I know these will be very helpful in my travels.
    ~ Mar

  • Leanne! You’re here! I don’t know why I didn’t notice before. I probably have read a number of your articles and never noticed.
    Thanks for the great tips! I know these will be very helpful in my travels.
    ~ Mar

  • Josh

    These tips are great for the zoo and aquariums as well…

  • I am, I am, that’s okay, you know now.
    Thank you, good to hear you think they are useful.

  • I hadn’t thought of them for there, but yes, they would work there too. Good luck.
    Thanks Josh.

  • DrKoob

    Superb article!

  • Thank you.

  • Michael Cornish

    cool

  • Mulwa Mc

    I have always wanted to take a picture of my boss sleeping… He walks in and 30 minutes in to his office, he is dead a sleep… I know what to do, next week 😉

  • Karen Filo

    Leanne, great article and will try and put some of your suggestions to use in the future! Reflections can certainly ruin a shot. Have to say, never heard of rubber lens hoods before. I assume the plastic flat ones would do much the same? I have a few of those.

  • Thank you Karen, I hope they help. They certainly can, and can be so frustrating. They were around a lot about 20 or so years ago, and what people first used before the hard plastic ones were around. The problem with the plastic ones is that you can’t move them to how you want the angle and keep it on the glass. They are not always have a straight around end that will fit tightly to the glass.

  • Karen Filo

    Got my hands on a rubber lens hood. Sadly the step up/down rings didn’t arrive on time, but I’m taking the hood on my trip today and will give it a whirl.

  • YOu will be able to concentrate on the hood then, I hope it works for you. I had fun with it, I was in Vanbars the other day, a photography shop here and I saw somewhere there that they had heaps of rubber hoods, I should have asked about them. Enjoy and have fun Karen.

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