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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.