I get asked all the time, “Joe – what’s the best lighting to use for photographing people with glasses, so that you don’t have glare or reflections on eyeglasses?” The answer is so easy… and I can use any kind of lighting arrangement I want to. I just set my lights, do my test shots, and then make my subject take off their glasses! Easy peasy – problem solved!
Wait.. you want to know how to do it with the glasses on? Well in that case…
I’ll explain how to do it with an umbrella, a softbox, a beauty dish and even bounce flash and – so that you don’t have to remember all kinds of crazy tricks – I will teach you about the angle of incidence and the angle of reflection.
Photographing people with glasses – especially in the studio- can be a pain in the butt. You want to do cool lighting, but you don’t want to see reflections of your lights in the glasses. Honestly, it doesn’t have to be that difficult, especially if you remember a simple piece of physics… the keyword being simple. The challenge of photographing people with glasses is not a new one, and the best solution that is available today is to understand how light works. In fact, this solution is the same solution that was available decades ago when I was first learning about photographing people with glasses.
Throughout my career I have come across lots of photographers who think they have “tricks” for photographing people with glasses. The most common one is to tilt the glasses down and honestly, that is the dumbest idea ever unless the person wears big oversized glasses. The moment you start to tilt them down, physics guarantees that the top of the glasses start to encroach on the top of the eyes and make the eyes appear smaller. I have also seen people teaching miracle photoshop techniques that don’t really work that well. Honestly, you don’t want to be wasting time in photoshop trying to fix glare.
Certainly if your subject only wears glasses some of the time and they are willing to remove them for the photograph, that solves your problem. Don’t be afraid to ask your subject if they would prefer to be photographed with the glasses on or off. Most people don’t wear glasses by choice so you’re not going to offend the person if you ask politely.
Whatever you do, for the sake of your subject and also for the sake of your confidence, don’t go into the shoot fearful of the glasses. That will only cause your subject to lose confidence in you and the nerves will get in the way of you paying proper attention to what you are doing. It’s just one more simple challenge. Remember: all great photography is an act of problem solving. So if it’s your first time and you don’t have experience photographing people with glasses, don’t hesitate to tell your client how important it is to not have glare and explain to them that you are going to test several lighting arrangements in order to get the best one for their glasses. Nobody is going to complain about that or think that you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s all in how you present it. Remember the 80 – 20 rule. When you are photographing people – 80% of your effort should be focused on psychology and your subject – 20% is the photography part. So hopefully it goes without saying that this is something worth practicing BEFORE you have a real subject or paying client in front of your camera.
So let’s get the physics out of the way first.
I mentioned the Angle of Incidence and the Angle of Reflection. We all understand that light basically travels in a straight line. For all of you hardcore science geeks, I know, light travels in a wave pattern which has curves but the net result is a straight line.
So the angle at which a beam of light hits a reflective surface is called the Angle of Incidence. The Angle of Incidence determines the angle that the light will reflect away from that surface – that’s called the Angle of Reflection. The Angle of Reflection will always be the same as the Angle of Incidence.
All of this means that light is fairly predictable, so as long as you remember this one simple rule of physics. You will always be able to keep your camera out of the the reflected light when you are photographing people with glasses.
Hopefully you have already figured out that this little physics tidbit will help you with more than just glasses. Pretty much any reflective surface – mirrors, stainless steel, glass, windows – they are all going to reflect light the same way.
So the solution is to make sure that the angle of the light hitting your subject is different from the angle that you are photographing them at so that the reflected light misses you completely.
That sounds pretty simple right? Actually it is. The real challenge comes in the fact that most eyeglasses are not flat surfaces – they are curved – so when you are photographing people with glasses, you will actually have several angles of reflection for every light source.
So let’s put this into practice and see how we solve the problem, without tricks and without photoshop.
One solution is to use broad lighting as opposed to short lighting. In case you aren’t sure what that is, broad light is when you light the side of the face that is closer to the camera.
Short lighting is when you light the side that is further from the camera.
Broad lighting will generally have better results with eyeglasses because the angle of reflection is traveling away from you and your camera. Short lighting is much harder to use because it places your camera right in the path of the angle of reflection.
Now if you are like me and you shoot lots of images straight on using the angles of incidence, I can place my light at a height that will cause the angle of reflection to miss my camera lens.
You can see here – with the light right next to and just above the camera, I get a horrible reflection in the glasses.
If I move the light much higher the reflection is completely eliminated.
The same is true if I move the light more to the side for a dramatic effect.
I can even add a second light using the same principles. Two lights next to the camera – two reflections. Move them high or move them wide and the reflections are gone.
What about Modifiers?
In this set-up I have a LumoPro 180R with a LumoPro Umbrella set at about 55” high just above my subject on camera left. For reference there is also a second LumoPro 180R on a mini boom arm above and slightly behind my subject for a hair light. You can see that the reflections in the glasses are unacceptable.
By moving the strobe up to 74” – I have eliminated the glare in the glasses.
Here is the same lighting setup with a Wescott shoot-through umbrella set at 55”.
and then again at 74” – glare problem resolved.
Here is a LumoPro 21” beauty dish set at 55” – not so good.
And here is the same beauty dish at 74” – problem solved.
A medium sized Photoflex softbox in the vertical position at 55” and then again at 74”.
And there is always bounce flash, which is highly underrated but very effective. Below, the speedlight is about 8 feet in front of the subject and aimed at the white ceiling halfway between the flash and my model.
Here is a four light set-up with two medium sized softboxes in front and set at about 74” and two speedlights behind the subject simply aimed at the white wall.
Here is a four light arrangement with the medium sized softboxes off to the side but slightly in front of the model and then one speedlight on the floor to create the glow on the purple background and one above and behind her for a hairlight.
And Here’s a three light setup using bounce flash as the main light and a speedlight with orange gels on the floor aimed at the black backdrop with another speedlight above and behind as hair light.
Hopefully you are seeing that the possibilities are endless. There is no one right way to light a shot where you’re photographing people with eyeglasses, but you do NOT need tricks.
KISS IT Tip
If you set up your lights and take your test shots and realize you have glare, remember that since we are dealing with simple angles of reflection the solution is most likely in one of three options. Most of the time, you will only need to change one of these things to solve the problem:
- The position or the angle of your light
- The position or the angle of your model or subject
- Your shooting position.
So keep it simple and only change one thing at a time then take a test shot BEFORE you change something else.
A Summary: The Dos and Don’ts of Photographing People with Glasses
The Don’ts of photographing people with glasses
- Don’t tilt glasses down. Have your subject wear their glasses properly.
- Don’t do all kinds of awkward head tilts or have your subject drop their chin to avoid your misplaced light. This is the best way to have your subject feel awkward, which means they will look awkward.
- Don’t move your lights too close to the camera lens. We all love catchlights and well-lit retinas, but the closer your light is to the camera lens the more likely it is that your lens will be in the angle of reflectance.
- Don’t panic – it’s just another problem to solve.
- Do ask your subject if they prefer to wear the glasses or not. If they don’t mind taking them off, your job just became easier.
- Do make sure the glasses are pushed up on their nose and properly seated. There is nothing worse than a photo of someone with crooked glasses or glasses halfway down their nose.
- Explain to your subject that photographing people with glasses is tricky and you want to get the light just right so that they look their best.
- The easiest solution is to keep your lights high, above the glasses. But remember, that is not the only solution.
- If you like to work with short light and broad light, remember that broad light is much easier than short light when it comes to avoiding reflection on eyeglasses.
- Practice before you have to do it for real.
Remember gang – your best shot – is your next shot. So keep learning, keep thinking and keep shooting. Adios!