Lighting 101: Lighting for Glasses

This one is gonna be quick and dirty. If you already know how to do a portrait without having to worry about reflections in peoples' glasses, just scroll down to the bottom and move on.

But if glasses have been giving you a Devil of a time, this is gonna be one of those Homer Simpson "D'Oh!" moments. And if you are having trouble with it, don't feel bad. I did, too.

The problem is that if you are going to the trouble to light someone, you are naturally inclined to have them face toward the light. Which is fine.

Unless they are wearing glasses.

To avoid refections in glasses, simply light from one side and have the person face the other. There is no need to be shooting all of the way in profile, either. A flattering, 3/4 angle (subject to camera) will work just fine.

But honestly, you do not have to go even that far for your angle. Just a smidge will work fine. The important thing is to light him slightly from one side and have him look slightly toward the others.

What if you have more than one person in the photo? No problem. The principle still works. Let's try it with an 11-person group shot:

Bam. Look at that. Not a shiner in the bunch. And four of them are wearing glasses. And I knew I was okay before I tool my first test shot. Light is coming from camera left — speedlights in two big umbrellas.

But look at my group. All five(!) people wearing glasses are standing (or sitting) on the left. And facing slightly right. Are there still reflections? Yep. But they are falling harmlessly out into space at far camera right.

(For the record, there is a second flash at back camera right adding that splash of rim light.)

Think of the light hitting the glasses as a pool ball. It's going to reflect off of the glasses, no matter what. The thing is to position the glasses so that the angle is such that the light reflects off into space. Doesn't really matter where. Just not towards your camera.

If the subject is looking away from the light, that's a piece of cake. That's all there is to it.

A little fun story: There are other ways to do this, too. Some more complicated. Some ... less elegant.

I read about a wedding photographer in China who has everyone who is wearing glasses take them off and replace them with one of the sets of glasses out of the box he brings.

Only he has removed all of the glass from those frames. Clever as hell, actually. But I'd think you'd want to be pretty early in that line rather than last. Because I can't imagine that the empty frames are all that great looking...

Next: Lighting 101: Long-Throw Hard Light


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another tip: reflections need a precise set of angles to produce. Facing the subject away from the light is really one way of changing the angles between glasses, light and lens.

When you see a reflection another approach is that raising the lighting a few feet higher up (at the same position) will generally accomplish the same goal.

Reflections usually indicate that the three items (glasses, lens, camera) are on one plane, so actaully you can pick _any_ one of the three things and alter it to remove the glare.

June 16, 2006 1:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

or... remove lenses from the glasses..
Peace! GB<><

December 17, 2006 10:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And what if the shape of the subject's face dictates a short light?

April 03, 2007 5:32 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

My favorite trick is to raise the feet of the glasses (the part that goes behind the ears) up the head a little bit. This has the effect of tilting the glasses downward and usually takes care of any glare. The trick is not tilting the glasses so much that they look like the subject doesn't know how to wear them.

April 04, 2007 1:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Any angle that doesn't reflect the light of the flash (or other bright light source) back at the camera will work. In other words, you can have your subjects tilt their heads in various directions, adjust the glasses as mentioned above or adjust the light positions (up, down and off to the sides works equally well.)

April 20, 2007 9:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm curious as to why no one uses a circ polarizer to eat the glass reflections?

June 01, 2008 2:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agreed couldnt you use a circular poloriser to remove the reflections of glass and compensate the fact its darker by bumping the flash up a stop or two?

July 10, 2008 11:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As someone who often used to be at the receiving end of various photographers' inventive ideas to get rid of glasses reflections, I can tell you that asking your subject to tilt their head up/down is *not* the best way to achieve this.

People's glasses are like an extension of their face. Move your lights and/or camera before you try and get the subject to compensate for your setup.

It might not appear this way for a non-glasses wearer, but techniques like Jason's (above) completely change the way a person looks. God forbid you then try and sell them the pictures!

July 29, 2008 7:36 AM  
Blogger Andy said...

A polariser will reduce glare or scattered ambient light but cannot remove the reflection of a direct light source such as a strobe

August 11, 2008 1:31 PM  
Anonymous matt said...

If you use a polarizing filter on camera, you would also need to filter your light source in order to effectively eliminate glare on glasses.

August 12, 2008 5:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I worked at a carriage trade studio back in the 70's after college. The owner taught me a lot of lighting tricks during my time there - painting with light for large areas etc. Another easy one is to ask your portrait subject to stop at their optometrist on the way to the portrait sitting and borrow a set of blank (no lenses) frames to match the ones they normally wear.

December 16, 2008 7:27 AM  
Anonymous IB said...

Removing lenses may not the best thing either. My children have very strong prescription glasses to correct their eyesight. Once you take the glasses off their eyeball moves inwards quite a bit. If you were to give them frames without lenses, their eyes would look quite silly.
Keep the glasses and work on posing and light position instead.

January 31, 2009 5:06 AM  
Anonymous PowerPee said...

Thanks for the tip! =D I did some studio shoots before and also noticed that whenever I ask the subject to slight tilt his/her head it gets the job done.

Then again, it's always good to learn something new =D

February 05, 2009 3:24 AM  
Anonymous Richard said...

Maybe it's just me but I notice it right away whenever an actor in a film wears glasses that are either lensless or PLAIN (non-prescription) glass. Either looks odd and artificial.

SOME hint of curved reflection is NORMAL and when it's not there I notice it.

I find an angle that minimizes but does not eliminate all reflections.

In some (OK - one) of my most memorable portraits I had the subject remove his spectacles and hold them with one of the curved ear pieces just touching his lips as if he were in deep thought. It looked perfectly natural and made for a far more interesting photo than the same shot with him wearing them.

February 15, 2009 1:32 PM  
Blogger Paul Miles said...

I'm just reading through this for the first time, but as someone who's worn glasses for almost 25 years, I want to say that if anyone tried to remove the lenses, or adjust the way I wear my glasses, they would no longer have a client. The last thing you want to do as a non-eye glasses wearer is to try to touch someone's glasses. Not only will you piss me off pretty good by trying to take the lenses out (they're expensive, and not always covered by insurance), but if you *do* manage to get them out, you'll be dealing with serious squint & grimace issues.

I get very defensive when I see someone reaching for my glasses, and I take offense to people who don't wear glasses trying to mess with my glasses.

And since glasses are a medical aid, I'd like to flip it and ask who would mess with someone's cane, crutches or wheel chair because you were too lazy to move your lights.

June 07, 2009 10:25 PM  
Blogger David said...

Holy crap, Paul - Lighten up! The post was about choosing a lighting angle so that you would not get reflections.

For Pete's sake, you'd better not ever pose for a wedding group photo in China...

June 08, 2009 9:34 AM  
Blogger Sheri said...

even though I already knew other techniques to accomplish this, this was really good advice that makes great sense.

October 30, 2009 11:54 PM  
Blogger Dania Reichmuth Visual Artist said...

Paul Miles you are so right, I wear glasses also, I totally agree with you!!!

December 26, 2009 3:57 PM  
Blogger Cross said...

I would second (third?) the polarizer recommendation.

A polariser will reduce glare or scattered ambient light but cannot remove the reflection of a direct light source such as a strobe

You can not remove reflections from multiple sources or the environment, but you should be able to remove the reflection and glare from a single source assuming the glasses are mostly planar and thus reflect all the strobe light at a constant angle towards the lens so it can all be filtered out.

February 23, 2010 1:59 PM  
Blogger Minnie said...

This was really great advice..I wear glasses myself, and I know what photographs can do to them.

Melinda B.

July 29, 2010 11:33 PM  
Blogger Minnie said...

Great advice, I wear glasses myself and know how what photographs can do to them!
Melinda B.

July 29, 2010 11:36 PM  
Blogger Amanda Adams said...

But what if there are two lights being used? (ie. two softboxes in a studio?)

February 09, 2011 9:16 AM  
Blogger C.G. Ward Photography said...

Thenk you for the advice in this post. I'm a photographer.. and I'm with Paul. I also wear glasses. The lenses dont just pop in and out so easily. They spiderweb at the edge many timesand thats very bad :( They weren't designed to pop in and out on purpose. It's a bad bad bad idea to try to take someones lenses out for their photo. Plus, they wont be able to see whats going on, and thats not very cool to go through. Everyone deserves an equal experience while being photographed. Even us glasses wearers. lol It's a lighting/angle issue as this blog perfectly explained. Make it the photographers problem, not the client. ;)

October 15, 2011 8:11 PM  
Blogger z9girl said...

Thanks for this advice, and the others too! Funny thing is, I haven't read that in any of my growing collection of books so far.
But what if I were photographing an older couple for their 50th wedding anniversary and they both wear glasses?
Of course there's always the natural light option, but if it has to be indoors with soft boxes or flash, what to do?
What do professionals do?

February 13, 2012 5:23 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

Hey Z9-

I'd tuck one person right behind the other's shoulder, and follow the same game plan. You really do not have to turn them much, either -- or have that light nearly as far off axis as I have it here.

Good Q, actually. I should probably do a QA post and flesh this out better. Keep an eye out!


February 14, 2012 5:06 PM  
Blogger Barneyemc said...

As an optometrist, and glasses wearer for 22 years, I agree that removing, or altering people's glasses in any way is insensitive, and ill advised.

Photographers should encourage their clients to have lenses with anti-reflective coatings( aka reflection free, anti glare, MAR, Crizal, Clarlet, Ultraclear etc).

These reduce reflections from >8% of incident light, to 1-2%, which makes a huge difference. It also improves the quality of vision through the lenses significantly. And, unlike mentioned somewhere else on the site, they aren't that expensive at all.

You'd never by a camera lens without an anti reflection coating!

Also, having a good lens cleaning cloth in your bag won't hurt. Some people's specs are horrendously dirty, which increases reflection further.

April 22, 2012 10:53 AM  

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