Follow the Bouncing Ball for Advice on Lighting Glasses

Quick video today from The Flash Centre on how little movements in your subject can get rid of lighting reflections in glasses. And I totally agree with Chris for "Plan A" as being, "Do you always wear your glasses?"

(Hey, it never hurts to ask...)

Of course, you can get totally around most reflections by just using broad lighting. But Chris shows very clearly how just having the subject move her head around a little can make a big difference no matter what your lighting direction.

Once you start to visualize how the light hits the glasses and how it bounces off, you'll know exactly where your reflections will be visible. And you'll quickly start to automatically avoid those camera positions when shooting.

(If you are getting this post via RSS or via e-mail subscription, you'll probably have to click through on the title to view the video.)



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Anonymous za photo said...

It also helps to have them adjust the angle of their glasses so that the earpieces sit a little higher on the side of the head instead of laying on the ears. It's almost impossible to tell in the end photo.

February 02, 2009 11:57 AM  
Blogger Matthew Lane said...

I was able to pull this off pretty well when my wife got new glasses last week.

February 02, 2009 12:07 PM  
Blogger David said...

i have done the glasses tilt thing. ususally works pretty well too.

but what is with the lens distortion on the shot the guy in the video took? it was crazy extreme!

February 02, 2009 12:39 PM  
Anonymous Shelby White said...

Good video. I don't know about that photo he shot though ;) Doesn't seem very flattering.

February 02, 2009 12:41 PM  
Blogger C. Wade said...

I thought the lens distortion was quite noticeable too! But this was a great little tutorial, anyway- even if the answer is pretty common sense...

February 02, 2009 12:59 PM  
Blogger Smasome said...

Having the subject lower their chin can move the reflection off the eyes too. If it is a total nightmare, take a shot without the glasses in the same pose and past the eyes in later.

February 02, 2009 1:06 PM  
Anonymous Marco Cusmai said...

Is using a polarizer a bad idea to get rid of these ugly reflections? I've made myself the same question when I watched the on assignment video of a group photo in front of a difficult wood background..

February 02, 2009 1:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a dumb analogy! Taking a tennis ball to carry the idea of light bouncing off glasses works only if the glass is perfectly flat. Which is not the case with most glasses. The majority is curved enough that the angle necessary to avoid seeing the reflection on the pictures has nothing to do with this stupid tennis ball business. It's a simple law of physics. The more accentuated the curvature of the lens, the wider the field reflected in the glass. This is wgy wide-angle photographic lenses have a very pronounced dome-shaped front element.
Dr Juan Ribero Sanchez, Phys. PhD, Astro. PhD

February 02, 2009 1:56 PM  
Anonymous Dave said...

Its much easier if you take a photo without the glasses then render a pair using a 3D modeling program based on the original specs (pardon the pun) of the glasses and combine in photoshop. 6-8 hours max, much simpler than moving the head and tilting glasses etc...jeez.

February 02, 2009 2:09 PM  
Anonymous Tanya Plonka said...

Horrible flashbacks of taking passport photos... *shudder*

I've been in some situations where the glare won't go away no matter where the head is tilted, or where the lights are moved to (some glasses are just too reflective!), so I love his advice to take them off :)

Or if you want to get slapped, tell the subject to not buy cheap glasses and splurge on non-reflective lenses!

February 02, 2009 2:10 PM  
Blogger David said...


Actually, it is not a dumb analogy, because it works.

Yes, glasses are generally curved on the front surface, which affects the angle at which light reflects.

But understanding the simple angle of incidence / angle of reflectance approach on a basic level helps many photographers to solve this problem quickly and easily.

David Hobby
20+ Years' Experience Lighting People with Glasses

February 02, 2009 2:30 PM  
Blogger David said...


That can help, although for several reasons, it is not usually the go-to solution for portraiture.

In the group shot video you reference, we were able to stick the glasses people on same side of the frame as the key light and face them inward.

Thus, with several people wearing glasses in the picture there were zero reflections. That's a perfect example of using this technique.


February 02, 2009 2:32 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Tramontana said...

I had to battle the same problem in this shot. I used broad lighting, as David talked about in a previous post, to battle the reflections. The Bishop is lit from the left and has is head turned away from the light.

February 02, 2009 2:50 PM  
Anonymous Karsten said...

Trying to demonstrate this using an american football would have been dumb but this tennis ball thing is accurate enough to teach me that simple lesson "Try moving the models head and/or the light". I just hope nobody tries saving money by not using a modelling light and insted throwing a tennis ball in the models face to determin the direction the light would however....these times are hard and every cent counts.. just kidding!

February 02, 2009 3:15 PM  
Anonymous Hashem elassar said...

Hi David ,
what about using circular polarizer filters on the lens?! i read about that in a magazine . it suggested stacking 2 CPL filters but i only have one , tried it with simple tungsten lamp, and it worked on glasses and removed reflections off wooden panels etc.
definitely there will be 2-3 stops loss of light and takes some tests to adjust the turns of the filter with strobes but still works.
i'm one of your unknown students who never commented and after 16 months of learning it's time to warmly thank you for sharing your knowledge.

February 02, 2009 4:09 PM  
Anonymous Peter said...

I strongly disagree with the notion that taking off glasses should be plan A. The question one should ask is "Does my subject wearing glasses help the idea/concept I'm trying to convey with the shot or not?". In the specific case of portraiture, that is equivalent to "Does my subject look better with or without glasses?".

IMO, the easy way out is only the right way if it is leads to a better result than the hard way.

February 02, 2009 4:20 PM  
Anonymous Jonathan Dear said...

says video is no longer available?

February 02, 2009 5:23 PM  
Anonymous Vince said...

I own three opticianstores in the center of The Netherlands and I seriously don't understand why americans don't use anti reflective coating on their glasses...

Is there anyone that can explain this to me?

Your camera's lenses are AR-coated, right?

February 02, 2009 5:54 PM  
Blogger Vincent said...

I seriously don't understand why americans don't use antireflective coatings on their glasses.

I own three opticianstores in The Netherlands and no pair of glasses leaves the store without AR-coating.

Can anyone explain why it's not like that in the US?

February 02, 2009 5:59 PM  
Anonymous JustBob said...

Regarding using a polarizing filter, my recall of high school physics way back when makes me think it would work only if the light source itself (in this case artificial light) also is polarized. Maybe Dr. Sanchez who commented earlier could shed some light (another pun, begpardon) on this.

February 02, 2009 6:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A good trick for fighting eyeglass glare come, if I remember correctly, from Scott Kelby. Ask your subject to remove his or her glasses momentarily, and shoot one or more frames at different angles. Then repeat the process with the glasses in place. When you're choosing the glasses-in-place photos to import them into Photoshop, also choose the matching no-glasses photos, which should (nearly) match the first group in size and exposure. Using the lasso tool, make a selection of the eyes on a no-glasses photo and import it into the glasses-in-place photos of your choice, holding down the shift key so the "eyes" layer winds up superimposed over the glasses frames. You may need to edit this layer by rotating or scaling it, and you may need to smooth its edges with an eraser tool. But done correctly, you end up with eyes that peer out through the glasses frames with no reflections showing. This is also a good way to avoid the lens distortion you sometimes get when your subject has thick glasses.

February 02, 2009 6:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Similarly, if you want a nude model, you could politely ask, "Do you always wear clothes?" If the answer is no, problem solved. Simple.

February 02, 2009 9:30 PM  
Blogger NR - Photo said...

Dave, All that is tru only if you are not trying to photograph someone wearing the safety glasses that I have for the headshoot you did in the company.... I had to give you hard time didn't I???

February 02, 2009 10:45 PM  
Blogger Stupig said...

But he did end up shooting with broad light didn't he?

February 03, 2009 12:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pardon if I missed it in the comments but it's also a great idea to keep appropriate lens cleaning materials on hand. Glasses are always smudged and boy does it show up!

February 03, 2009 1:50 AM  
Anonymous Fotografi said...

Funny and useful... Also explained in yours DVDs.

February 03, 2009 2:37 AM  
Anonymous Matteo said...

Good video, I resolved the problem with a white bounce between the light and the grasses in a corporate shooting... It worked great.

February 03, 2009 2:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A couple of good points made here. Especially titling the glasses.
However the size of the light source has a tremendous amount to do with this situation. Just turning the head away or moving the light totally assumes that the subsequent lighting is going to be attractive. Try shooting 50 attorneys in a day and lighting them with a little drama using that stichk. Can you say stands out like dog's balls?
Bringing the light up in elevation from the SAME angle and then finagling with the sitter's glasses or lowering their chin works best for me. Retouching is usually not so difficult as long as you keep the reflection out of any part of the eyes.
Question: Do you normally wear your glasses?
Answer: Only when I want to see.
The problem there is when they take their glasses off, the part on their nose where the glasses touch is usually well indented and on the shadow side a major pain to retouch.
I say leave em on, raise the light, keeping the quality consistent and lower their chins.

February 03, 2009 7:58 AM  
Blogger Heipel said...

Did David just spank the physicist!? HAHA!!

I love the diversity of views on this site but more I love the most that all the advice here comes down to common sense, easy to understand, get-the-shot-yer-going-for without the 8 years in advanced post-graduate theoretical mathematics...

February 03, 2009 8:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well done - except now we just need a tutorial on shooting portraits with anything but a wide angle lens. That end result was not flattering.

February 03, 2009 9:09 AM  
Anonymous Alyn said...

Um, when I try to watch the Video it just says "This Video Is No longer Available". I seem to be getting that a lot with YouTube lately.

February 03, 2009 10:21 AM  
Anonymous Pat said...

Thanks for highlighting that informative video David. It can be surprising difficult to remove reflections in cheap glasses. I once did a wedding and used a reflector to fill the eyes but hadn't noticed the silver triagles in his lenses - I can laugh about it now :-)

Nice comment about photographing nudes. Another solution is to do anonymous nudes, which are also great.

February 03, 2009 10:35 AM  
Anonymous Joe Ancona said...

If the frames allow for it, I usually just pop the lenses out and call it a day... unless now, you need some reflections so they don't look like toy Groucho Marx glasses... but I thought the idea was to completely eliminate reflections ;)

February 03, 2009 9:59 PM  
Anonymous Dave said...

Really simple even in weddings I get the shot with and without, then good ol Photoshop, done.
Customer likes so far.

February 04, 2009 10:41 PM  
Anonymous Rob Mulligan said...

When I was in China getting married in 2000 we had a full day (you Chinese readers know what I'm talking about)studio wedding shoot. My father in law had those awful big square "old guy" glasses. The hip young woman photographer rolled out a batch of cool looking frames with no lenses for his family to pick out the best looking ones for him to wear.
He looked excellent, and NO reflections!

That's how THEY roll...

February 05, 2009 4:26 PM  
Anonymous Virginia photographer _ Mark Finkenstaedt said...

I go through a lot of dulling spray - spray directly on the eye ball - Presto, no need for glasses.

The tilt never looks realistic. It's all in the angle of the lights as demo'd in the video. Thank goodness people now spend so much on superior glasses with anti-reflection coatings.

Reflections in glasses should be no big deal - Continuous lighting situations can be really much more challenging than working with artificial light.

February 05, 2009 6:06 PM  
Blogger Jeffrey Byrnes said...

I think videos like this are a very brilliant thing for people to watch. It seems like a common sense topic like this could be easily corrected if one could stop and think. Ive seen a lot of bad photos due to glasses glare from reputable studios. If theyd take the time to think about special problems like this, then they would have happy customers. And the retouchers wouldnt have to deal with what could have been done during the shoot.

February 05, 2009 8:30 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Because it's a slow Friday morning, and I'm a recovering physics geek: The tennis ball analogy IS appropriate. If you bounce a tennis ball off the EXACT top of a basketball that's sitting on the floor, it will bounce at EXACTLY the same angle as if it had bounced off the floor. It doesn't "know" that the basketball is curved.

Sorry; had to get that off my chest.

February 06, 2009 8:47 AM  
Anonymous Chicago Photographer said...

Turning the glasses down is one way, but you can also move the light up. Maybe someone with glasses is a time to experiment with what you can achieve with different light source angles.

February 06, 2009 9:01 AM  
Anonymous ShutterBug1997 said...

My mom has anti reflective glasses which I find a bit easier to photograph since I use her as my test subject alot.

My hubby just got new glasses without anti glare, but made of a different type of poly material and half frames, those are a breeze to photograph. So when I finally had to get my first pair of reading glasses I got the same kind.

How many people actually pick out their glasses based on how well they photograph? lol

I have found that the material and shape of the lens helps/hurts in how easy it is to photograph them.

February 10, 2009 11:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

a little trick to try out.
Use a softbox (the bigger the better) very close to the subject. the light intensity would be so low and soft that you will barely notice a reflection. Try to position the softbox so that the reflection actually cover both lenses entirely. this way you can still use short lighting without having to raise your light source.
hope this helps.

February 11, 2009 2:57 AM  

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