Q&A: Lighting Multiple People with Glasses

After reading the Lighting 101 post about lighting for glasses, Z9Girl asks:

"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?"


First off, the original post on lighting for glasses in L101 was pretty brief and left some people with the impression that it only works for single-person portraits, which is not the case at all. Sorry about that.

Lighting glasses is all about the angles. To that end, here is our glasses poster guy from Lighting 101:

He is facing camera left, the key light is on camera right. No reflections at all. If I had lit him from camera left, there would be reflections. And to lose them, I would have had to walk that light so far up, or further to the left, he would have started to look bad long before I had clean glasses.

The way I have it lit above, there is still a reflection. But you can't see it, because It is only visible in a zone well to the left of my shooting position.

So what if he were two people? No worries at all. I'd just make sure both people were facing the opposite direction as the one my light was coming from. In Z9's hypothetical 50th anniversary photo, I'd stick hubby right behind wife's shoulder and solve it this way.

Works for large groups, too:

This group contains five people wearing glasses. They are all on the camera left side, facing camera right-ish. This was not by accident. The key light is on camera left, and it is big -- two stacked umbrellas. Still, no reflections because of the angle of attack.

(There is a wedding shooter in China who deals with this problem differently -- and ingeniously, IMO. Suffice to say, there's a group shot you want to arrive early for...)

Okay, so back our hypothetical two-person version of the single portrait above.

What we are doing here is called broad light, and it is not the best light for all faces. However, it is the best light for dealing with glasses. But just because the light is coming from camera right does not mean you have to light the whole camera right side of his face.

Follow me:

Here is our lighting diagram for the single-guy glasses shot, showing positioning for a second person. If I wanted a little more edge to the light, I could flag it from camera right, like this:

This would cut the light from wrapping around the camera right side of his face. It would be more interesting, a little more flattering -- and still no reflections.

I am working pretty close to the ambient in the portrait up top. But what if I wasn't? What if we had a deep shadow we needed to fill with a second light?

We could do that with some on-axis fill (ring light, umbrella behind me, etc.) a couple stops lower than the key. As long as I keep those glasses angled 20 degrees or so away from me (as they are in the photo) we would be fine.

In fact, combine the on-axis fill with the camera-right flag and you have some pretty cool-looking, glasses-friendly light.

In a pinch, I could also fill with a light bounced off of the ceiling. What would have been a problematic direction for our key would be much nicer for fill.

Anyway, just some added info for glasses photos. And as long as you know your angles, you'll never have a problem -- just a limited set of solutions.

But don't forget the potentially best solution of all: When you are about to shoot someone with glasses, ask them if they prefer to be photographed with their glasses or without. Lots of people prefer to lose them, and will thank you for asking.

But the important thing is that either way, you are good to go.


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Blogger Rob said...

Thanks for the reference Dave. When I was reading that, I thought:
"WOW! Let's check this one out!" THEN I started reading and it was
"Oh crap! That's me.
Hahahahahaha!!!" Now I'm famous somewhere besides in my own mind!
You Da Man Dave...

March 14, 2012 11:50 AM  
Blogger עמי סיאנו said...

Could've used this advice last week ... Had to solve a glasses reflection with photoshop...

March 14, 2012 1:23 PM  
Blogger p. said...

Very useful post. Thank you David.

My girls did not always recognize me in our wedding pictures because I chose to remove my glasses for many of the tight shots. It also could have been the 40lbs I'd packed on, but I'm going to assume it was the glasses. :D

March 14, 2012 6:22 PM  
Blogger B.D.Mac said...

Thanks. I did a wedding in a place called, Mirage and it had wall to wall mirrors. Angled my flash at an angle as you suggest here but one group shot had a reflection. I should have moved him to the other end and all would have be fine.

March 15, 2012 3:04 PM  
Blogger DrFireball said...

Have got some cars to photograph coming up and hoping to employ this advice with the multiple window reflections :-)

March 15, 2012 5:06 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Dave Glad you touched on this could you please, please, do some post or a light science and magic bootcamp that mirror (no pun intended) from the book. I totally get this glasses example but trying to understand some of that book is drving me a little nutso.

Thanks great post

March 16, 2012 5:36 AM  
Blogger Maurizio Camagna said...

People who wear glasses all day long look weird without. If you rely on complicated setups (maybe butterfly gridded beauty dish with backlights and need to have your subject looking in the light) there's no alternative to a mount without lenses. Otherwise, reflections in sunglasses often look pretty cool and are mostly acceptable if not even desired. I've to say that some antireflection coatings on glassed really do wonders.

March 16, 2012 5:51 AM  
Blogger Nick Bumgardner said...

WhenI started out in photography I used the methods that you described in the post. However now that I have improved at Photo Shop what I like to do is take the photograph with whatever lighting I want and in each pose get a shot with the glasses on and with the glasses off. Then I combine the two frames in photoshop.

March 16, 2012 12:35 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Great explanation, but can I tweak your drawings a bit? The angle of incidence equals the angle of reflectance; in other words the light goes out at the same angle it comes in at. Given the subject angles, the reflections would not be to the photographer's left, but rather toward the rear of the set.

It's just like hitting a bank shot in pool.

March 16, 2012 5:39 PM  
Blogger robogobo said...

Just pop out the lenses or do one shot without glasses and clone it in. Don't make a big deal out of it.

March 18, 2012 8:00 AM  
Blogger Suzaidee said...

great article with new things to learn. this is useful for my next future assignment ... thank you :)

March 19, 2012 10:03 PM  
Blogger Ed from Ohio said...

Using a polarizing filter can also offer a little more help in cutting down the reflection.

March 22, 2012 2:15 PM  

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