Lighting for High Key Glass: Part 1

Photographing glass objects is considered by many to be one of the most challenging tasks in commercial studio photography. However, with the right tools and proper techniques, taking pictures of glass can be fun and highly rewarding.

The image you see above began as a vague concept, which involved photographing a wine decanter in such a way that the final image would show off both the product and its intended use. For photographer Garry Belinsky, the goal in creating this wine shot was to create a light, airy, or high key atmosphere and to keep the decanter and the wine as the central theme of the image.

When it comes to commercial photography, lighting and attention to detail is everything. This multi-part lesson explores the process of creating a conceptual wine shot using two continuous lights and a Plexiglas shooting table.

Setup and Preparation
As with most commercial product photo-shoots, the easiest way to create a wine shot like this is to start simple and work step-by-step, changing only one thing at a time. In this situation, I knew that I had several issues to think about right from the start, including lighting, composition, and of course, the wine. I did not want to get ahead of myself by pouring the wine before we knew exactly how to light and arrange the glass objects. I decided to start out by placing the empty decanter on a Plexiglas shooting table. [Figures 1 & 2]


This kind of shooting table is commonly used in the studio. It is basically a metal frame, which supports a custom made Plexiglas sweep. As you'll see, this kind of table is extremely versatile for many product photography applications.

In order to provide a basic starting point, I wanted to first shoot the decanter with my camera set to fully automatic mode. I took my first shot with the built-in flash activated to show an example of how this approach would render a glass object on a reflective white backdrop. [Figure 3]

The result is one that many novice photographers who have tried to photograph glass objects have probably seen before. While this somewhat abstract representation of shadows and specular highlights is kind of interesting, it's definitely far from the look I had in mind.

Experimenting with Side Lighting
I switched the exposure mode in the camera to manual and went about lighting the decanter. My first goal was to dial in the lighting on the decanter. I wanted to do my initial lighting tests using the decanter by itself. Only after I was satisfied with the lighting on this single glass would I be ready to add the wineglasses and then the wine.

When shooting products in the studio, it's very easy to get ahead of yourself and try to do too much at once. I recommend doing things slowly and systematically, changing only one element at a time. Digital technology supports this approach by allowing you to preview every change you make on the back of the camera or tethered computer.

For the following shot, I set up a Photoflex StarLite with a 1000-watt continuous Tungsten light and Large SilverDome soft box attached and positioned it to the left of the table. [Figures 4 & 5]


This side lit result is drastically different from my initial attempt using the built-in flash. Although this is not the look I was after, you can still see what a difference there is between using a large soft box and a tiny camera flash. With the soft box, you can see long rectangular reflections in the glass, which helps to define the shape of the object. [Figure 6]

Overall, this shot is a perfectly valid and elegant approach to photographing glassware. With some fine-tuning and maybe a second light, this kind of lighting could produce a beautiful result.

Stay tuned for the next installment of this lesson, in which Garry develops the shot even further.

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