How to Light Glass Products

How To Light Glass Products For Beginners

Written by Tim on . Posted in Lighting

No Experience Necessary

This tutorial is about how I shot a product, which in this case is a glass jar of beets, for where I work. This tutorial can be of great help to anyone, because it shows you how to achieve awesome results with only a couple inexpensive speedlights and some softboxes.

So yeah, product photography and shooting glass products is always a tough task. Well for me, at least. You’ll get reflections or imperfections you may not want that show up because of the surrounding environment and light. So in this short and easy product photography tutorial, I’ll walk through the basic steps needed to photograph a glass product, and how to minimize those reflections and imperfections on the glass product… without having to use thousands of dollars worth of studio lighting equipment.


What You’ll Learn

You’ll learn how to easily and very quickly get uniform light and reflections on both sides of the glass jar, typically seen in product photography, without spending lots of time setting up or editing since there may be strict time constraints to shoot the product(s) in a very limited amount of time.


Equipment You May Need

The wireless triggers I list here are highly recommended for off-camera flash photography.  I’ve tried doing off-camera flash photography without the use of any sort of wireless trigger for my Nikon speedlights, but failed at getting good consistent results in a timely manner.  So, I opted to buy the AlienBees CyberSyncs, since they are super affordable, easy to use and are awesome little performers.  And no, I’m not a spokesperson for them.  I just love them.

Part One: Setting The Stage

Let’s say, just for the sake of it, that the client (if there is one) requires the product(s) to be shot on all white backgrounds, since they are going to be used in a nice PowerPoint presentation. The all-white background will also allow the products to be easily extracted from the background later on, if necessary.

Step 1) Define the Foundation

I set stage for the product using my dining room table and some plastic containers laying around the house to hang the white fabric backdrop on. If you have anything better, be my guest and use it.

Step 2) Setup The Backdrop

I draped the white fabric as best I could to minimize the risk of having creases and wrinkles showing up in the final product photo. I hung the fabric in a way so it created a concave and somewhat seamless backdrop. I say “somewhat seamless” because the fabric looked as if it sat in my closet for thirty years. Ugh. So again, if you have a better way of setting up a white backdrop, by all means do so.

Step 3) Place The Product

Once the backdrop is set, place the product (glass jar of beets) on top of the white fabric, roughly two feet from where the fabrics was curving from where it hung.


Part Two: Placing The Lights

Step 4) Place The Speedlights

For the lighting, set up two Nikon speedlights (I prefer Nikon How To Light Glass Products For Beginners ) on light stands. One Nikon SB-28, camera left, set to 1/8th power, angled 45 degrees towards the product, and one Nikon SB-800, camera right, set to 1/8th power, also angled 45 degrees towards the product.

This will give us the uniform reflections we’re looking for on both sides on the glass.

Step 5) Connect The CyberSyncs

Then, connect two AlienBees CyberSyncs (which are awesome and affordable) remote flash triggers to the Nikon speedlights.

Step 6) Set Up The Softboxes

Once the Nikon speedlights and CyberCync flash triggers are in place, set up both Westcott Apollo 28 Softboxes, also known as collapsable light modifiers, on the stands at the same 45 degree angle as the Nikon speedlights (duh.)

Here’s a diagram to better help you visualize the setup:

How To Light Glass Products For Beginners

Step 7) Compose The Shot

Place the camera about three feet away from the product and Compose the photo using the grid lines through the viewfinder on the camera so the glass jar is as centered and level as can be while leaving some room to crop, if needed. I personally used my Nikon D300s with 50mm F/1.8 lens on the tripod with my AlienBees CyberSyncs remote flash trigger on the hot-shoe mount of my camera. Use whatever you’re used to using or what works best for what you’re shooting.

Step 8) Dial In The Settings

With the lights placed and set at 1/8th power, dial in the following settings on your camera:

Shutter speed: 1/320th of a second, the fastest flash sync speed for the D300s
Aperture: F/7.1 to get good sharpness and depth of field without causing any diffraction
ISO: 400 to get a brighter photo. I really should have used ISO 200 for less noise, but I was too lazy to change the power of my Nikon speedlights. Plus ISO 400 on the Nikon D300s is smooth How To Light Glass Products For Beginners so it didn’t matter too much

Also, if you can, put the camera on a 2-second self timer to eliminate any vibrations, usually caused by pressing and releasing the shutter.

Step 9) Take The Shot

Press the shutter, wait for 2 seconds, and voila!  You should have a nicely lit glass product for your client!  If not, then I am very sorry for the time you wasted reading my tutorial.

Next up is to open the product photo in your editor of choice. For me, it’s Adobe Lightroom 3 first and Adobe Photoshop CS5 for any final touches.


Part Three: Analyze The Photo and Product

Step 10) Compile a List

Open the photo up in Lightroom 3 and analyze the photo to see what needs to be done.  Compile a list of things you notice immediately and should be corrected.

  • Remove the white fabric and clean up the background
  • Smooth out the reflection and clean it up for a more elegant look
  • Darken the highlight on the label itself so it’s less distracting
  • Lighten the main product label and logo to make it “pop” so it stands out more

How To Light Glass Products For Beginners

Now that the list is made, let’s tackle it starting with the first issue on the list.  Ready?


Part Four: Pure White Background

Step 11) Dodge The Background

We’re going to make the background all white.  Pure white.  This will make the product easier to extract from the background in-case the product needs to be placed onto a different background. To dodge the background, making it pure white, we’ll use the “Adjustment Brush” to do some local adjustments. You can select the adjustment brush here:

How To Light Glass Products For Beginners

Step 12) Brush Settings

Once you select the Adjustment Brush, a panel should drop down. This is where you change the brush properties. Use these settings when doing the local adjustments on this step:

How To Light Glass Products For Beginners

The “Auto Mask” setting will help apply the brush stroke to the white background ONLY. It basically confines brush strokes to areas of similar color, which in this case is white.  Increase the exposure slider to “dodge” the background, making it pure white.

Step 13) Dodge The Background

Using the adjustment brush with the above settings, paint around the product, making sure to only paint on the white background.  See the image below to gain a better understanding, just in-case you get lost:

How To Light Glass Products For Beginners


Part Five: Smooth the reflection

Smoothing the reflection on the glass cleans up the appearance and adds more elegance to the product.

Step 14) Brush Settings

Selecting the Adjustment Brush again, use settings similar to these:

How To Light Glass Products For Beginners

Keep the “Auto Mask” checkbox checked.  Decrease the Sharpness and Clarity sliders all the way down to −100. This will make the highlight on the product more smooth and elegant. The other settings you see here are minor, and will differ according to the photo/product.

Step 15) Smooth That Reflection!

With the Adjustment Brush settings dialed in, paint over the four bright highlight areas on the product to smooth them out.  To see what I’m talking about, look below:

How To Light Glass Products For Beginners


Part Six: Darken Highlight on the Label

The reason for making the highlight on the label darker is to cause less distraction from the center of the jar, where the text and logo reside, since the human eye is generally drawn towards the brightest areas of a photo first.

Step 16) Brush Settings

Since the Adjustment Brush is working so well , let’s select it again. This time, we’re going to decrease the Exposure, increase the Contrast and uncheck “Auto Mask” since it won’t do us any good this time around:

How To Light Glass Products For Beginners

Step 17) Darken The Highlight

Then, paint the area on label of the product that needs to be darkened. Example:

How To Light Glass Products For Beginners


Part Seven: Lighten Product Label and Logo

You should know by now that I’m going to tell you to select the Adjustment Brush. But I’ll say it again anyways.

Step 18) Brush Settings

Select the Adjustment Brush.  And Here are the brush settings that worked the best for me to make the product label brighter:

How To Light Glass Products For Beginners

Step 19) Make the Label “Pop”

Using the settings above will make the label and logo “pop” more. So, simply brush right over the center of the jar.  See the example below:

How To Light Glass Products For Beginners


Part Eight: Completing the Product Shot

Whew! Hope you were able to follow along so far. I’m trying to keep it as simple as possible. Anyways, back to business.

Step 20) No More Brush

Since we’re all done using the Adjustment Brush (finally!), close out of it by click “Close” at the bottom of the panel:

How To Light Glass Products For Beginners

Step 21) Overall “Pop”

Then, we should give the overall photo more “pop” and contrast. Simply adjust the following sliders in the “Basic” panel:

Contrast slider to +30
Saturation slider to +15
Clarity slider to +10
Exposure slider to +0.35

How To Light Glass Products For Beginners

Step 22) Remove Dust Specks

For the final touches, if you’re picky like me, you can open the product shot up in Photoshop and clone out all the tiny specks of dust that wondered their way onto the glass jar. These are the little specks I’m talking about:

How To Light Glass Products For Beginners


Before and After

Now that we’re all done, let’s take a look at the before and after. Pay attention to the subtle changes, as they make a big difference in my opinion;


How To Light Glass Products For Beginners


How To Light Glass Products For Beginners


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