Monday, 8 October 2012

Photographing through glass

A scheduled post

There is a multitude of places where we may want to take photos through glass or perspex:  from a car, plane, train or coach window, through plate glass at a zoo or aquarium, through a museum display case, in a shop window and so on. Some people have trouble photographing through glass and ask how I do it.  Here are a few tips.

1.      Switch off your flash.  It is rare for flash to penetrate the glass without giving horrible reflections and, depending upon the camera, it is quite often impossible.  Unless you have fully explore the potential of your flash and know you can do it, only use flash as a last resort and expect to be disappointed.  If you must use flash angle it at 45% to the glass so that the light from the flash penetrates to the subject but what does reflect off the glass surface reflects away from you.

2.      Really look at what is there and don’t just focus your mind on the subject you want to photograph. Recognise that there are reflections which our brains normally tune out and tune them back in. Only by really seeing what is there can you appreciate what result the camera is likely to give you.

3.      Clean the glass.  Obviously it’s not always possible to clean the inside – especially if it happens to be occupied by a poisonous snake!  (You may notice that there is a smear on the glass by the hind leg of the Painted Dragon, below - that was on the inside). But you can rub a paper tissue over the outside and, unless it’s scratched that will help to clean it.  If that’s not possible try to pick the cleanest spot you can see. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, you will reduce the amount of blur caused by the dirt. Secondly, the camera is less likely to try to focus on the glass instead of the contents.

4.      If possible put your camera right up against the glass.  The nearer you are the fewer reflections you will get and if you can actually put your camera against the glass, looking directly ahead, there will be no reflections at all.  The nearer you are you also put any spots on the glass as much out of focus as possible.  Cameras which take lens hoods (especially if you have a rubber one) should be put right up against the glass and the lens hood will cut out all reflections.

This Scottish shield was in a glass case but by putting the camera lens right up against the glass and level with the centre of the shield no reflections are showing.

There are lots of reflections in this shot – from the mirrors inside the glass. You will notice that by putting my camera right up against the window there are no reflections between me and the main subject i.e. the cups and saucers.

5.      If you can’t look directly ahead (because the object you are photographing is at an angle) try to shield the glass from distracting reflections with your spare hand.  Clever folk may spot a vague reflection of a hand but at least you won’t have that passer-by’s bright orange scarf in the picture.
In order to get the angle I wanted of this Painted Dragon I couldn’t have the camera lens right against the glass so I positioned it as near as possible and shaded the glass so that reflections didn’t show.  


6.      If possible shoot from a dark area to a well-lit one.  If the subject behind the glass is more brightly lit than your side of the glass it will be far easier to get satisfactory results.  If shooting into a dark area you may need to increase the camera speed (perhaps by reducing the aperture if you can do that) to reduce camera shake.  Again, hold it directly onto the glass will help to steady your hands.  Some cameras also have some form of anti-shake setting which can be useful when shooting from a moving car or into dark areas.

7.      Remember that when the sun is directly behind you reflections are at a minimum. 

8.      If you still find the camera focussing on the glass rather than your objective switch to manual focussing and estimate how far away the objective is.  (Not all cameras can do this but many can. If you don’t know how, try consulting your manual.)  As an alternative to estimating you can find an object that is the same distance away but your side of the glass and focus on it before swinging the camera back to your subject.

9.      If you have a camera that can take filters (most point-and-shoot or bridge cameras like mine can’t) use a polarising filter. But if you are using a camera with interchangeable lenses and the capacity to take filters you are probably a serious-enough photographer to already know that.  So the phrase teaching one’s grandmother to suck eggs comes to mind…

10. If you know you are going to be taking lots of photograohs through a car window on a journey wear dark clothing. Then, if you forget to take your photo with the lens against the window, the clothing won't reflect quite to much. 

Any other tips that readers have would be appreciated as they will add to the usefulness of this article.


  1. Wow! What a great tutorial! A lot to remember, but definitely should improve all my photos if I put these great tips into practice. Thanks for sharing. xoxox

  2. This covers the job perfectly.
    For those with bridge cameras filters should be available from Cokin. I think it's their 'A' Series. I assume they do a polariser.
    Polarisers are only really effective when the light is at 90 degrees to the camera but do help. Brilliant for looking into ponds and puddles. They will cost you a stop or three.

  3. Thank you very much for those useful tips!

  4. Thanks for this. I am starting to feel that I need a camera which will take filters. I used to have a polarising filter on my old film camera and it was a miracle. Wonderful! But I didn't know some of these tips so thanks for alerting me to them, John.

  5. Good advice, I always struggle when shooting through glass.

  6. Excellent tips about flash and not using it! As for reflections of other things and people, unless the photo is being taken for the serious use of its subject matter, I really prefer the ones with reflections! You never know what you have until you get home and study it. For example, the photo of the cups and saucers would not be half so charming if your reflection was not there as well.

  7. Thanks for all this useful information CJ....could have used some of these tips on my last trip where I took photos from moving vehicles and planes....I will certainly keep them in mind for my next adventure.
    When I grow up, I want to be just like you...taking great

  8. I often take photos through glass but I think the reflections often give more interest. Have never thought of putting the lens right close up to the glass. Must try.


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