What is the best way to light glass? Glass doesn’t look good when you shine light directly at it. It soaks up the light it doesn’t define it. It just gives you specular highlights little pinpoints that don’t photograph well.
Glass looks the best when you look through it and shine something bright behind it.
So if I place a white card behind it with a light on the card, it’s now defined.
By placing a smaller amount of white card behind it, it creates a darker shadow. If I replace it with a larger white card you can see that the black lines get smaller.
Now, this becomes a sort of a dance where you have to decide how much shadow you want, what is the object, and how best to light your glass for your subject.
So here are two quick and easy ways to light your glass.
Setup #1: Narrow Beam of Light on the Background
For this setup, we want to get a narrow beam of light pointing directly at our white background. The reason why we want it to be narrow is that the black on the background is going to show up reflecting on the glass.
I can even pull in a black card to make the shadows even stronger on the glass. There is our simple setup to give you some great shadows and light on your glass.
Setup #2: Using Plexiglass
We are using a 4 by 4 translucent piece of plexiglass that is going to allow the light to pass through it. I’m not going to reflect the light off the front of it, but instead, I’m going to shoot the light straight through it. The reason I chose plexiglass is that it gives you a smooth gradient to reflect onto the glass. So there is the light on the plexiglass, it’s a pretty strong spotlight on the image though.
To make the light less harsh I’m going to put a diffuser onto the light to soften up the lighting.
Bonus Setup: Using a Softbox
It’s a really simple setup with a softbox lighting the glass from behind. We aimed the softbox horizontally directly behind the glass, but you can dial it down because you are aiming it at the glass instead of reflecting it onto another surface. Something to make note of is that the softbox needs to have the interior baffle in it, which helps to soften the light source. Without an interior baffle inside, you are going to see a hotspot on the glass.
Don’t set your softbox too high or it will kill any light from the top. The black shadows around it give the defining shape of the glass.
About the author: Jay P. Morgan is a commercial photographer with over two decades of experience in the industry. He teaches photography through his company, The Slanted Lens, which runs a popular YouTube channel. This article was also published here.