Glass Photography

Nothing can make you quite as crazy as a photographer than glass.  It is, without a doubt, one of the most difficult things to photograph really well.
Glass is a nightmare for a camera.  It reflects everything, it displays bizarre catch lights and can seem nearly impossible to focus properly.
And yet you won’t be a professional photographer very long, particularly in advertising photography, before you’re confronted with a job involving glass.
Soft side lighting and a frosty glass to dampen catch lights – photo by Kristofer2

The temptation is to get frustrated and figure you’ll take care of the imperfections in post processing.
When you get there you’ll discover that glass is nearly as insanely difficult to get right in post as it is in the studio.  So your best bet is to shoot right in the studio and minimize the post corrections.
The first step is cutting down as much ambient light as possible.  That means dark backgrounds and draping your stand in black.
The next step is lighting.  A studio flash with a modeling light works for me.  The two best angles for lighting glass are directly above and directly behind and below the image plane.  That will yield consistently good photographs, provided the glass is empty or the liquid nearly clear.
Liquids add a whole new dimension.  First, you have to figure out how to get it in the glass without splashing the sides.  Try that sometime.  I experimented for quite a while before going down to the hardware store and buying a small hand pump.  You can also use a cardboard tube from a paper towel roll and pour the liquid into that (I don’t recommend drinking it afterwards).
For this type of shoot you’ll need to use some type of table top box like an EZcube.  You can get both dark and gradient backgrounds for your EZcube and it will save you a huge amount of trouble.
Place a light on each side of the soft side panels and you’ll get a great look almost every time.  Swap in a dark background for clear glass.
For clear glass on a gradient, you’ll need some dark paper rolls at the bottom to keep the bottom of the glass from disappearing into the lighter part of the gradient.  It cuts down the on the light from the sides and the glass will pick up black highlights, just enough to separate it from the light gradient.
With colored glass you have it made.  Put a gray gradient in your EZcube and you’ll be done in 20 minutes.  That will yield adequate results but if you really want to make colored glass pop, you’ll need another tool of the trade.
Another secret to shooting glass is having a daylight balanced flat panel.  It’s worth the investment as you’ll be using it for jewelry and other small objects.  Use it in or out of your EZcube and you’ll discover it adds really nice highlights to your glass subjects.
Even with the right gear, you’ll still find glass objects present constant challenges.  Just keep at it, and you’ll eventually learn how to turn in some amazing shots.