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Perfectly Capture Glass With Minimal Photo Equipment

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In this tutorial I will show you how to capture and post-process professional looking photos of glass with minimal photo equipment. You'll learn to take some stunning photos with professional lighting, and a stylish background.

For both photos you will use the same background and props, but different camera settings. First I will describe common parts for both photos, then I will tell you how to capture each photo and outline post-processing steps to take in Photoshop.

Step 1: Preparation of the Equipment

Before we start, you should prepare following things:

  • Glass which you can break into small pieces
  • Hammer
  • One or Two Plastic Bags
  • Bracelet - Made of a material resembling glass
  • Two A4 black papers or black folders
  • Table lamp
  • Tripod
  • Camera
  • Graphics Program

Step 2: Making Shards

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Before we start taking actual photos, you have to break the glass you've prepared and make shards from it. That's why you need a hammer and plastic bags. Since you surely don't want to have these shards scattered everywhere, put the glass into the bag (or two, if you want to be completely sure that they will stay inside) and then hit it several times with hammer.

Below you can see the size of shard we're aiming for:

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Step 3: Creating the Background

In this step we will create the background. Black is a good choice because it increases the visibility of the glass.

If you use two black paper sheets as a background, you should stick them together with the tape along the longer side. Now take your background and position it as in the following photo:

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Step 4: Setting Up the Lights

For illuminating the scene, we'll be using natural light from window, and light from your lamp. You can use natural light only, but the desk lamp gives the glass a nice gloss. On the photo below you can see how I set my lights:

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As you can see, natural light comes from the back and offers a soft, diffused light. Light from the table lamp comes from above.

Step 5: Arranging the Composition

Nailing the composition is very important if you want to make a powerful photo. Since this is not article about composition I would recommend you to read this article - Master The Art of Photographic Composition, if you want to know more about basic composition principles.

If you look closely at the image you can see the use of lines which lead the viewer's eye to the focal point of the image, rule of thirds, and using depth of field to draw attention to the most important part of the photo.

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Make sure that the main object of the scene (in this case the bracelet) is the sharpest one.

Step 6: Setting the Exposure

I would recommend you set your exposure manually. Because you're shooting on the black background, the software in your camera will probably overexpose your photo. For my photo of bracelet, the EXIF data was:

  • Shutter Speed: 1/25
  • Aperture: f9,1
  • ISO: 400

This only provides general guidance - you will probably need to adjust the values slightly to get the best result.

As you can see, I used quite a small aperture. I wanted to have most of the shreds in sharp focus and, because I was shooting from a very close distance, the DOF was very small. An aperture of f4 only kept the bracelet in focus, and this wasn't the look I was trying to achieve.

Step 7: Shooting

There is not so much to say here! I just recommend you shoot a lot of photos with varying composition. It helps you to discover which angles work best, and you can choose the best result from a wide range of different compositions. Below you can see the unedited result:

photographing glassphotographing glassphotographing glass

Taking Photos of The Vortex

Now I will show you how to set your camera to take photos like the preview picture below. You will use the same props and background. In this photo we will work with a long shutter speed, which is why you need a tripod or another stable place to support your camera.

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Step 8: Setting the Light

As I said before, for this photo you will need a longer shutter speed than in the previous shot. This means that you will need less light. I would recommend you to wait for a cloudy day, or use the first hour of twilight. Still use the desk lamp to make the glass "shimmer". You could shoot using only artificial light, but I don't feel the result is as soft or natural.

Step 9: Adjusting Camera Settings

Because you will shoot using a long exposure, it's important to use a tripod to avoid blur. If your camera has shooting mode which combines a self-timer and continuous shooting that's ideal. In that case switch your camera to that mode, and set the number of photos in one sequence to be about five. If your camera has only continuous shooting it will be little harder, but not impossible.

For your information, here's the EXIF data for my photo:

  • Shutter Speed: 0,5s
  • Aperture. f29
  • ISO: 400

If you want to have long shutter speed, set your ISO on the lowest value you can (on most DSLR it's 100) and the f-number to a high value.

Step 10: Shooting Itself

As you can see in the preview picture, we're aiming to shoot the movement of the bracelet. If you have a self timer plus continuous shooting mode, set the timer going. One or two seconds before the countdown ends, spin the bracelet on the background.

If you don't have this shooting mode, spin the bracelet and then start shooting.

It's good to shoot continuously because this way you get photos showing the whole movement, not only from the beginning or the end. As with the previous image, shoot plenty of photos so you will have wide range to choose from at the end.

Below you can see the unedited result of this shot:

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Editing in Photoshop

Now it's time to make your photos little sharper, increase contrast and add the blue tones. I will describe this process in Adobe Photoshop, but the steps are similar in other software. Open your photo in graphics program and let's get started!

Step 11: Increase the Contrast

If you think that your photo would look better with higher contrast, add a new adjustment layer for Levels and play a little with darks and lights. If you want the whole photo lighter or darker, adjust the midtones. Below you can see what I mean:

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Altering your photos with adjustment layers is great because these changes are non-destructive and you can adjust them again any time you want. Below you can see how the button "Create new fill or adjustment layer" looks in Photoshop:

photographing glass

Below you can see how Levels works on my photo. I set the input values to 23;1;200.

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Step 12: Sharpening

Now you'll make your photo bit sharper. Again, we're using a non-destructive technique. Go to Filters > Other > High Pass and set the radius so you can see the edges of your photo. Bellow you can see example:

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And now change the Blending Mode to "Overlay". The grey color disappears, but your photo will be sharper. The Blending Mode you can find on the upper part of your Layers palette.

photographing glass

Step 13: Adding Blue Tones

The last adjustment we will make is to add a blue tone, evoking a cold, icy mood. Add a new adjustment layer "Color Balance" and set it similar to what you can see below:

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Step 14: Final Thoughts

Remember that if you shoot glass, a black background works well for visibility and contrast. In addition, during the post processing stages, try to use only non-destructive adjustments such as adjustment layers to be able to edit these changes at a later point in time.

I hope you've learned something new in this tutorial, and have picked up a few interesting techniques that apply to your own photography work!

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