Glass is beauty put in a simple item. Just as glass inspires artists and makes our homes beautiful, photographing glassware is a challenging task. E-commerce businesses engaged in glass products trade need crisp and attractive product images, while still keeping tight budgets and busy scheduling. We are here to help turn out better and better photos of glass with our photography tips on how to shoot glass products.

Wine glass - a perfect shot

Having glass and reflective surfaces in the studio is all about careful lighting. Whether you are shooting for catalog images or captivating social media material, you will need to master several simple lighting techniques. Commercial photography will also require assiduous post-processing to make all these perfume bottles shine at first glance. 

We look into all these challenges and walk you through photographing glass phase after phase.

Session preparation

Preparing a glassware photography session will take you to an art supply store for a lot of  black paper and in the end lead you to update your traditional photo studio a little. You can invest in photography automation as well, to reduce the DIY element of session preparation. 

Let’s focus on the studio space, the equipment, and the product itself. Doing preparation right will save you a lot of time in post-production.

The space you need

Glass objects are very specific and they need some specific space to be photographed at the highest level. Take time to prepare some dedicated space for the photo session. 

The room should have no light sources that can cause unwanted reflections in the glossy surface. This means no daylight or uncontrolled lamps hung from the ceiling. All of the lighting setup should be measured and controllable. A closed space, like a separate dark room, will be most suitable.

Mind even to paint the walls grey or black, as this will enhance the light absorption factor and make your lighting setups more reliable and precise.

A darkroom studio

Your studio will do best with solutions where you can safely place the glass product: platforms or tables. A translucent plexiglas shooting table which guarantees uniform background might be a good choice. For black background of paper you might need a hanging system (DIY tip: use photo tripods and a rod!).

Automated photography will solve all the space-related issues, as it offers a one-piece, product-isolating booth for perfect lighting and does not require plenty of floor surface.

Alphashot XL Wine for glass products

The equipment you need

For a good shot of glass products, a good lens will do miracles. In this branch of photography, the lens will be more important than the body of the camera. Choose lenses from the highest series of renowned brands for crisp image and unquestionable sharpness.

Higher class lens

In the glass photography studio, you will also need reliable light sources. When buying them, mind the CR factor and the way they synchronize with the camera. Flash speed in case of cableless lights plays a role when shorter shutter speeds come into question – too low a flash speed will keep the lights desynchronized.

Black light diffusers are a well-useful aid in glass photography. Having a few of them in stock is a necessity or you will need to fight with black paper/cloth home-made shades for diffusing light.

How to prepare a glass object for a photo session?

Having made sure no additional light is present in the shooting space, with the equipment functional and ready, it is time for product preparation.

Arm yourself with cotton gloves, compressed air, and soft cloths. Take care to remove all the dust particles from your photographed item and leave no fingerprints. They will all be visible in your high resolution photos, so why add yourself polishing work in post-processing?

For product placement use the gloves and mind that it is clean from all sides, when shooting a 360° product image. Photography automation solutions very often set additional placement aids at your disposal, such as plexiglass turntables and various platforms. Make sure you will be able to remove them from your packshot.

Product preparation - cleaning and sudting

Lighting in glass products photography

The key to correct lighting of glassware for product photography is setting the studio up in a way that there is no superfluous light source, only the lamps you need. You should be able to achieve this in a dark room or with the aid of photography automation devices.

Read on to our series of detailed instructions as to light sources, contrast and lightness levels and handling of sem-transparency.

Introducing black light diffusers

Diffused light is key

Another necessary feature of light for glass photography is its diffusion. Apart from source control, you should make sure that you use soft light. Paper diffusion panels are a simple way to get there but there will be dedicated black light diffusers on sale in photography stores. 

Soft light will help you to avoid overburns in places where the light reflects in the object. Dispensing of the overburn effect in the photo is crucial to control the contrast and lightness levels of your photographs. And once a photo is shot badly, it will be difficult to make up in post-processing. 

Do all you can to have diffused light!

Hard light in glass photography - a shot of a wine bottle
Hard light – high contrast
Soft light in glass photography - a shot of a wine bottle
Soft light – lower contrast

Method 1: Backlight only

The easiest way to light a glass product for e-commerce photography is to use backlight only. This will ensure good levels of transparency and show the basic shape outline.  

Items of more complex shapes, say fancy perfume or whisky bottles, may be more demanding and the backlight only option may turn out not enough. This is because complex construction throws more shadows and creates areas where light does not reach. Still, it is not advised to light directly from the front.

But don’t worry, by switching to our next method, this issue can be eliminated!

Backlight only - a glass product shot

Method 2: Fill lights at the sides

Items like glossy porcelain or complex glassware will need additional lighting to preserve the balance between the lighted and dark areas. Side lighting will serve to underline the shape, while subtle backlight will be responsible for showing transparency and building contrast. 

Color can be managed by adjusting the strength of backlight and sidelight. The content of a sparkling wine glass will benefit from careful lighting: the golden hue of the liquid (backlight), the shiny glass (fill light) and the multiple silver bubbles need to be captured with the use of black light diffusers at the sides. 

Water bottle lighted from the side and from the back

Method 3: Spot light for products with labels

Products in glass often carry labels. A white wine bottle is a perfect example here. As labels block the backlight, they may turn out significantly darker than the surrounding reflective surface and thus contrast levels in the photo can be imbalanced. How, then, should we fully illuminate items so varied?

The solution is found in adding spotlights directed at the labels. They will be the missing light source and the necessary lightness-levelers. At the same time black light diffusers will create contrast at the glass edges, which will render the desired sharpness effect with white background in product photos. 

A glass product shot with black diffusers
With black diffusers
A glass product shot without black diffusers
Without black diffusers

Camera settings for photographing glass objects

Transparent product photography does not require settings much different from generic product photography. The game is more about lighting than choosing the right camera settings approach. Once you learn the basic setup in the manual mode there won’t be any other methods.

First, you would choose a rather high aperture to achieve a reasonable depth of field. Aim at figures around f/14 and do not go towards the maximum of the lens. All lens producers have indicated that the best sharpness parameter is reached at mid-range values of the aperture.

Second, the ISO parameter should be kept as low as possible. Values over ISO 200 lead to unnecessary noise in the final image, even though they allow for shorter shutter speeds.

Third and final, you need to adjust the shutter speed to the two above parameters. If it turns out that it should be longer than 1/40 s, remember to use a tripod to avoid blur in your photos. Your object is not moving and thus shutter speed does not play as high a role as in e.g. sports photography.

White balance properly regulated with a manual process (described in this video) will help you to render the colors properly. Do coordinate the light color temperature of your light source with the white balance setting in your camera and your resulting photos will be faithful to real colors.

Photography of semi-transparent products

Transparent products need to be lighted from the back to avoid their turning out “blurred and milky” in the final photos. But what should we do with semi-transparent products where some milkiness is required?

Matt effect on a transparent product
Matt effect

The right approach will require applying the sidelight and backlight method and fine-tuning the strength of light until the needed level of transparency appears. Black diffusion panels will be needed only in case of relatively more transparent items. The more opaque examples will do with less diffused light, as they should be less reflective. 

Post-processing in glass photography

The one shot you choose to represent your glass product in an e-commerce shop will need to undergo some post-production before being published. The ideal packshot of a transparent item should make visible the background behind the glass/plastic surface and yet keep the sharpness of the edges. 

Incorrect post-processing may lead to unwanted milkiness of surfaces and badly rendered semi-transparency. Let’s list the advice that might help you to avoid missed final effects.

  • Setting the correct transparency level when masking in Photoshop. When editing with the aid of masks, it will become apparent that edges of the product require different transparency levels than the inside of the glass surface. 
  • Manual marking the product with the Pen tool. Very often automatic Photoshop tools will not be able to correctly mark the product for clipping. This is due to unobvious contrast between the product surface and the background.  You might need to do manual work with the Pen tool before cutting the product out from the background.
  • Saving to PNG. This format will guarantee a lossless compression and preserving the transparency of the background. Useful especially for products intended to be cut out.
Photoshop editing of a glass product shot
Photoshop editing
IQ mask application
IQ mask application

How do you take pictures of glass without reflection? A summary.

Conditions for a perfect glass product photo

As a recap, we might indicate that light is key to glass photography. Use our described lighting models (back, fill, and point light) and you will get closer to perfect packshots.

What’s more, you need to reduce external light sources. A black or grey-painted windowless room shall do the job. Your own lights will need white or black diffusers depending on the lightness of your product. For lighter, whiter glass you can deal with white light diffusers, while dark glass will require black diffusion panels.

Black and white backgrounds

What to be careful about?

Shooting glassware with bad lighting will result in reflections on the glass surface and sometimes an unwanted halo effect around the product. Your object might turn out flat and uninteresting rather than 3D and attractive when you use front light only.

Avoid leaving fingerprints on the glass when taking pictures – this is a major and yet frequent mistake. Have your soft cloth always at the helm. Photographing a faulty product can be categorized together with fingerprints as results of haste and laziness. Not your case, eh? 

Another mistake to avoid, would be to let the black light diffusers reflect on the front of the product rather than on its sides. This might reduce the 3D look of the item and remove the positive part of the light reflection effect. It can also be spoiled by having the photographer’s own reflection on the front of the exemplary champagne glass or a classy vase.

Black light diffusers reflected on the front of a glass

Among interesting special effects, there is an option to add water drops to darker glass surfaces making the product look fresh and enticing. Professionals use water with glycerine to let the drops stick to the surface and add the desired effect.

Beer bottle with water and glycerine drops

Final thoughts

If your e-commerce business has glassware photography needs or you need to learn how to photograph reflective items for your work in the studio, the best solution is practice. The more you work with glass, the more beauty you will be able to get out of it.

As we showed in this guide, lighting will be crucial to avoid reflections. Make sure to equip your studio with black light diffusers and eliminate additional light sources. The moment your lighting clicks (use life-view in the camera!), you will learn about the setup that made it. And it will be rewarding.

We wish you plenty of such moments of realization and a happy upward learning curve!

Three wine bottles on white background