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DIY Tips For How To Take Great Reflective Surface Photography


For direct-to-consumer ecommerce stores, great photos are the only way for prospective customers to fall in love with your products. But if you sell glass vases, sunglasses, sparkly jewelry, or other reflective products, the photos you take require a little more preparation.

Reflective surface photography can be challenging: light spots, reflections, and other blemishes can take away from the quality of your images. Products with unique shapes can make reflections and highlights difficult to manage consistently.

The key to getting the perfect shot every time is in minimizing reflections by tweaking lighting, camera angles and settings, and product positioning. And don’t worry—for better photos you won’t need to spend a fortune on lighting and fancy equipment.

Ahead, learn the tips you can use to make your next product shoot with reflective objects a success.

What is reflective surface photography?

Reflective surface photography is the process of shooting items that have reflective surfaces. This often includes things like mirrors, metal goods, glass objects, sunglasses, andjewelry.

What to avoid when shooting reflective objects

Photos capture the look and feel of your products, and the more crisp and accurate they are the more they will instill trust in your customers.

?The goal: Minimize reflections and produce crisp, vibrant images

?The technique: Find the right angles, focus on getting lighting right, and opt for sharp final images 

Here are the main things you need to do to be successful:

  1. Manage reflections. Find the best angle that minimizes or eliminates distracting reflections. You’ll want to avoid seeing your camera, yourself, or your gear in a reflection in the finished photo.
  2. Avoid harsh lighting and shadows. Too much brightness can change the way the color of your products look, which can lead to frustrated customers.
  3. Be weary of blurry shots. Reflective products often have lots of tiny logos, edges, and details that need to be sharp in the final shot. Aim for crip images that show all of the details.

How to choose the right gear

You don’t need to spend a fortune on gear. Getting great results when shooting reflective surfaces depends more on a proper lighting setup than anything else. You can realistically skip splurging on an expensive camera andtake the photos on your smartphone.

?The goal: Purchase the gear you need without going over budget

?The technique: You’ll use this gear to minimize reflections, control light, and create sharp images that show fine detail 

For product photos of shiny objects specifically, we recommend purchasing:

1. Softbox (or other diffusion material)

A photography set up with plants, a white background, umbrella, and softbox
Krists Luhaers via Unsplash

A softbox diffuses light on an object, creating a softer, more natural glow. Soft side lighting emphasizes object details and reduces shadows. If you’re in a pinch or low on budget, you can also use cardboard to bounce light (more on this below). We recommend getting an umbrella as well.

Cost: You can purchase a softbox for about $50 to $80.

2. Wireless/remote flash

Remote flash setup with an iphone
Movo via Amazon

A wireless or remote flash is one that you can trigger from afar. These flashes add more light and are particularly useful when you’re using backlighting as a technique. Backlighting works well for photographing glass and other shiny translucent items.

Cost: Purchase awireless flash that’s compatible with your iPhone for around $120.

3. Polarizing filter

Polarizing filter on an iPhone

Just like your polarized sunglasses, a polarizing filter can cut down on reflections. These filters are affordable, and if you’re using a smartphone, you can purchase one that’s compatible with it.

Cost: You can buy a polarizing filter that’s compatible with a smartphone for $18 to $80.

?Tip: Check out our guide to product photography for more DIY photography gear tips that won’t break the bank.

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How to photograph jewelry, sunglasses, and other detailed products

If your customers are purchasing something from you online that they can’t see in person, they’re going to want to see as much detail as possible. The side lighting technique can help.

?The goal: Emphasize fine details

?The technique: Side lighting

Before you get started, you’ll need to set up your camera or smartphone, adjust the settings, procure a few items, and place your object on a clean white background. Now, here’s how to photograph shiny objects without glare.

Step 1: Adjust your camera settings to get the clearest possible image

metal pitcher

Ensure your white balance, aperture, and ISO settings are optimized for your lighting setup, and that your camera settings take full advantage of your lighting setup, too.

  • Adjust your white balance according to your light source, like the flash setting if you’re using a strobe. If you’re not sure, auto white balance is generally trustworthy. Choose a defined part of your object to focus on, like a watch face or the outer edge of clear glassware.
  • Shoot in manual mode. Set your aperture to at least f/11, but preferably higher (like f/16). Use the lowest ISO possible, like ISO 100, to capture the most detail.
  • Consider your shutter speed. For a backlit setup, you’ll probably need to slow your shutter speed down a couple of stops below your light meter’s recommendation in order to overexpose the image. For side lighting and overhead lighting, you can follow your light meter’s recommendation.

✨Learn more about camera settings in our guide toDIY product photography.

Step 2: Set up your camera

Your camera should be on a tripod and raised so that you’re shooting slightly down at your product. Elevation in this setup will help minimize reflections, but don’t go so high that you can’t get a flattering angle of your product.

Hang the white rolled paper so that it sweeps down and underneath your product, which you set on the table. “Sweeping” the paper means that it curves in such a way that there are no defined lines, eliminating shadows caused by creases. Connect the end of the sweep to the bottom of your camera lens to prevent foreground reflections.

Position two pieces of white foam board directly opposite the light source, taped together to form a V. The V will funnel reflected light back onto your product. This is what it looks like:

sunglasses direct lighting
These sunglasses were shot with direct side lighting. Pixelz

Step 3: Use side lighting to highlight detail

Side lighting works well for detailed glassy products like sunglasses and watches. A box backlighting setup won’t work with more detailed products because it’s used, in part, to overexpose detail.

✨What you’ll need: To side light a small product, you’re going to need a large table, a continuous or strobe light, an umbrella, foam boards, and a roll of seamless white paper.

Position the light, diffused by an umbrella, directly to the left of your product.

In some instances, like when shooting a watch, you may need to move from direct side lighting to 45-degree side lighting in order to effectively illuminate the face without glare.

watch 45 degree angle

This watch, for example, was shot with 45-degree side lighting.

How to shoot glass, bottles, and other translucent products

Glass products always have reflective surfaces, and they’re tricky to photograph without capturing unwanted reflections. Ahead, learn the box backlighting method for tricky translucent products and shiny surfaces.

?The goal: Emphasize shape

?The technique: Box backlighting

Backlighting is ideal for shooting clear or colored glass, like bottles, wine glasses, or decorative glassware. It’s a simple technique that uses the translucency of glass to create a crystal clear appearance while still showing off a flattering shape.

box backlighting product photography

For instance, this glass jar was shot with box backlighting:

glass jar

Like the name suggests, in a backlit setup, you’ll place your light source directly behind your product.

Step 1: Position your light source

For best results, position your light source so that the brightest part of your light shines through the glass, emphasizing the natural curves and outer lines of your product. Level your product and light source so that they’re on the same plane.

You can use continuous or strobe lighting, but you must diffuse your light. Ideally, you should have a lighting umbrella, but thin white material like fabric or layers of rolled paper can work in a pinch.

✨Learn more: Check out our list of40 tools for DIY product photography.

Step 2: Create a box

Put your light diffuser between the light and your product, and then place a white foam board under and on both sides of your product. Place another foam board or more paper across the top.

The idea here is that soft light will be reflected back onto your product from all sides, wrapping around it evenly. The white spots and reflections that can sometimes show up in photos of glass result mostly from the bounce of harsh direct light, so you can avoid those unsightly blemishes by softening your light source and making use of indirect light.

Step 3: Position the boards

For more defined outer edges, you can use black foam boards instead of white. This increases saturation and creates bolder outlines and colors. Watch how the outer lines of our vase below become darker as we add and adjust foam boards.

glass vase no boards

Here’s a glass vase shot with no boards.

glass vase white boards

Here’s the same vase shot with white boards.

glass vase black boards

Now, with black boards.

glass vase black boards closer

And, finally, with black boards moved in closer.

How to capture metal and other reflective objects

Metal is the most challenging surface to shoot because of how highly reflective it is.

You can minimize or even eliminate reflections by using a double overhead lighting setup for shooting small metallic products like jewelry, pots and pans, and cutlery.

?The goal: Minimize unwanted reflections

?The technique: Double overhead lighting

This technique is all about angles—of your camera, your lighting, and your cardboard “light bouncer.”

metal product photography double overhead lighting

✨What you’ll need: In order to shoot reflective surfaces like metal successfully, you’re going to need a table, two lights with umbrellas, and a white paper sweep. No foam board this time because we’ve got two lights and they’re going to be diffused by the umbrellas. With the other two setups it doesn’t particularly matter whether you use strobe or continuous lighting, but this time we recommend strobe lighting for increased control.

Position a light on each side of your product and diffuse each of them with umbrellas. Angle your lights down at the product and set each to the same power.

Position your camera on a tripod so that it faces the product and is angled slightly down. Sweep the white paper down under your product and fasten it to your camera lens to minimize fall off reflections.

If your product has been cleaned and prepped and you get the lighting right, you will end up with reflection-free photographs, just like the one below.

metal pitcher

When in doubt, edit it out in post processing

If spots, smudges, or even one of those pesky reflections snuck its way into an object’s surface in your photo, clean it up in post-production processing. 

Clone out imperfections and check color accuracy. Heal defects you were unable to repair, like scratches or scuffs. Cut your product out from its background and place it on pure white to ensure consistency and minimize file size.

If you’re selling on marketplaces like eBay or Amazon, ensure your images are compliant or your listing may be removed.

Get started with reflective photography

Even though there might feel like there are a lot of steps involved, taking care to make your product photography look fantastic will really help your business for the long term.

You’ll share these photos across paid ads, landing pages, social media, and in your emails. The images you take are true reflections of your brand and how you present your business to the world.

Reflect light, use your diffusion materials, minimize ugly reflections, get creative with different angles, and don’t be afraid to experiment.

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Reflective surface photography FAQ

Why is it difficult to shoot reflective product photos?

Reflective surface photography can be challenging: light spots, reflections, and other blemishes can take away from the quality of your images. Products with unique shapes can make reflections and highlights difficult to manage consistently.

What kinds of products are difficult to shoot without reflections?

Shiny objects are difficult to shoot without reflections. This includes things like metal, glass, sunglasses, jewelry, mirrors, and sunglasses.

How can I photograph shiny objects without reflection?

There are a few different techniques you can use to take photos of shiny objects without reflections, depending on what your overall goal is. To emphasize details and minimize reflections in detailed products like watches, sunglasses, or jewelry, a side lighting technique works best. To shoot shiny, translucent products, box backlighting works well. For minimizing unwanted reflections in things like metal, try double overhead lighting.

This originally appeared on Shopify and is made available here to cast a wider net of discovery.
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