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Monday, June 18, 2012

How To Photograph People Who Wear Glasses—06/18/12

Minimize reflections with a light positioned just right

This Article Features Photo Zoom

If you take pictures of people, especially posed portraits, you're going to run into a problem pretty quickly: Some people wear eye glasses. And as soon as you start illuminating a face adorned by glasses you're going to see why it's a problem: they often create distracting reflections. So here's how to minimize eyeglass reflections when photographing a bespectacled face.

- Understand the angle of incidence. If you happen to shoot pool, you understand the concept of incidence and reflection. In layman's terms, it's the measurement of how far an angle of approach—be it a cue ball or wave of light—deviates from perpendicular to a surface. In practical terms, this means that the closer the light is to the camera position, the more likely you will see a specular reflection in the surfaces in the picture—from foreheads to backgrounds to, especially, eyeglasses.

- Move the light. Once you realize that the position of the light alters the angle of the reflection, you can begin moving your main light to remove it from the eyeglasses, which you can see from your camera position. For instance, if a subject were staring straight into your lens and you put the key light immediately to the left of the camera you'd see a strong reflection in the glasses. It might even obscure the entire surface of the lenses. Move the light up and to the left, and the reflection also moves up and to the left. Move up and to the left far enough, and soon the reflection will disappear entirely. This is, again, simply a function of angle of incidence equating to angle of reflection. Move a light far enough above or to the side of a subject and you'll eventually eliminate pesky reflections from their eyeglasses. You'll have to adjust the exposure accordingly as the light's distance from the subject increases, but that's easy enough to check with a meter or a glance at the back of your camera.

- Start with the light positioned right—as in correctly. If we hypothesize that the lenses in eyeglasses are basically flat mirrors (they're not, but it gives us a good starting point for the purpose of this illustration), you can imagine quite easily that a subject facing to the left of the camera position would be more likely to reflect light from his eyeglasses into the camera if the main light was also placed left of the camera. The billiards player understands that moving the light to the opposite side of the direction the bespectacled subject is facing will help increase the angle of incidence, thereby increasing the angle of reflection—ultimately sending the specular reflection farther from the camera position and minimizing the chances of an unintentionally distracting highlight on the subject's face. So if your subject's looking left, start with the light on the right.

- Move the subject. You don't have to move the light to eliminate eyeglass reflections. Your subject, after all, has a neck and hopefully knows how to use it. So instead of always making adjustments to the light—the one element in the equation that's likely staying perfectly still when compared to the photographer and the subject—consider asking your subject for assistance. A subtle chin down movement will almost always help eliminate all but the most stubborn eyeglass reflections. A small turn of the head away from the light source also helps, but nothing's as effective as a bit of chin movement. The reverse is also true, and with so many folks defaulting to a chin up position in an effort to minimize double chins, you're bound to see lots of eyeglass reflections if you're not diligent about the chin-down approach. (This is another way to minimize reflections when working with natural light, or even the sun when shooting outdoors. If you can't move the source, you've got to move the subject.)

- Move the camera. Going back to that angle of incidence—which is triangulated between light, subject and camera—there's obviously another element that can be repositioned to change the reflection equation. It's the camera position, and just like a chin down movement serves to move reflections up and out of glasses, so does a higher camera position. If your subject is looking as far down as they can comfortably—or reasonably—be expected to look, it can help to raise your camera to a higher position and eliminate the last vestiges of the reflection. Ultimately it's some combination of changes to the position of the light, the camera and the subject himself that will go farthest to eliminate eyeglass reflections from your portraits, and keep you from having to make any repairs in post production—which is exactly what we'll cover next time.

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