William Burnett Photography | Shooting Through Glass: Get up close and personal.

Shooting Through Glass: Get up close and personal.

February 14, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

In the last article I discussed using a polarizing filter to reduce reflection when shooting through glass on a visit to a museum. However, there are times when you don’t have a polarizing filter or you may be shooting with a point and shoot camera or a cell phone. The good news is that even with these limiting factors you can still get a great photo.

The problem: A quick review of the problem of shooting in a location like a Museum or Aquarium. 

  • Most Museums or Aquariums do not allow flash photography, and even if they did the flash would reflect off of glass front displays.
  • Most Museums or Aquariums will not allow the use of a tripod or mono-pod. In most cases they want to prevent scarring of the floor and they want to provide a safe and unobstructed walking area for guests.
  • When shooting through glass, often ambient light sources are reflected in the glass.

Notice the reflected ambient light in the photo above. Even with a polarizing filter I might not be able to eliminate all of the reflections in this shooting situation. So, a different approach should be taken.

The Solution: Get up close and personal.

When you find yourself unable to eliminate the reflection, either because the reflection is too large or because you don’t have a polarizing filter it is time to get up as close to the glass as you can. Sure, it will change the type of photograph that you would like to take but in most instances it will improve the quality of your images so much that you will wonder why you wanted the other images in the first place.

This photo is of a model of a prehistoric fish. I shot this through glass with a camera phone.

Steps to getting up close:

  • Survey the lay of the land. That is: really take the chance to look around and find something interesting about the display. Instead of photographing an entire painting, just shoot a detail. Instead of taking a picture of an entire aquarium, find one fish or groups of fish to photograph.
  • Look for objects that are sitting still or moving slowly. Museums and aquariums are notoriously poorly lit and as such it can make photography extra difficult but not impossible. Photographing a stationary object or animal gives you more time to have the shutter open and therefore allow more light to hit the sensor.
  • Make sure the flash is turned off.

As can be seen in this cell phone photo, leaving the flash on will result in a large bright spot in the image.

  • Turn up the ISO setting. Even most point and shoot cameras allow for the adjustment of the camera’s ISO setting. This will cause the sensor to be more sensitive to the available light and therefore increase the amount of available light in the photograph. A word of caution on ISO adjustments: Increasing the ISO also increases the amount of noise in the photo. An ISO of 100 will produce a very clean photograph whereas an ISO of 1600 will produce a noisy or grainy photograph. If you must shoot with a very high ISO setting, consider shooting in Black and White. Grain in B/W photography is considered “Artsy” whereas grain in color photography can sometimes just ruin a shot.

While not shot through glass, this image was shot in very low light and I used an ISO of 12800. I chose to shoot this image in Black and White to prevent the noise from detracting from the final image.

Notice the magnified area of this image. This image was taken with a cell phone. The increased noise caused by the low light conditions can be clearly identified.

Here is the same image converted to Black and White. Notice that the digital noise is not as much of a distraction in the Black and White version.

  • Hold your camera with both hands and keep your arms in close to your body. This will help you keep the camera still for longer exposures.
  • If your camera or lens has vibration compensation be sure to turn it on.
  • Shoot in Aperture priority mode if using a DSLR. Make sure you have an aperture setting that will get the portion of the object you are shooting in focus. This might be an f2 if you only want an animal’s eyes in focus or an f 4 - 8 if you want the entire scene in focus. Just remember the lower the number the longer the shutter speed is going to be.
  • If you are using a point and shoot camera, check to see if you can set it for a low light or museum mode in leu of choosing a low aperture number.
  • Get right up to the glass, without touching it.
  • Use manual focus if available and if it is not, use the focus lock on your camera to select a focus point. To do this pick a focus point and then press your shutter button half way down. This will focus the image. When the spot you want to be in focus is in focus, gently press the shutter button the rest of the way down.
  • Take lots of photos. However, be mindful of other guests and don’t hog up the displays.

If you follow these steps you will get some terrific shots. To prove it, here is a recent photo of a pike that I took while visiting the Cabela’s store near my home.

So, get out there and get to shooting, and most of all -- Enjoy.


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