I will soon have the opportunity to visit a glass factory. Since I will likely not go there for a long time, I'd like to make sure I get the most out of my shots.

I hope to take pictures like this and this.

I will bring my EOS 550D with the 18-55mm/3.5-5.6 kit lens with me. Is there a particular set of options I should aim for to capture the glow of fluid glass? I'm concerned that I will rather underexpose the pictures: Glassblowers work quite hectically and my lens is not particularly fast. Will using the flash destroy the natural look of glass? Or will it yield interesting specular highlights?

Another aspect I'm concerned about is that the images will look flat since there will probably be windows letting in light, the rather dark rooms and the glowing ovens with fire in them. Is there a recipe to maximize the details in each of the wildly differently luminated areas applicable in this scenario?

  • I believe your lens is f3.5-5.6, not f3.5-4.0, right?
    – ysap
    Jun 14, 2011 at 21:05
  • Of course, you're right.
    – blubb
    Jun 14, 2011 at 21:25
  • 1
    I know you've already got a "best answer" marked for this one. For future reference, you can use Flickr to explore EXIF data on a photo to see what exposure and flash settings were used. For example, check out the settings used in the first example. Note -- not all photos on Flickr have EXIF data. Your second example did not.
    – jaxxon
    Jun 16, 2011 at 4:46
  • @jaxxon: I know about the EXIF data, but at least for now I'm too incompetent to get from a particular set of EXIF tags to a technique like the one mentioned in @dpollitt's answer, therefore I wanted to ask anyway.
    – blubb
    Jun 16, 2011 at 7:01

3 Answers 3


I would try to expose for the hot bright fire, and manually dial up your flash to fill in the rest. In other words - use your in camera meter in manual mode to get the correct exposure, then just flip up your flash. You can further adjust the flash settings to get the desired effect. Use a higher ISO to freeze the action with your setup - ISO 800 or 1200 would be a good place to start.

You are right in thinking that the flash could potentially destroy some of the mood, but used correctly as in the above suggested technique, you can make great images.

To maximize details - I would shoot sightly stopped down, that is, not at your maximum aperture of f/3.5 or f/4.0. Try f/5.6 or even a bit higher. Also, try to keep the main action at the center of the lens, and finally keep ISO as low as possible while still freezing the action.

  • I would never have thought of that technique myself... What's the reason behind your advice to slightly stopping down?
    – blubb
    Jun 14, 2011 at 19:39
  • 2
    f/3.5 is the maximum aperture that your lens can obtain, this will be slightly soft. It is just how lenses work, they are always slightly soft at the extremes(in consumer lenses). So dialing back the aperture half or even a full stop is going to sharpen up and scale back many issues like vignetting and softening. Your lens is probably sharpest around f/7-f/9 or so, but that is an entirely different topic.
    – dpollitt
    Jun 14, 2011 at 19:50

I'm assuming you won't be getting too close to the glassblowers, so will probably capturing images of the glassblowers in the context of their environment. The shots you linked to (particularly the first one) look like they were captured with lenses with a longer focal length than yours.

It will probably be dark, meaning you will have to stick with the widest aperture of your lens, and also ramp up the ISO. Your 550D should be fine with ISO of 1600 or so, which will allow you to work with wide apertures like this no problem. I don't think you'll need flash, especially if you're shooting the glass while it's still hot and glowing. On cooler, clear glass, you will get small specular highlights, but this will look best on rippled or matte surfaces.

I'd suggest using spot metering to capture the kilns and glowing glass to best effect, perhaps metering for 1-1 1/2 stops above the recommended setting.

If you've never shot in an environment like this before it will be a good learning experience, and you'll discover your own way of dealing with the conditions and arm yourself for future shoots.

  • Thanks for the encouragement! I'm actually more interested in showing the glassblowers at work than what the linked examples display, but I will definitively also bring the 55-200mm lens.
    – blubb
    Jun 14, 2011 at 19:36

At the very least, shoot raw and take a grey card with you, and take some photos of that card.. lighting will be complex, and due to the strange colors, all automatic features will probably work less desirable... You'll be happy to be able to correct the white balance afterwards to get the exact right colors back.

  • True, I almost forgot RAW. I don't have/never heard of a white balance card, will a sheet of white paper do?
    – blubb
    Jun 14, 2011 at 19:20
  • 2
    A white sheet of paper could be used because you know that it's supposed to be white and can therefore adjust the photos accordingly but the gray card he's referring to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gray_card has 18% reflectance across the visible spectrum and is a standard for keeping consistent exposures. Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop actually have white balance tools where you can just click on the card and it will do the white balance accordingly. With just a white piece of paper it's not as consistent as the gray card. Jun 14, 2011 at 19:45

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