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I consistently have an issue photographing through store windows into businesses, due to reflections off of the windows. Cars and building behind me always seem to be reflected, no matter the light, the angle, or the time of day — day or night.

How do I get around this problem?

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I had a similar problem to shoot fish in an aquarium. The trick I discovered is to get one of those inexpensive flexible rubber lens hoods. Attach it to your lens, and then 'smush' your camera and lens right up against the glass, ensuring the rubber lens hood is flush against the glass.

This then cuts out all reflected light.

This was taken through glass with said rubber lens hood....

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Use a quality circular polarising filter (CPL) for your lens depending on the lens diameter.

Shoot on an the most convenient angle.

Prefer times when the sun light is softer (sunrise/sunset), but not hitting directly the subject.

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If you would like to understand the physics behind reflections and the methods and/or tricks that are sometimes used to avoid them, then Light: Science and Magic: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting explains everything in glorious detail.

Brief summary (from memory, bear with me!):

A good part of the book describes the concept of the "family of angles". These are the range of angles where any light sources will cast a visible reflection. Having all the light sources outside the family of angles will guarantee that there are absolutely no reflections, so when you achieve that you should be able to shoot through glass and the only thing from it that will get in your picture is the dirt in it.

This is hard to explain without diagrams, but basically the idea is that you take the cone determined by the field of view of your lens and bounce its boundaries as they hit the surface (the glass in this case). The area inside the bounced conic section is your family of angles. From the above it is clear that field of view, camera position and orientation, and surface position and orientation will all have influence in what is the family of angles for a given shot.

Since in your case you are dealing with natural light, instead of moving your lights outside the family of angles, you will have to move and orient your camera, relative to the glass surface, so that as much of the light source(s) fall outside the family of angles. Working with reflected natural light will make this a very challenging task, but nevertheless, I recommend that you read the book from start to end and master the concept, at least so that you can find how to minimize the issue.

Good luck!

  • Can you summarize a bit for those without easy access to the book? – mattdm Dec 20 '11 at 5:46
  • @mattdm: I can certainly try... – Miguel Dec 20 '11 at 7:52
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A polarising filter will cut out a lot of the reflection. If you can get a high vantage point, aiming down at the window, you can cut out sky and other bright reflections. You could reduce reflections of moving objects with a slow shutter speed or multiple exposures.

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Wear a Fleece or Coat!

If the light from your side of the window does not affect the composition, then you can block off reflections by draping a coat or a thick sweater over the camera. Make sure the fabric makes contact with the glass. This doesn't always work, but it's easy to try and doesn't require any additional photo gear to carry around. Moreover, this method does not force you to press the lens flat against the window and thus limit the range of possible compositions. Just be prepared to ignore odd glances from people passing by.

For example, the weekly featured image, August 1 2011 was taken through the front window of a train. The interior of the train was brightly lit and the tunnel was relatively dark, causing strong reflections and reduced contrast in the windshield glass. Pressing the lens flat against the window didn't give me the composition I wanted, so I blocked off the unwanted light by draping the coat over my head and the camera.

In cold weather, I suppose a scarf made of a densely woven fabric might also work.

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