I've read many articles on how to shoot clear glass objects. They seem to be very concerned with how you light it, but not so much how to determine the 'quality' of that light.

There also seems to be a large hole in the information as to what lens to choose, but I quickly determined 'think like a portrait' & went for 100mm.

I ran some quick tests to determine where my information was lacking as to lighting.

Assuming this type of image would be used to sell glasses via online stores I looked down the examples of a large prestige department store - John Lewis if you want some comparisons - but quickly realised there seems to be no 'golden rule'. There doesn't appear to even be a 'house style' that they follow; it appears that each brand submits its own pictures.

In the absence of any kind of house style, is there an objective or even subjective 'best approach'?
In fact, is there a 'best method', or is it up to the individual? Is this part of the decision-making process an 'art' or a 'craft'?

I honed it to three basic styles... these are just quick examples
[right-click, open in new tab for larger sizes]

  1. Hard light
    Done by moving my white backdrop further away.

  2. Soft light.
    Bringing the backdrop close - exposure needs tighter control so the backdrop doesn't appear in focus.

  3. Specular light
    I brought one naked speedlight to 45° front left. Were this more than a quick experiment I would possibly have used a vertical softbox instead.

I feel each could have its place.
Overall I quite like the 'specular' but it requires that the background is not pure white, unless manually cut out in post.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Interesting experiment, I applaud the hands-on work. But... what is the actual question? \$\endgroup\$
    – scottbb
    Commented Jul 1, 2017 at 15:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is there a 'best method', or is it up to the individual? Is this part of the decision-making process an 'art' or a 'craft'? .. or, I suppose 'did i dun good, or did i miss a class?' I bolded the actual question in the post \$\endgroup\$
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Jul 1, 2017 at 15:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @scottbb - sorry, I do tend to find with this particular SE that it's difficult to formulate a question in such a way that there can be a specific factual answer [unlike SuperUser etc] I may have a tendency towards things that, whilst I have an uncertainty on a given technique, I realise the answer may simply be "it's up to you". That's why I try to show my initial assumptions, what I have tested & what my results were, even if it's only so someone might say "I like the middle one best". \$\endgroup\$
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Jul 1, 2017 at 15:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm no expert but quite like the specular one, I think it needs the vertical soft-box and an evenly bright gray background to make it look more clean and 3d. The problem I see with the other two is that it doesn't quite read as glass, maybe adding a gray vertical gradient inside the glass in post would fix that? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 1, 2017 at 18:44
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Tetsujin I like where you're going with it. Maybe it doesn't need any more work. I hear you, though, Photo.SE walks an interesting line between objective SO/SU-style questions, and more subjective or artistic questions. I'm just concerned that answers will be along the lines of "I like picture X", rather than instructional or illustrative. We'll see. \$\endgroup\$
    – scottbb
    Commented Jul 1, 2017 at 18:54

1 Answer 1


It's hard to say which is the best approach because, as usual, it depends on what you're trying to convey. However, I think the book Light—Science & Magic: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting is a great source for learning lighting in general, and specifically for tips on how to light glass, how to highlight the borders, how to create intended reflections, etc.

My personal preference is to highlight the borders. For example if you want a white background you could use a white background that just covers the frame and and black background that surrounds the white background (and is not visible in the frame).

In the following example I used a dark background, and a white background outside the frame to highlight the borders: Picture

And here is the lighting setup: Lighting setup
(source: staticflickr.com)

Notice also that instead of a frontal bare flash for specular light I used paper strips to create softer and wider lights in both sides of the cup.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Hi Marcos. This is a really good answer, but if you embed versions of your images rather than only link to them, the answer will still have your images even if the links move, go stale, or otherwise 404. Would you mind editing your answer to include the images? You can still make the embedded images link to your 500px or flickr images. See my answer to a related Photography Meta question. \$\endgroup\$
    – scottbb
    Commented Aug 29, 2017 at 22:04

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