Controlling Window Reflections

November 17th, 2014

LightScienceMagicLaura Recently asked the following question:

I am currently shooting for a glass company to showcase their work on mostly large corporate buildings.  Do you know of any good resources for getting the best window photos without all the reflections etc? I usually try to shoot around dusk, but I am fighting with almost mirror like reflections at times. I need to get interior shots but mostly exterior.

I don’t use flash extensively but do mostly HDR. The reflections I pick up in the windows are simply of the items in the room as I try to shoot later in the day so the windows are a bit darker and tend to become mirror-like.

Laura, The first thing to try is a circular polarizing filter (C-PL). However, my experience is that the C-PL will frequently reduce but not completely eliminate the reflections.

Another approach do dealing with reflections is to understand the physics behind reflections. A great resource for this the book Light: science and Magic: And Introduction to Photographic LightingIn Chapter 3, this book explains how to manage reflections and the different types of reflections. There are actually different kinds of reflections. direct reflections, diffuse reflections and polarized reflections.

Here’s an article from photoreview.com.au that has a bunch of suggestions for ways to deal with reflections.

Anyone have any specific suggestions for Laura?

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3 Responses to “Controlling Window Reflections”

  • Hi Laura, a polarizer would be my first idea as well. Its function will depend on the angle between the glas and the camera. And especially in officebuildings that have coated windows they may not work as intended because most of the coatings are metallic and do not allow the polarizing effect.
    Second would be to block the shine of items within the room (if they are not part of the image) towards the glass. In the best case you can use some piece of furniture as a gobo. This can also sometimes be achieved by moving the camera position.
    Finally this is very tricky and different from location to location.

  • If not familiar with Mike Kelly’s techniques for shooting exteriors and interiors, you may want to check out his tutorial. He does composites that will expose exterior windows perfectly. For interiors, I’ve seen him turn off the lights inside to get rid of reflections, then mask in the windows to a lit interior exposure. Some ideas if you have the time and are getting paid appropriately.

  • To find a solution, you have to figure out why the problem exists. You mentioned you use HDR. That in itself may be causing the problem. If you take 3 exposures, typically light medium dark, and then you use HDR software to blend all 3, the reflections in the windows will be part of the final file. But, take a look at your exposures to see if the same reflections exist in all shots. Many times, they don’t, because outside exposure can negate them. Usually, one of the exposures is better. If they happen to be in all exposures, you need to turn off the interior lights, and shoot a separate exposure for the outside. If the interiors are white walls and ceiling, you must shoot at a time of day when the outside is lighter then interior, and in the case that there is so much ambient light coming in that that isn’t possible, you have to find another workaround. There are times when I’ve had to shoot the view from outside the building (balcony, pole, roof, through the window with the camera right next to the glass) and painstakingly mask the windows and paint that in, but rarely. I’m not patient enough to let my camera site there for hours, so I find the solution while I’m there, regardless of what time it is, and I always come prepared for all possibilities.

    Make sure if you are using LR with NIK, Enfuse or Photomatix, that the settings don’t allow the HDR program to resize or distort the image. You can use the usual result of the HDR, and then in PS drop that last shot as a layer over the top where the windows get painted in… but you need every layer to register exactly, which means using some version of remote release, and no software changes to the dimensions. You can correct the parallels and lens stuff in LR before the HDR though, as long as every file you are using gets the exact same lens correction.

    …but here’s the key to speeding it up: When you expose for that last shot, go as light as you can while still not blowing anything out outside. That will give you a shot that looks like only the windows are correct. When you process that file in either ARC or LR, pull the shadow and black sliders all the way to the right, and pull the highlight and white sliders all the way to the left, the adjust the exposure and contrast so that you’re a little less contrasty, and just dark enough to see all the details in the outside. What this does for me is eliminate the need to cut a detailed mask, I can just paint it in loosely. The window sills are not pitch black that way. You can always go in later in PS and add a curves layer to give the windows more contrast using a fairly feathered brush.

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