Glare can be a big problem for photographers. It crops up everywhere, in lots of different situations—from the obvious glare that you get when you use your flash in front of a window or other reflective surface, to the less obvious glare that you might get on the surface of water. But one place where you are certain to notice it is when you were shooting photographs of people who are wearing glasses. For tips on how to photograph eyeglass-wearing people, keep reading.
[ Top image He agreed by Flickr user TheeErin]
Now the thing about glasses is that people who wear them are generally people who need them. In other words, the face that they present to the world is the face of a person who wears glasses. If you try to shoot a portrait of someone who normally wears glasses without his glasses, it's not really going to be a picture of him, at least not the real him. Chances are, your subject won't like the resulting image and neither will the people who know him. That's because they're all used to seeing him with his glasses, and a picture of him without just doesn't look natural.
So generally speaking, unless your subject also wears contacts on a regular basis, it's not right to ask that person to remove his glasses simply for the sake of a photograph. It's like telling a little white lie. So leave the glasses on, just try to be aware of the way they look at all times.
It’s easy to forget to check eyeglasses for glare, especially if your subject is someone you see every day—someone who is always wearing glasses is going to consider them more or less invisible, and you will too—until, of course, you notice all that ugly glare in the final image. So make a conscious effort to look for that glare before every shot, that way you will notice it and can follow some of the steps below in order to avoid capturing it in your photo.
Be aware of your light source
Sometimes it’s enough to simply move your subject into the shade, or to shoot on an overcast day—but even these tactics may not completely eliminate glare, especially if there are nearby surfaces that are reflecting light towards your subject. So the best approach is to look for that telltale glare and then slightly angle your subject until the glare is gone.
The angle of the eyeglasses has a lot to do with how much glare you're going to see there. So before you do anything, try tilting the glasses slightly down by raising the eyeglass stems above the subjects ears. That can completely eliminate glare all by itself, and you may not have to do anything else. If you don't want to tip the glasses themselves down, if you could ask your subject to tip her head down just a little bit. It won't be a classic portrait in the sense that she's looking directly at the camera, but you can still get a beautiful image in which she looks more contemplative. Just be aware that too much tilt in the head can cause the frames of the eyeglasses to block part of the eye—and you don’t want that either. Again, paying close attention to those eyes is going to be the best way to get good results.
Don't try to get catch lights in the eyes of someone wearing glasses
Catch lights in the eyes are beautiful, but they don't work when the subject is wearing glasses. Those catch lights actually just become glare in the lenses of your subjects eyeglasses, so unless you are willing to remove the glasses altogether (see above), you won't be getting catch lights.
Backlighting is a good way to photograph someone who wears glasses because the light is shining from behind that person and is less likely to be reflected in his glasses, unless it is also reflecting off of something and back towards that person's face. Remember that it can be tricky to shoot subjects with backlighting so try partially obscuring your light source and bracketing your shots so you won’t just get a blown out background, or worse, a silhouetted subject. And remember that you can’t use your onboard flash to fill in the shadows, either, because that direct light is sure to cause just the glare you were trying to avoid.
Sunglasses present an almost opposite problem, because not everyone who wears sunglasses needs them to correct a visual problem. In fact I would venture to say that the majority of people who wear sunglasses do it because they want to protect their eyes from UV light and generally be more comfortable in the sun. So the question remains, do you ask these people to remove their eyewear before capturing a portrait of them? Well, that really depends. If that person's identity when outdoors is as a sunglass wearer, then it might be sensible to capture a photo of them wearing those sunglasses—but only if the context of the image demands it. For example, if you’re photographing someone on the beach on a bright day, and you would expect to see her wearing sunglasses in that situation, the sunglasses belong in the image. But if you're simply outdoors because you want to take advantage of the natural light, you probably don't want the sunglasses obscuring that person's eyes. It's really hard to capture the essence of a person if you can't see their eyes—and that is the one of the big differences between sunglasses and eyeglasses. If shot correctly, you can still see a person's eyes through their eyeglasses, but not so with sunglasses.
Sometimes, sunglasses seem like a necessity because the light outdoors is so bright that your subject is going to end up squinting if he isn't wearing those sunglasses. That is not actually a good reason to leave them on. Rather, it is an indication that you need to change locations. The chances are pretty good if your subject is squinting in the bright light, the light is probably too bright to get a great photograph anyway. Ideally, you want soft, diffused light in a portrait, which means that it might be a good idea to wait until a different time of the day. Now, if you have no choice but to take a photograph during the brighter part of the day, consider moving your subject into the shade—make sure it's not a dappled shade such as what you get when standing under a tree, but a more even shade—and also consider changing the camera angle so that your subject isn't looking directly into the sun. There are multiple reasons to do this anyway, the first being that front light doesn't tend to be the best light for portraiture because flattens out the details of a person's face. Whereas, if you use light that comes from the side, you will get a much more sculpted and three-dimensional look.
So as a general rule, sunglasses are probably to be avoided, unless you have a compelling reason for including them. But the good news is that if you're excluding the sunglasses altogether you don't have to worry about glare and reflection.
Fixing it in post
You can actually edit the glare out after the fact, although it is trickier if it's directly over the eyes than it is if it's towards the edge of the glasses (if your subject is wearing sunglasses it will be a lot easier because his eyes won’t be visible anyway). If the reflection is slight and isn't obscuring any of your subject’s eye, you can use the cloning tool to get it out. If it looks too obvious try doing the cloning at 50% opacity just so you're downplaying the glare instead of taking it out altogether.
portfolio_3.jpg by Flickr user jillianisaphotographer
When all else fails, try removing the glasses for just one shot for each series of photos. To make this work, you have to shoot the eyeglass-free image in the exact same lighting conditions as you shoot the image with the glasses, and the subject needs to be standing at precisely the same angle to the camera in each one of those photos, too. When you've got that eyeglass-free image to fall back on, not only will you potentially get some catch lights in the eyes, but you'll be able to clone those eyes in right over the top of the glare, thus eliminating it completely.
Eyeglasses can be considered a part of a person's identity, so even though it's easy to just ask the person to remove them, it's better to learn some of these techniques and take them to heart so that you can get good portrait photos that include the eyeglasses but also exclude the glare. And again, the real secret to doing this is to pay attention. Make sure you always notice what's happening with glare and reflection in your subject’s glasses, and you'll nearly always be able to find a camera angle, or head angle, or eyeglass position that excludes it.
- Don’t remove the glasses of someone who always wears them
- Always pay attention to glare
- Be aware of your light source
- Don’t try to get catch lights
- Try backlighting
- Consider context
- Remove them to reveal your subject’s eyes
- Fix it in post
- Clone out the glare
- Clone in eyes from another shot
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