A number of days ago I met Mel of Massimo Dutti and asked her if she’d mind being part of my 100Strangers project. Mel does window dressing, has to document her work and has issues with reflections in the shop windows. Mel was kind enough to share a lot of her techniques with me, this blog post is dedicated to her.

Photographing things behind glass can be a challenge. Often it’s only the enclosed subject you want to capture, not all of the many busy reflections of yourself, lights and other things on your side of the glass. The reflections not only add extra unwanted detail to the shot but can throw the cameras metering off such that the subject of interest comes out underexposed.

There are a number of things that can be done to counter this, so here’s a list of techniques I’ve put together.

Images and diagrams to follow over the following days. Mel, if you’d like some assitance trying these out for yourself let me know the next time you’re in town.

1. Polarising filters

Light particles travel in waves, not totally straight lines. A polarising filter attached to the front of a lens will control which polarisation of light gets into the lens. By twisting the filter through 90 degrees it’s possible to change between horizontal and vertical light, often reducing some of the reflections. It’s this filtering effect that allows sun glasses to reduce the glare on a sunny day.

2. Chunky Scarf

If the camera can be used very close to the glass a chunky scarf can be wrapped around the lens stopping any light from getting in from the sides. It’s prone to getting in the way of the lens so I’d only recommend it if you don’t have anything else to hand.

3. Petticoat Kit

When you’re able to shoot close to the glass but want more freedom of movement the “Black Petticoat Kit” can work very well and is small enough to keep in the camera bag. With some suction window hooks stuck to the glass the elasticated top of a petticoat will hold itself around the hooks. The rest of the petticoat can then be bunched up around the lens or camera, or can be used like the hood of an old fashioned plate glass camera as it was to take this shot from the outside of the Rolls-Royce show room in London.

4. Cloth Wall

As in Mel’s case the photograph needs to be taken some distance from the glass in order to get the subject in the frame. Portable backdrop kits are readily available from good camera outlets on the high street and eBay stores online. Purchase one with as heavy a black cloth as possible if the subject is usually lit from it’s side of the glass. Some have enough material for the cloth to be doubled up. Thin black materials may allow too much light to pass through them. If the subject to be photographed relies totally on ambient light from outside of the glass you may want to pick a while cloth instead. If the light is coming from outside but high up you may get away with black as long at the light comes in over the top.  Set the supports up as high as possible without blocking the light you do need and mark where your eye comes to. You will want to make a slit in the cloth a few inches down from this point for the lens to poke through, assuming you’re using an SLR.

If the glass you’re shooting through is not all parallel to you extra supports and sheets may be needed to the sides to eliminate all of the reflections.

5. Cloth “V” Wall

This method has the open ends of a “V” secured by window hooks at the top of the glass. Imagine a simple tent shape turned up on it’s end. The slack in the material is pulled outward with a poll in one hand, the photo shot through the slit with the other.  One advantage is that when not taking the photo the material can be used to mask the window as long as something can be put infront to prevent trip hazards. Another advantage is the reduced number of bits that need to be carried to the location.