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Photography Question 
Caroline 
 

How to shoot with a window as background


I am getting married in a room that is almost entirely windows. I am worried that the pictures will not turn out well due to reflection and glare. I know that a polarizing lens can reduce the glare but what else can be done? I want the reflection/glare to be invisible if that is possible. Would you just move somewhere else or can this be done?


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9/30/2003 1:33:25 PM

 
John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
  Caroline,
From how you worded your question, I'm wondering if you're not only the bride but planning to be the photographer as well? If so and unless this is a very, very unusual wedding, I don't recommend trying to do both! Hopefully I'm the one who's confused about this.

This can be done in the type of room you've described. I've done it before, but not with a polarizer; nor would a polarizer work. [Note: a polarizer isn't a lens, but a special filter placed in front of the lens.] The polarizing filter can only handle glare caused by reflections from non-conductive surfaces (e.g. water, glass, but not metals). However, it cannot only handle glare reflected by the surface at an angle less than 90 degrees; for glass it's about 45-55 degrees maximum before the polarizer loses effectiveness. In addition, the polarizer must be rotated before making the photograph to block the reflected glare. This means a polarizer *cannot* eliminate the "blowback" of light from a camera mounted flash when the camera is aimed straight at a mirror or window.

Shooting in a room like you've described is definitely more difficult, primarily to avoid flash blowback, but it's not impossible. As stated at the beginning, I've done it quite successfully on a number of occasions although it's significantly more demanding mentally. The first priority for every composition is avoiding the flash blowback which limits camera angles. It requires composing every photograph in a manner that does not aim the camera straight at a window, but always at an angle so that the flash reflects off of the glass away from the camera lens. In addition, during the day I set the lens aperture for a proper exposure of the scene outdoors as seen through the windows if no flash were used (shutter speed is set to flash X-sync). Then I turn on the flash and use it to fill (add light) to the indoor subject material so that it matches the brightness of the outdoor background. This is similar to shooting subjects in open or deep shade with a brightly sunlit background. If it's at night (after sunset) I don't worry about what's outdoors and worry only about flash blowback.

The only problem I've had under these circumstances is very early in the morning (just after sunrise) and very late in the day (shortly before sunset) with bright sunlight streaming directly through the windows. This often results in people being partially covered in direct sunlight and partially shaded by the window frames, blind louvers, etc. None of several different fill flash techniques can fix this situation very well . . . the flash adds to the sunlit and shaded portions of the subject equally and doesn't eliminate the harsh shadow(s) and resulting high contrast. Something gets lost in the process, be it bright highlight blowing out to pure white or darker shadow becoming cavernously black.

I just did a wedding last month that had an enormous plate glass mirror directly over the altar. For the formals we set up studio monolights far enough to the left and right of the camera position so that they could not be seen by the camera (and therefore their light would not be either). Then we composed each portrait so the reflection of the camera itself (and the photographer) was blocked by the subjects on the altar steps. Took some care and a bit of extra time for setup and composition, but it worked out extremely well. The alternative of covering the mirror with a white opaque cloth (that the flash would not leak through) wasn't that feasible, or very desirable. If you have a good photographer, there isn't too much that's impossible if you're willing to allow some additional time to work out the technical aspects of the shoot and for setup and composition.

Hope this helps you understand the challenge and some of the techniques used to handle it.

-- John


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9/30/2003 7:44:51 PM

 
Tony Sweet
TonySweet.com
Tony's Photo Courses:
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  Hi Caroline:

This type of situation, as John stated in no uncertain terms, is very tough because of all of the glass. Flash with all of the glass may give you disappointing results with all kinds of hot spots. With all of the glass, one probably can't even the final results until seeing the final image. One practical solution could be to photograph the wedding with available light, that is using no flash, and shoot the bride/groom, family, and various group shots outside or at the reception or outside in a more controllable environment.

Good luck!


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10/1/2003 2:14:04 AM

 
John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
  Tony's suggestion could be one solution. However, there are a couple of technical drawbacks to doing this. It's a tradeoff of reducing one risk while accepting some consequences that may not be very desirable:

(a) I've done plenty available light indoors at these types of events during ceremonies. It requires nothing slower than ISO 1600 to ensure shutter speeds don't drop below 1/60th second . . . and provide some maneuvering room with lens aperture for controlling depth of field. This can work if nothing is made bigger than a 4x6 due to coarse granularity of ISO 1600 film. It is detectable in 5x7's and very readily noticeable in an 8x10.

(b) If it's during the daytime, properly exposing the film for the indoor subject material will leave the outdoor background completely washed out and very, very pale. Worse yet, the printer may try to balance between the two leaving what appears to be "underexposed" subjects and "overexposed" background in the prints. This issue doesn't apply if the entire event is at night (about 45 minutes after sundown).

Not intended to nit-pick about Tony's suggestion, but to ensure you know up front it's a tradeoff and not without a price. You'll have to decide for yourself what the priorities are and what risks are more acceptable than others.

A word of advice:
If an *experienced* professional photographer is (or seems) nervous about shooting under a certain set of lighting conditions, get it on top of the table and discuss it! That nervousness isn't without good reason; the experience tells him (or her) it is entailing too much risk in producing acceptable photographs which is a Bad Thing for both of you (your happiness and his business). Tony's last sentence may be the appropriate solution and it's best to work it out in advance instead of trying to do it "on the fly" at the event. I do something similar with outdoor weddings by insisting on a viable "rain plan" laid out in advance. BTW, under high risk lighting situations I *always* do a reconnaisance of the venue when it's under the same lighting conditions to work out the possible technical solutions or alternatives in advance.

-- John


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10/1/2003 11:13:36 AM

 
Tony Sweet
TonySweet.com
Tony's Photo Courses:
2-Week Short Course: A Quick Start to Adding More 'Pop' to Your Images
  Again, John is correct and it appears more experienced than I in this type of work. Depending on the available light, if it's a glass building, like in a conservatory, Fuji 800 press will do an excellent job with sufficient depths of field, then take the portraits outside or in a more controlled light situation.

Good luck,
Tony Sweet


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10/1/2003 11:42:59 AM

 
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