For all of those flash users out there, we’ve all experienced something that is super annoying. We setup our lights, position our subject, and take a photo, but then when we look at the photo, we see it....a giant reflection! This isn’t something that happens in all photos, only in photos with reflective surfaces, but when it does happen, it can ruin a photo. Imagine a portrait where the subject’s glasses are white and you can’t see his or her eyes or imagine a product that’s got a giant reflection in the middle of it. The client is not going to be happy with this, and you’ll either have to reshoot or lose the client. Reflections can be a pain, but today I’ll help explain why reflections happen and more importantly, how to avoid flash reflections in photos.
How to Avoid Flash Reflections in Photos
There are a bunch of tips and tricks out there for how to avoid flash reflections in photos, and we will get to that, but I think it’s important to first understand why you’re getting reflections. When you understand why something is happening, it’s a lot easier to fix your problems.
Reflections can be explained through the idea of angle of incidence = angle of reflectance. Yes, I know that sounds confusing, but I’ll try to explain it as simply as I can. Basically light moves in a straight line, so the angle that you have the light will be the angle that it bounces off the subject. Reflections happen when the light bounces off the subject and angles back into the camera.
Still confusing? Here’s the best illustration I can think and also one of my favorite movies. Think about the famous scene from The Christmas Story where Ralphie almost shoots his eye out. The angle he is aiming that BB gun is going to directly affect the ricochet of the BB. If he’s aiming straight, it will come back relatively straight. If he’s aiming down, it will bounce down at the same angle. So really, the chance of shooting your eye out is very slim (sorry if I just ruined the movie for you).
If you start taking photos and realize that you’re getting reflections, all you need to do is change something about the light or position of the camera. Think about it like the BB gun. If the gun is in a stationary position and the BB ricochets and hits someone, to stop that from happening again you could just move the person or move the BB gun. Doing either will fix it.
(camera straight on with flash straight on)
If you don’t have control over the light and can’t move it, you’ll need to move the camera. First try moving the camera higher or lower. This might be enough to fix it. Next, try moving left or right. Mix that with having the camera higher or lower and it should fix the problem. The only real issue with moving the camera is that you are now changing the framing and appearance of the subject, which might not be a good option.
(flash straight on but camera moved to the side)
The better option, if possible, is to adjust the flashes or lights. This way you can frame the subject the way you want. For most situations, the easy way to remove reflections is to raise the lights higher, so they are aiming down at the subject. When you do this, the light will bounce back toward the ground instead of into the camera.
(fill light is aimed straight forward)
(raised the fill light and aimed down to fix reflection)
(camera and flash straight at item)
(camera and flash straight on, but flash is higher and aimed down at the item)
Raising the lights high enough might not be an option with certain ceilings. In that case, try swinging the lights more to the side. Again, this changes the angle so the light is bouncing more to the side instead of back to the camera.
(Camera straight on with flash to the side)
These two tricks (moving the camera or the lights) will fix your reflection 90% of the time. There are some surfaces, though, with different textures that make light bounce everywhere. Another trick is to diffuse the light. Think about being outside. If there are no clouds, the light is really strong and harsh. But if there are clouds, the light becomes diffused and much softer. The same thing applies to reflections. The softer the light, the more spread out the and less noticeable the reflection will be. To do this, you could add a softbox to a light or add another layer of diffusion if you’re already using a softbox. It could be something as simple as a white sheet.
(Diffused flash with umbrella)
Reflections can be a real pain, but now that you understand why they happen and have some things to try out, you should be able to deal with them in any situation. My best advice would be to not freak out. Slow down and think about the problem. Keep trying things until you find a solution. Just making one small change could fix it. Hopefully this has been helpful. Feel free to comment with any thoughts or questions.
Bryan Striegler is a wedding and high school senior photographer from Fayetteville, AR. He loves meeting new people and figuring out who they are, capturing raw emotion, and creating epic portraits. See more of his work at www.strieglerphoto.com.