The trouble with photographing eyeglasses is that they’re made of glass, which is generally pretty reflective and reflections of my flashes may obscure the eyes behind the glass, and if we can’t see a person’s eyes we might as well not make a picture.

I was pretty intimidated by this when I was a new photographer. Tips I’d read for beating the problem included tipping the glasses on the face, removing the lenses and taking a shot without the glasses and blending it with the glasses in Photoshop. As a guy who wore glasses, the idea of removing the lenses was ridiculous because I certainly didn’t want to be responsible for damaging them. Also, I can’t stand it when my glasses sit in the wrong spot on my face — just a small movement up or down irritates me, and I have to adjust them into place, so tipping the glasses sounded like torture and a distraction from the connection I’m building as we make portraits. Lastly, photoshopping two images together and aligning them just right and getting the exact same expression out of my subject twice was outside my skill set.

Just like driving a pool table

Then I learned some things about light. Tony Corbell taught me that “the angle of incidence is equal and opposite to the angle of reflection.” Those are big words, but you already know exactly how to use the idea.

Everyday using the rearview mirror in your car you implement this idea. When you look in the mirror, you don’t see yourself, you see the cars behind you because you’ve tilted the mirror. Playing pool is the same: you know that if you shoot the ball at this angle, it’ll bounce off at the same angle. As it turns out, it’s the same with glasses. The light shining on them reflects off at the same angle. As long as your camera isn’t sitting at that angle, you won’t see a reflection in the glasses.

Panasonic Lumix GH4 with the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 lens, as a part of the Steve Jobs Portrait Project

Just lift, tilt or rotate — the LIGHT!

If you make a picture and see the light reflecting in the glasses, lift the light, or rotate it, or tilt it. Don’t move the glasses, unless the pose still looks good. Rarely have I ever had a situation where the light position was so critical that giving it an adjustment ruined the shot … in fact, I can’t think of a single instance. If the light position is perfect, and the pose is perfect, maybe you can move the camera a smidgen so that’s it no longer in the path of the reflected light.

Just plan the pose

When someone wears glasses, I start planning how to light them so that I don’t even have to mess around with the experiment. I’ve learned to think 3 dimensionally: Moving the camera left or right might eliminate the reflection, but tilting the light up or down, or the moving the camera up or down might do it, too.

If I’m photographing a group and someone is wearing glasses, don’t face them toward the light; put them on the side of the group nearest the light so they are facing slightly away, which throws the reflection off to the side of the camera.

Just make the picture

Lastly, the most important thing is to make a picture. There are some glasses with excellent anti reflective coatings that really help make it easier to eliminate the reflections, and there are some glasses that are really curved and it’s may require a complete change in your lighting setup to get a clear view of the eyes.

Panasonic Lumix GH4 with the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 lens, f/4.5

One thing I can guarantee won’t yield a clear view of the eyes, however, is complaining to the subject about it. It’s not their job to have glasses that don’t reflect. People wear glasses, and they are a strong part of their identity; asking them to remove them for a picture is a bit like saying you don’t like this thing about them, and others probably won’t either, so let’s remove it. That’s a terrible way to feel, and it’s guaranteed to yield less than excellent expressions.

If the picture just isn’t working, keep a smile on your face and say, “That was great, let’s do another setup now.” In the previous picture, Doug’s glasses show a little reflection of the light, but since it doesn’t obscure his eyes, and actually gives a little definition to the lenses, I’ve left it as is.

When you get a reflection in glasses, just move the light or move the camera so that they are no longer in each other’s path.