How to shoot glass: setting the lighting for tabletop product photography

Working with class is among of most enjoyable photo-shoots for me: I love the clarity and transparency of glass, and  it is almost like working with liquids (another of my favorite subject).

In this article I show you how we did one of our commercial assignments: client wanted to have pictures of the award that company have received. It was a very serious accomplishment for them. The award itself was a glass sculpture, glass sphere on top of glass cube.

glass product photography final example by product photographer

glass product photography final shot


For this particular shot we had client with us in a studio, it was very interesting to go through each step of setting the light and showing the client how the image gets changed.

The Lighting, step-by step:

First, I’ve started from the idea of  highlighting the object from the behind: this is the usual way to make glass look good.

Three light sources were used:
First, a medium size softbox from top to highlight the area under the object while providing a gradient fill for the background.
Second and third, two strip-boxes, were placed from each side mainly to brighten words on a cube and a matte sphere on top:

Lighting setup, step 1

glass object studio photography lighting setup 1st iteration

Glass object studio photography lighting setup 1st iteration

This is the outcome we got by using this setup:

glass object how to photograph exaplanation

How to photograph glass objects tutorial


Top of the award looked nice, but the words on a cube does not look good at all: too bright background was not contrast enough, making wording look flat and non-distinguishable from the background.

So, I’ve used 2 foam-board screens, (black side towards background, white towards the subject)  to reduce light spill on the background.
In addition,  spot light was added to create a spot on the background behind the subject, and another spot (honeycomb grid)  was used to highlight the cube with engraved text: it suppose to add a contrast for the text.

Lighting setup, step 2

glass object studio photography lighting setup example

Side light added

The result:

how to shoot glass in a studio tutorial by photigy


Now the engraved text looks better. However, bright spot on the background behind the cube does not let words to stand out enough. Next obvious step is to move the spot to be right behind the spherical part of the award:


how to photograph glass in a studio lesson example

Spot was raised to reach ball, one side light

Looks much better, isn’t it?
At this point I was ready to say “we done”, but immediately noticed the difference between right and left side of the sphere. Right side had very nice gradient filling, while left side did not. This is our spot light from the left made all the way through the glass and highlighted the right part of the sphere.

To fix this, I’ve added one more strobe monolight through the same 10º spot (honeycomb grid) from the right. The actual setup below (that right spot is not there, I’ve made the photo before this addition)

Lighting setup, the final:

photography glass object lighting studio setup product photographer koloskov

The final lighting setup

The final lighting setup specification:

1, 2 : AB 400 through 10º honeycomb grid.
3, 4: WL X1600 through 9”x36” stripboxes.
5: WL X1600 through 24”x24” softbox, position on top of the subject.
6: AB800 through 10º honeycomb grid to make that background spot.

By having all lighting positioned symmetrically we lost that extra contrast on the  edges of the wording on the cube, but client liked it this way, and I agreed:-) Below as-is, unretouched version of the final shot:


The final image (before post-processing)

glass product photography final example by product photographer

glass product photography final shot


Hope it was interesting:-)


Lighting, light modifiers and accessories:

Exposure specification: shutter speed 1/250 sec, F16, ISO 100

If you like to learn more about commercial studio tabletop photography, make sure to check out this e-book:

Tabletop Product photography e-book

Tabletop Product Photography in examples


This ebook is based on Alex Koloskov’s product photography masterclass we held in August 2011 in Atlanta. During this 5 hour class Alex photographed seven different subjects and demonstrated how to effectively use various light modifiers (Most of them were DIY) for completely different product types.

 We used a watch, jewelry ring, 3 bottles of liqueur, (clear, dark glossy and matte), saxophone and perfume.
Alex is a big fan of DIY stuff, mostly because it gives me ability to have custom built lighting gear which usually works much better than the standard off-shell solution.



About The Author: Alex Koloskov

The lighting magician, owner of AKELstudio, Inc.

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21 comments to How to shoot glass: setting the lighting for tabletop product photography

  • Hi! I just started a new permanent linky for photography tutorials on my blog. I linked this post to the linky. I think it’s very helpful. If you have any others that you would like to link, feel free!

  • ascaf

    Thank you very very much Alex, your tutorials are so helpfull,
    its really amazing that you share you’re knowledge with all of us.

  • Thanks for the info. I shoot product, and hope that you will continue to post these great tutorials.

    -Nick Tancredi

  • tod burns

    Greetings from South Africa Alex, great article on studio lighting, great “gen”. All my work so far out side with natural light, thank you again on a great article, Tod

  • Hi Alex!
    Your PhotoBlog is very inspirational and didactic. Thank you for it.
    Hroch, Czech Republic, Prague

  • Hi Alex
    I’ve got a question why didn ‘t you use a lighttent? a photobox
    thanks for sharing ;-}

    • Arnold,
      I won’t be able to get the same result using a lightbox (lighttent? never know what the correct name for it:-). Lightbox gives me a very limited room to play with the light, and I always try to avoid limitations, if possible.
      In fact, I found lighttent completely useless for me: if I need a similar to what it can produce lighting, I use set of diffuser panels, surrounding my subject. With diffusers I control dimension of my “box”, transparency, can easily remove one side to get some spot accents there.. and much more.


  • Very good piece, you taught me some new things about glass. It has always been a love of mine but difficult to light. Thanks.

  • Keith

    Alex; Very useful and easy to follow, thank you.

  • Jim Clarke

    Thank you Alex it is really appreciated

  • Jimmy Loke

    Nice sharing, thanks!

  • Alex;
    I think your work is great! I have been a photographer since 1961 but not the whole time and none of it in advertising or products. Now I have retired and decided to get back into photography and do advertising product photography. I don’t do well with clients posing and wanting me to make them look great. I owned a portrait studio for several years but finally lost interest in turning out K-Mart style pictures for little money as the clients didn’t want creative portraits that told more of a story than a passport photo. With product photography hopefully I can shoot and reshoot getting it better. Spending an hour or three photographing a boot gives me more of a technical challenge and it doesn’t get tired of me staring at it analysing the lighting and it doesn’t have to get up to go P** just when I think I’ve got it right.
    I have been looking for a good source to read and study. What do you recommend for reference material in books or videos? I’ve been doing some searches but havn’t turned up much.
    Since I’m new to your blog I’m going to go back thru them and copy your posts. I hope you don’t mind if I try to copy your set ups. I think I can learn alot trying to duplicate what you do and then trying something more to up the ante. I’ll probable start with the boot shot although mine is old but maybe I can tell a story with an old boot since it won’t be going into a catalog.
    Oh, don’t bother going to my website yet, I just got the domain name and will be setting it up soon.
    We will be looking forward to more of your work and hopfully with some study I can contribute to your blog and work. Your descriptions, charts and instructions are great. Keep them and publish a book…”Recipes for Product Photography.”

    • Richard,
      Thank you, I glad you found my blog useful. Hope it will help you on your new path.
      As for a videos or readings, I do not really know any similar to my blog source of ‘how-to” of product photography. This was one of the reasons why I’ve started this blog: every well known photographer seems to shoot people and celebrities, but I can’t find any great product photographers sharing their secrets.

      Here the only one product photographer I know who share some of his knowledge about small product and jewelry photography:
      It is not free, and content is not that “concentrated” it terms of useful info as I wish, but you may find it interesting.

      I am completely fine if you’ll copy my posts:-) And I will definitely will have the book, but need to get more info for it: my guess in one year my blog will be big enough to be used as a source for book.
      I’ve never had any photography related education, so everything I do is my “wheel reinvention”, use it on your own risk:-)

      Thanks for the comment and I wish good luck for your photography. feel free to contact me if you have any questions. And do not forget to share your accomplishments:-)

  • Vicki

    This is great! Thanks so much for posting this!

  • great tips here… thanks for share it… :)

  • Great step-by-step description of the lighting set-up!

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