Photographing Through Windows

11th Blog Post, First Published on May 29, 2016, as a Newspaper Column.

(Photos and possibly an extended text will be added soon).

Hi, and welcome to my “HighLight & Shadow” photo Blog.

If you love to fly and love aerial photos, but you don’t shoot your own jetliner aerials because “You can’t take good photos through the window of a jet at 36,000 feet,” think again. True, there are a few obstacles to getting high quality pix through any window, including those in a jetliner or any vehicle, but those obstacles can be overcome. Here, the obstacle we’ll talk about is dealing with unwanted reflections. (see photo A)

All photos in this blog post were taken with a Samsung Galaxy S7 cellphone.

Light and Reflected Light:

First, a couple fundamental facts about light and reflected light.

Greatly condensed; Light is energy waves that travel in straight lines unless reflected or otherwise redirected.

And reflected light?

The law of reflection states that the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection; or that the angle of light (incident light) striking a surface is equal to the angle of the light reflecting off of that surface (reflected light). This is true of any surface, but for this post, the surface is shiny, flat and transparent. This law is also true for sound waves, waves on a pond, other wave phenomena and even for a ball bouncing (reflecting) off of a flat or straight surface, like a cue ball “reflecting” off of the bumpers of a pool table.

Again, greatly simplified, our eyes and cameras “see” the physical world by detecting the light reflecting off of physical objects. Light-toned objects reflect a lot of light but darker objects reflect only small amounts of light while absorbing the rest. Consequently, reflections of light objects are bright while reflections of dark objects virtually disappear.

In illustration A, incident light strikes a flat, shiny surface at three different angles and reflects off of that surface at those same angles. Play with a mirror or window to notice how the angle of incidence is always equal to the angle of reflection.

Solutions to Issues of Reflected Light:

One way to eliminate reflections from windows we need to shoot through is simply to remove the window. My preference when shooting aerial photos is to shoot from a single engine plane with a high wing above the fuselage. And with the door removed. However, we don’t always get what we want, so when shooting through a window and confronted with issues of reflected objects interfering with our photos, these two laws will help us solve the issue.

When we can’t remove the window from a plane or vehicle, another solution is to sit by a window that the sun is least likely to shine through, or shoot at a time when the sun won’t cause reflection problems, as long as these solutions still allow us to photograph the scenes we want or need to photograph and in the light we prefer.

Another solution is to shoot with the camera close to the window. This reduces the area of the window that is included in our photos, thus reducing the number of reflected objects that can ruin our images. However, this does not remove reflections of our faces, hands and the camera itself, and if the sun is shining through the window, these reflections can be a huge problem.

When we simply can’t use any of the above solutions, other options are to remove problem objects, place a dark object between the object and the window or see if there is a area of the window we can shoot through where the object’s reflection is no longer a problem.

A last solution, one I really don’t prefer, is to use a polarizing filter which, in varying amounts, filters out or blocks reflected, polarized light from being recorded on our photos. However, polarizing filters also reduce or eliminate polarized light reflected from other objects, including the open sky, water, metal and many other objects, often causing the photos to look un-natural. For this and other reasons, I can’t remember the last time I used one, even though I’ve always owned polarizing filters.

Incorporating Reflections into Photos:

Lastly, there are times we want to incorporate window reflections into our photos. Last month, I encountered this situation when I was in Abergavenny, Wales. Here, I wanted my photo to accentuate the 90-degree curve in a large, very old window that serves as the corner in a store’s show window. First, I accomplished this by pointing the camera down, showing both the bottom of the window and the curved moulding it fit into (see photo B). Then I used the reflections with-IN the window itself to illustrate the window’s curved shape in a more interesting way, by shooting with a, perpendicular angle to the vertical window, allowing the greatly compressed side-to-side reflections of the buildings across the street to emphasized the window’s curvature. (see photo C)

As a side note, I’m also reflected in the shot. The two laws above prevent us from escaping our own reflections when viewing a convex curved reflective object from an angle perpendicular to that convex curve. Hence, in photo B, my compressed reflection appears as the dark line on the left side of the buildings’ reflections.

Photo F presents you with a challenge to identify the source of a reflection. Email me your answer from my web site address below.

Visit www. to view my most recent portfolios, and to message me with any questions, suggestions or comments.

Till next time, keep your eyes open, your camera handy and your imagination flowing.



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