You may well be wondering what 'shoot throughs' actually are, but put simply it refers to anything that you photograph through in the foreground of your shot. So for example, you could be taking a regular portrait but in addition to the regular portrait setup, you would have a transparent object like a glass between the lens and the subject to create a visual depth to the shot. This article aims to explain a very simple but very effective two light setup to get the best results for this type of shot.
A couple of weeks ago I sent out an email to my newsletter subscribers with a creative portrait tip for them to try over the weekend. The tip was to try shooting your normal portraits but with the addition of a foreground element and over that weekend I received several messages in response to this asking for further ideas on how to get better results. This article aims to answer those messages so let's take a look at a few simple but important factors to remember if you're trying to use 'shoot throughs'.
Get engaging results no matter the subject
Sometimes we can get stuck for ideas when it comes to creating a visually engaging portrait. It’s fine if you have a model that can add drama and interest through pose and expression, but sometimes we’re photographing regular people like you and I that find it hard to act natural and engaging in front of the lens. By introducing interesting elements into your fame you can add drama without relying on the subject to do so and in this very simple setup we’ll be adding interest by photographing our subject whilst holding glassware in front of our cameras lens.
- Fast portrait lens (a lens with an aperture of at least f2.8 if possible). 50mm or 85mm will be ideal.
- 2 Flashes (speedlights or studio strobes)
- Beauty dish or small softbox
- Gridded reflector or reflector with barn doors
- Dark Backdrop/Background
The First Trick to Success
If we set our aperture to something wide like f2.8 and focus on the subject, the foreground element we’re holding in front of our lens wont look like glasses at all, in fact they’ll create a beautiful and dreamy flared effect that can not only add a sense of depth to our shot but it can also add visual interest that will catch our viewers attention.
The 'Shoot Through'
The setup itself is fairly simple as all you’ll need is a couple of lights and a suitable background. Of course you’ll also need the 'shoot through' and in this instance that's going to be just regular glasses like wine glasses or any other drinks glass. Ideally, try to find some ornate ones if you can as they often have intricate glass cut patterns on them that will catch the light perfectly for what we’re after. If you don’t have any at home, be sure to check some charity shops as they'll usually have plenty of these more old-fashioned style glasses and they'll be very inexpensive too.
Once you have your glasses and your subject you'll need to set up your background. Don’t worry too much about what the background looks like as you’ll be shooting at a very shallow depth of field so it will be completely out of focus anyway. What I would recommend though is that a darker background will produce better results. The shoot throughs will produce highlights which are bright so they wont be as pronounced in your shot if you're using a white backdrop.
This is only a two light setup so there's not too much to get wrong thankfully. Begin by setting up your key light with your beauty dish or small softbox and place it close enough to your model and background so that that light spills past the model and onto the background as well. More details on this can be found in the steps below.
Once we're happy with our key light, we can now add our second light which we'll call our 'sparkle light'. This is the sparkle light as this is actually the light that will cause the highlights and sparkles to appear in the shot. It's this fundamental point that a lot of people overlooked because we can't simply hold items in front of our lenses and expect them to sparkle on their own, we have to get them to catch the light and we'll do that with the addition of this light.
Position the sparkle light out of shot next to the model and point it back towards the camera so that it will create those beautiful dreamy sparkle effects in shot. Because we don't necessarily want this light to spill onto the entire set we so we will have a gridded reflector or barn doors on this to control the pool of light just onto the glasses in front of the lens.
Step 1 - Keylight Placement
Place your keylight at about arms length away from your subject, just above their head and angled down at about 45 degrees. You can use a beauty dish if you have one or a small 60cmx60cm softbox can also work.
Step 2 - Adding a Second Light
This second lights job is to light the glassware only, so place it off to one side and out of shot. Aim this light back towards the camera which is where you'll be holding the glass.
Pro Tip: If you have space, you can also double this light up as a hair-light and place it behind the subject so that it lights both their hair and the glassware.
Step 3 - The background
The background isn't overly important in this setup because we will shooting at a very shallow depth of field meaning that whatever is behind the subject will be out of focus anyway. I would recommend a darker backdrop if you have one though as this will allow for the brighter highlights of the sparkles to show up against it. If you're shooting in a home studio then choose something simple so as not to distract from the foreground elements too much.
Step 4 - Model Placement
Position the model far enough away from the lens so that you can create the depth of field effect in-camera. I opted to use an 85mm lens at f2.8 and positioned the model about 3ft/100cm from the camera and about 1-2ft/30-60cm away from the background. That way the keylight will spill onto the background as well.
Step 5 - Camera Settings
We're finally about ready to begin shooting so all we have to do now is setup our camera and because we're using flash we want to set up our camera accordingly. Always aim to have your ISO as low as possible so I opted for ISO 100, next I want to sync my shutter speed to my flashes but if you're not sure what your camera syncs too, stick to 1/125th to be on the safe side. Lastly, set your aperture to as wide as your lens will allow so for me that was f2.8.
Step 6 - Holding the glassware
This might seem obvious but there are few key things to bear in mind when shooting through glassware. Try to hold the camera in one hand (or use a tripod if you have one) and the glass in the other hand. Always experiment with having more or less glass in front of the lens as the effects can vary wildly from lens to lens and glass to glass.
Pro Tip: Be careful to not rest the glassware against your actual lens as it may mark or scratch the lens coating.
Thanks as always for checking out this article, I hope you found a couple of things in here to try and play with. Even if you knew the essential premise of the setup, maybe there is an element that you hadn't thought of using previously. As always, if you have any questions then let me know and I'll do my best to answer them as quickly as I can.
Also, If you're new here then feel free to join our very active community of like minded lighting-nerds (c'mon, admit it, you're one of us :D ) on my Facebook page. I'm always discussing lighting ideas and offering feedback on community images over there.
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