Digitizing framed portraits behind glass using photography

Photographic equipment and process showing how to photograph an image behind glass

Occasionally Media Solutions is asked to digitize framed portraits and prints. This can be simple if the prints aren’t behind glass (the prints can be photographed without the worry of reflections) or if the glass frame can be easily disassembled and reassembled (the prints can be removed and scanned without the glass barrier). However, if the print is behind glass and the frame is permanently sealed on the back, the only option is to photograph the print through the glass.

Recently, Todd was asked to digitize permanent glass-framed portraits of past Department of Anesthesiology chairs. The photos above and narrative below describe how he accomplished this task.

How do you do that?!

The biggest challenge in photographing glass is eliminating reflections—especially those coming from direct light sources. Choosing a room without windows and facing the portrait towards an empty wall will help reduce reflections created by ambient light sources. Eliminating ceiling and floor reflections can be accomplished by making sure the frame is secured perpendicular to the ceiling while setting up the camera on tripod while making sure the plane of the camera’s image sensor is parallel to the framed print. This alignment of sensor and print also minimizes any image distortion by ensuring all areas of the print surface are of equal distance from the camera sensor.

Photographic equipment and process showing how to photograph an image behind glass

Ensuring the camera sensor and print are perpendicular to each other requires nothing more than a simple bubble level. Advanced cameras such as our Canon 5D Mark IVs actually have a built-in digital level as well as an assortment of grids that can be displayed in the camera’s viewfinder when composing the image.

A tripod is essential to such photography. It eliminates the need for flash photography provided the camera is equipped with a timer and allows for manual control of shutter speed and aperture. In most cases, relying on the indirect ambient light coming from ceiling lights alone will require a longer exposure. Such exposures will not result in sharp images when hand-holding the camera.

The final step in the photographic process is press the shutter and record the image. However, because the camera is facing a glass plane, that glass plane can reflect the image of the camera and photographer. Adjusting the height of the camera can help to make sure it is not being reflected in the critical image areas. Using the camera’s timer allows the photographer to step away from the camera leaving just an empty wall reflecting on the glass.

Once the setup is complete and proper exposure achieved, it takes very little time to remove and replace the additional frames to be photographed. Because time was spent during setup to minimize file processing time, the digital files only require minimal adjustments and cropping before being saved as high-resolution JPEG files ready for client delivery.

Before and after of a photo behind glass and photograph after process


Isn’t that cool? Reach out to the team if you have any ideas that you think are crazy—we can probably work together to come up with a solution that will work.

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