My name is Justin Tierney, and I’m a time-lapse photographer based in Japan. The opening section of my latest time-lapse project features nocturnal Japanese cityscapes. All the shots were captured from high hotel windows or observation towers around Tokyo. In this short article I share how I was able to create these shots without unwanted window reflections.
Dim the Lights
When shooting from a hotel room or anywhere you have control of the environment, do everything you can to minimize the interior light. When shooting at night, make use of any shades or blinds in the room. Pull them over your camera to help block stray ambient light. Avoid this in daylight as the curtains or blinds will actually create reflections.
When shooting from an observation tower, try to find a dark spot in the room and see if there are elements of the architecture (pillars, support beams, etc.) you can use to block light.
Get the lens as close to the window as possible. To accomplish this, I use a long (200cm) quick-release Arca Swiss tripod plate to allow easy adjustment. I usually try not to touch the lens to glass as the movement and vibrations of the building can bump the camera.
Use a Lens Skirt
The Lens Skirt is the best solution I’ve found so far. As long as I don’t shoot at an extreme angle, it cuts out reflections completely. It also folds flat for easy storage and carrying.
I wish the lens skirt was larger at times — particularly when shooting at 16mm or wider. The problem of size is compounded when shooting with the camera at a severe angle. This can be remedied somewhat by affixing gaffers tape to the edges of the skirt to extend its reach and seal its seams.
If the $50 price tag is too steep, you can make your own version such as this one by photographer Michael Courier.
Try a Polarizer
Many photographers report success with using a polarizing filter to remove reflections. For me, it’s hit or miss. A polarizer seems to help reduce reflections but not eliminate them. This can make matters worse. If you don’t have the luxury of shooting with an external monitor, it can be hard to tell if a reflection is present or not. The reflections may appear to vanish on the tiny camera LCD screen, but later, to your dismay, a computer monitor may reveal otherwise.
Another issue with polarizing filters is that you have to buy and carry one for each lens. You can buy a series of step-up and step-down rings, but since the filter is not the best solution, I avoid it all together.
Try a Rubber Lens Hood
I’ve tried one of these but was not convinced of its value. It works well when the camera is straight. But I frequently tilt the camera down or to the side to create the composition I want, and this makes the lens hood less effective at blocking reflections. And, similar to a polarizer, you have to buy and carry a hood for each lens which is not ideal.
Suction Cup Tripod
The Fat Gecko suction cup tripod and the Lens skirt is my go-to combo for time-lapsing through glass. It’s easy to transport. And, when used with the long QR plate mentioned above, easy to setup. It has the added attributes of stealth and speed. In some situations a tripod is too conspicuous. With practice I was able to rapidly mount it all kinds of places–from glass elevators, taxi side windows, monorail windshields and hotel lobbies without calling attention to myself.
These next photos show how I used my favorite combination of a suction cup tripod with a Lens Skirt to shoot through glass without reflections from my hotel window, the Kobe Portliner Monorail, and the Yurikamome transit:
Here are two time-lapse stills from At the Conflux, both shot through the windshield of automated monorails. The Kobe Port Liner during the day and Tokyo’s Yurikamome. Settings: f/8, 0.6’, 20mm, and f/2.8, 1.6’, 16mm, respectively:
If you have tips of your own for shooting through glass, please share them in the comments below. Check out my latest project, At The Conflux on my channels on Vimeo, YouTube and follow me on Instagram or Facebook for my latest time-lapse clips.
About the author: Justin Tierney is a time-lapse film maker and classically trained composer of concert and film music.His music was declared “superb, robust, and grand” by the Boston Globe who stated that that “Tierney’s dark-hued music had polished, ominous richness… and sound-worlds that were cogent and immediate.” His most recent project, At The Conflux, combines time-lapse images and original music into a film exploring the rhythm of Japanese cityscapes. Tierney holds degrees from Yale, Tufts, and is currently pursuing a PhD at Duke University.