Photographed from behind glass, the human face looks and feels different than when seen through unfiltered eyes. Portraits made behind glass feel surreal, cloaked in mystery. They possess an other-world quality, like a still-life painting. The face becomes art.
There is something unnerving about being separated by a translucent wall. For creatures made to touch, being physically separated from loved ones can be painful and frightening, causing great anxiety. I vividly remember the first time I put my daughter on a plane alone and watched helplessly as the silver vessel shot up into the sky, away from me.
Whether separated by small layers of oval airplane plexiglass, thick rectangles of school-bus windows or a big sheet of hospital or nursing home window, we are only able to touch loved ones with our eyes. These pandemic months have been excruciatingly cruel.
But panes of glass are wonderful accessories to create enchanting portraits. Reflections add intrigue and create another layer—a glimpse of an environment on your side of the glass. Dark, fingerlike tree shadows add mood. But, as with most elements, reflections can be harmful distractions to your composition. You must decide what to include.
It is important to deactivate the auto flash so the burst does not bounce back and wash out your image. But depending on the angle, flash can create orb-like reflections and make for unexpected and interesting results.
When capturing portraits behind glass, I prefer to use a long lens with a shallow depth of field, exposing for and focusing on the face behind the glass. With a short or wide-angle lens, I press the lens to the glass, using my own shadow like a dark tent to reduce or eliminate unwanted reflections. This also helps stabilize the lens, allowing for a slower shutter speed. A polarizing filter helps eliminate shadowy reflections.
Make a portrait from behind a pane of glass. Experiment with different lenses and distances. Try to include reflections.
Email your best image with caption information to GPH@pur.coop. We may share the best submissions on our website and social media channels.