Portrait Photography with a DIY Two Way Mirror Setup

This is a pull back shot of the setup. Mola Beauty Dish in the corner. When I actually take the photo, the camera lens is placed far into the box frame.

This particular project has been rolling around in my head for some time now–using a two way mirror to shoot through.  It allows the person posing to see a real time preview of what they look like and make adjustments.  It seems like such a silly and novel idea…people who are having their picture taken, probably wouldn’t mind seeing what they look like.  🙂  So here’s the latest addition to the tool box, a two way mirror for up close portraits.

We live in an age where everyone is a photographer, or at least everyone is a critic of photography, especially when it comes to images of themselves.  Every serious camera toting person out there is at the mercy of girls (and even boys) who have to give the final approval after you take their picture.  “I don’t like that picture, can you delete it?”   Photographers, no matter how skilled at composition and the decisive moment, can all be leveled by any normal person that just simply does not like their image.  Think of it this way, when the shoe is on the other foot, like when everyone has to go to the DMV for a new license photo, we just know it is going to be bad.  Maybe this little two way mirror box we built can help the everyday Joe (including yours truly). 🙂

DIY Two Way Mirror for Portraits (seen from the back)

The above photo is of the second version.  The first one I built out of black foam core and it was basically like a matte box that I stuck on the lens hood of the 105mm Micro VR.  I wanted to build it around that lens because it is one of the sharpest lenses hands down, and because it can be placed as close as possible to the mirror to minimize reflections.  That particular first rev didn’t work so well, since the angle from where you are shooting doesn’t match the sight line of the subject.

Version II is built around a 12 x 12″ two way mirror.  The box frame is powder coated aluminum with a gap that allows the mirror to slide in.  The “mirror” is actually 1/8″ coated acrylic.  I think I prefer it to the glass, even though it has drawbacks (see below), but the main factor in choosing it is that it is pretty much unbreakable.  Photography stuff takes abuse like any other type of tools, and a large plate of glass breaking into shards is not something you’d want.  I’m still deciding on whether to purchase a large 20×30″ one to just use here.

How a two way mirror works is that the side the subject is on is lit brighter than the back side.  So the shooting side has to be darker, or the box frame has to be covered up to prevent light spilling into it.

It isn’t a perfect system, but it does allow the model/person/whoever to just get a better idea of what the picture will kind of look like.  The photographer on the other end must still compose the lines and angles and sculpt with the light, but it is a better starting point than just standing there in space.  This type of shooting, by that I mean “studio” shooting, is just a different beast than going out to the park, having fun and taking some good honest and fun pictures.  Tools like this can perhaps help lessen the “I don’t like any of these.” comments. 🙂

For the back I cut a temporary piece of foam core with a hole in it for the lens. This essentially blacks out the shooting side and makes it a one sided mirror for the subject.

You can’t really tell in these web sized images, but the acrylic adds a haziness to the image that is somewhat like a soft focus lens.  For pictures of people that can be a good thing.

You do lose light when you shoot through the acrylic, and it does have a bluish tint to it.  Easily corrected if you shoot RAW, but even if you go with the tint, one can get some moody results.  So the setup for all these photos are the Mola beauty dish (with the shop made twin speedlight bracket), ABR Ring Light, and DIY Two Way Mirror.  Processed in Capture NX2.

Model: Nhi  | MUA/Hair: Nhi

Some More Examples:

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