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They can be beautiful, surreal, abstract or a combination of all three, reflections are a powerful way convey emotion or provoke thought in your images. In this article we are going to take a look at how to use reflections in your compositions and indeed how to break compositional rules, using reflections.
How to Find Opportunities for Reflection Photos That Pop
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Let's start off with that favorite of the landscape photographer, water. Reflections in water can leading to beautiful images. However, finding the right time and place to get a great water reflection can be difficult. Your best option is enclosed waters such as lakes and ponds, preferably sheltered from the wind. Even the slightest breeze can add disruptive ripples to the surface of water, and whilst in some circumstances this can be good, in others it can ruin the shot.
Whilst there is no hard and fast rule as to the time of day that you will get great still water, you will more often find that the very early morning is the best time. Watch the weather forecast – high pressure systems often bring the windless, still conditions that are so conducive to reflection photography.
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The other prerequisite of course is good light. Low, direct sunshine is the best option, reducing the possibility of any sparkling light reflections from the water surface.
How to Photograph Reflections
So having found the perfect water based landscape, how do we shoot it?
Well first of all, you may need to use a relatively high shutter speed, to freeze any movement there may be in the water. Secondly, for the most part you are going to want a good depth of field, to make sure your viewers eye is drawn through the reflection and into the scene. Of course this combination may be difficult to achieve, especially just after sunrise when the light levels have not reached their fullest.
Don’t be afraid to bump your ISO up if required, but be aware of the noise limits on your camera, there is no point in shooting a great landscape only to have it ruined by sensor noise. Read our article on minimising noise for some pointers.
If there are some small ripples on the water surface you can try to reduce these by using a long exposure rather than a shorter one. You can even shoot multiple exposure and combine them as an HDR image. You will, of course need a steady tripod to ensure maximum sharpness.
Another useful addition when shooting reflections in nature are graduated filters. Because the body of water will be darker than the sky it is reflecting, a neutral grad can help any excessive brightness in the sky.
Lastly, with water reflections, don’t be afraid to break the rule of thirds. To show a perfect reflection, you need the horizon to be dead center of the frame. Whilst this may go against your natural landscape compositional instinct, it will allow you to show the reflection in its full glory.
You can also just use the reflection on its own as an image. In this case it is sometimes best to have some small ripples in the water surface, just to enough to hint to your viewers that the image is a reflection.
Looking for Non-Water Reflections
Of course water is not the only reflective surface. Everywhere we go there are reflections, windows, marbled and metal surfaces, the scope is immense. We can use reflections to show off our main subject, for example a famous landmark reflected in a window, or even to just to hint at something. You don’t need to have a perfect reflection, by using curved reflective surface you can create great abstract images that make people question what they are seeing.
Shooting Reflections of People
Reflections can also be used on people, both posed or candid. With candid shots, try to show that some are outside the reflective surface to hint that it is indeed a reflection.
When posing a shot try not make the shot look too formal, make the subject feel relaxed giving the image a more casual look. Of course another person who can model for a reflection shot is yourself. Why not try to get a shot of you at work with your camera, all reflected in a window or other mirrored surface.
Reflections are everywhere that you look, unlocking their beauty in the form of a photograph is an immensely rewarding and satisfying element to our favorite pastime.