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Landscape Photography: Tips to Master Reflection Photography

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When we talk about reflection photography, all photographers know that if done correctly, it can produce some rewarding and stunning results. They could be beautiful, surreal, abstract or a combination of all three. Reflections are a powerful way to convey emotion or provoke thought in your images especially landscape photography. However, achieving those dramatic shots can be difficult especially if you are doing it for the first time.

Which Surface Would Work Best as a Reflective Surface

It is a known fact that almost all the things reflect light. However, when it comes to reflection photography, we would only be talking about things which reflect a lot of light. Mirrors and water would top the list. Water is extremely reflective quite similar to water and still, water can appear like a mirror under the right lighting conditions. A lot of other surfaces reflect well too like wet surfaces, moving water, polished metal, ice, coated plastic, and glass. All of them could be used to create reflections. 

Check 9 Tips for the Perfect Landscape Pictures

reflection photography
Water is the best reflection (source)

Ideal Camera Settings 

There are two major steps when it comes to getting that epic reflection shot, be it on water or another surface. The first step is to expose on that part of the water which doesn't consist of the actual reflection. However, you need to ensure that it is close to at least some part of it.

The next step is to set the DSLR camera on a high aperture number, for instance, f/11, so that the whole landscape is in focus. Hence, before you are getting ready to take the shot, focus your camera on the actual reflection and then press the shutter button. This way you would you would get the perfect water reflection which would seem similar to the mirror image. 

One of the photography techniques that you must know when shooting reflections in the water are to use a relatively high shutter speed. This would freeze any kind of movement which might be present in the water. The next thing you need to remember is the fact that you are going to need a good depth of field. This is to make sure that the eyes of the viewers are drawn through the reflection and into the scene. But, this combination might be hard to achieve especially if you are attempting to click a picture right after the sunrise when the light levels are not at their optimal level.

Know all about Shutter Speed Chart (Cheat Sheet on How to Master it)

You could increase your ISO if you need to. However, pay close attention to the noise limits of your camera. This way you would be able to get that perfect water reflection picture. 

Reflection Photography: 9 Tips on How to Get Awesome Results

Tip #1: Use the Symmetrical Reflections Creatively 

You need to have a really creative eye to be able to click stunning reflective images. The juxtaposition of a subject and its mirror image can create really interesting shapes. The easiest example would be the clouds in the sky. They might not seem interesting alone but when you capture their reflection, it becomes a breathtaking pattern. If you are in a hilly area, attempt to click this image with the majestic mountains in the background and use the sky as your main subject. Other small things like the pebbles in the water or maybe a bird flying over the water would enhance your picture even more. 

Symmetrical Reflections
Symmetrical Reflections

Tip #2: Capture The City Lights At Twilight 

True magic happens when the colour of the sky is that impressive cobalt blue just before the night arrives and the lights from the building nearby seem to light up the water. The reflection of the lights in the water is truly astonishing and makes for a really good composition. 

This image, for example, captures the impressive reflections of the Brooklyn Bridge and the lights from the skyscrapers by the waterfront. Just after sunset, the coloured lights on the exterior of the skyscrapers reflected off the cobalt blue water makes for an admirable image. 

Tip #3: A Polarizer Filter to Enhance the Reflections 

When it comes to reflection photography, a polarizer filter is the best thing that you can use to enhance your picture. Now, we know what you are thinking! A polarizer filter turned to full polarization has been designed to remove reflections so how is it going to assist in photographing reflections? Well, a few scenes with colourful reflections can definitely benefit from creative polarization. You need to be playing with the filter, turning it around so as to achieve the desired result. 

For instance, let’s consider that you are going to be photographing the reflection sky when it has that beautiful orangish tint to it (the ideal time to capture that perfect orange tint would be during the sunset or right before the sunrise). To capture this stunning picture, you need to avoid that full polarization and then as mentioned above, continue to spin the polarized filter until you find the ideal setting which brings out the best colours. This technique, however, won't work well with all reflection images, but scenes that have a lot of water and exposed wet surfaces are likely to benefit the most.

Tip #4: The Ocean During the Sunrise or Sunset 

When you are trying to photograph the ocean, you wouldn’t be able to get that perfect reflection because the water isn’t still. However, it would still be able to reflect the beautiful colours of the sky and if you get a sunrise or sunset with the great colour you could multiply that effect by including the reflected light in your composition.

reflection photography
Reflection of sun during sunset

Tip #5: Blurred Reflections Look Stunning Too 

If you have the creative eye and the skill as a photographer, you can make anything look absolutely stunning. The imperfect reflections too look absolutely stunning in pictures and can add an element of abstraction to your image. Just like the image below where the reflection of the palace is reflected in the moving water.  

You could also achieve a similar effect in a water puddle in front of a building or a monument or literally anything that you fund fascinating be it trees, humans, animals or anything else. Now, create ripples in that puddle by asking someone to jump in it or maybe consider throwing a few pebbles in. As the water moves, the reflection would become blurry and would give you can take that perfect shot. The reflection is rendered as an abstract blur, which would add visual interest to the composition.

Tip #6: Non-Water Reflections 

As discussed above, water isn’t the only reflective surface that you can use for reflection photography. Everywhere that you go, you can find reflections there be it marbled and metal surfaces, glass windows, the scope is limitless. You need to have the creative eye to notice the reflections and capture it in your camera. 

You can use these reflections to show off our main subject, for example, a tree's reflection in the mirror or a popular landmark reflected in a window, or just anything that seems interesting. You don’t need to have a perfect reflection, by using curved reflective surface you can create great abstract images which can make people question what they are seeing. 

Creative touch to photography
Creative touch

Tip #7: Shoot Reflections of People 

The thing with reflections is the fact that it can also be used on people be it posed or candid. With candid shots, you need to a few are reflective surface so as to hint that it is indeed a reflection. When you are getting ready to take the shot, try to make the shot appear not-so-formal. 

Try to make the subject feel relaxed which would give the impression of a more casual look. You could model for the reflection shot yourself too. Get creative, use your imagination and click as many brilliant shots as you can. 

Tip #8: When Photographing Reflection of Mountains, Don’t Shoot Super Wide 

Regardless of whether your camera is full frame, micro four thirds, APS-C, it is essential to know when shooting the reflections of mountains that you wouldn’t need your widest lens to capture the most pleasing composition. 

But, why is it so? 

It is because a super wide lens tends to reduce the impressive size of the distant mountains and hence magnifies the foreground. It would work nicely if you can close to the central subject but if your subject is a snow-capped mountain standing a few kilometres away, it would be nice to use a lens which would allow you to get closer to the action. 

Tip #9: Fill your Frame with Impressive Things 

Be it reflection photography or any kind of photography, the general rule to get stunning shots is to fill the frame with interesting things. But, when you are trying to capture the reflection of the mountain in the lake, it becomes quite easy to get carried away by the breathtaking clouds which reflect in the lake. If you do feel that the clouds are doing something to enhance the beauty of the image, you could devote some frame space to the clouds. 

When you zoom closer to fill your frame with the striking impressive mountain range and its reflection, your image would have much more impact on the viewers. This might not be too apparent when you look through the LCD or the viewfinder but if look at the zoomed image on a large screen, it would have more wow factor than the wider image. 

Summing Up 

Everywhere you look, there is a reflection. Just remember that direct light on water creates glare. You would want the direct light to fall on your subject which is then reflected in water which is in the shade. If there is glare, you can use a polarizing filter to reduce or even remove it. 

All it takes is a creative eye to unlock the beauty of the reflection in the form of a stunning image. Also, remember that practising is the key to achieving those oh-so-perfect images. You might not get the perfect result the very first time but as you keep practising, you would succeed for sure. 

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